Questioning is at the heart of any good classroom discussion, but too often the teachers are the ones doing the asking. Asking questions is how the teachers find out if students understood the reading and if they even did it at all. But asking questions to check if they did the assignment only encourages students to do the work, not to read for enjoyment or for deeper learning.
Teachers have to get students asking as well as answering questions. If students spend more time waiting to be asked questions than formulating their own, here are some moves that can be tried.
If students are asking a lot of vocabulary or basic comprehension questions, then it is time to slow down and help students understand the basics of the text. If they are already diving into interpretive questions that do not have clear right or wrong answers, then students are ready to dig into the discussion.
Pushing students to ask speculative questions that demand some reference to the text and capitalizing on students' creativity — for example, what happens before or after, or in a scene we do not see, is important.
When students create their own questions around a text they in effect become critical thinkers and take greater ownership over their learning.
Coming up with their own questions also sets students up for writing good essays or written essay responses. The critical thinking and argumentation involved in rich student-led discussion transfers into their writing.
Perhaps the most effective thing to encourage student questioning is to establish a classroom environment that invites and values questions. Students may think they have to understand everything the right away, so leading by example will help set the stage. But they should know that there is plenty of room for doubt and debate as the teacher cannot be expected to know everything.