Asking questions

Subject: Global History. Course title: International Organizations and Institutions in History/Introduktion til Japans Historie: Kilder og fortolkninger/Japan emne: Historie. Level: MA/BA. Course size:  30.

Motivation for the activity

In academia the most important skill is to ask academically relevant and sound questions. This is not easy and students need to practice asking questions orally and in writing before they write research papers.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

  • To develop students' abilities to ask academically manageable questions
  • To help prepare students to formulate the most productive thesis statements to ensure high quality in their research papers.

Description of the activity

Students prepare class discussions by presenting a question inspired by the required readings for the week. They have maximum 5 minutes to introduce the question.

When I introduce the assignment at the beginning of the semester, I tell them they have maximum 5 minutes, because the point is not for them to summarize the readings for students who have not read. They should assume all have read. Their objective is to write a question on a slide or on the board for all to discuss. The question should be open – ideally a 'how' or 'why' question – which will inspire as many students as possible to participate in the discussion. They can use up to 5 minutes to give some background to illustrate why the question is important.

The point is that they should hone their skills at asking academically relevant and inspiring questions for use in their research papers, and this way they gain memorable experience in how the formulations of questions can open up or close down academic inquiry.

Outcome of the practice

Students learn to ask academically sound questions that open discussion to all their classmates rather than exclude many or all fellow students. They become better at formulating workable thesis statements for research papers.

Reflections on the activity

Be explicit about why they have to stick to the time limit and why they have to ask questions that can generate a lively and inclusive discussion.