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Unlocking Meaningful Conversations: How to Ask Deeper Questions to Build Stronger Connections

Question mark

In education it is common knowledge that engaging students with well placed, deep thinking questions is crucial to successful teaching.  As a children’s first and most important teacher, how can parents use deeper questions when our teaching is often impromptu and unexpected.   


There are many websites that outline levels of questioning and how to ask the right question for deeper levels of learning.  Many of these are based off of Bloom’s Taxonomy, revised in 2001 (https://tophat.com/blog/blooms-taxonomy/). The levels read as follows:


  1. Remember: To bring an awareness of the concept to learners’ minds. 

  2. Understand: To summarize or restate the information in a particular way. 

  3. Apply: The ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations.

  4. Analyze: Understanding the underlying structure of knowledge to be able to distinguish between fact and opinion. 

  5. Evaluate: Making judgements about the value of ideas, theories, items and materials. 

  6. Create: Reorganizing concepts into new structures or patterns through generating, production or planning. 


Parents are really good at remember questions, “What did you do today?  Who did you hang out with?  Did you clean your room? Are your teeth brushed? Do you have any homework? Is your homework done?  Where are you going?” 


We’re also good at understand questions. “Why do you think _____ said or did that?  What is (your homework, the book you’re reading, the song you’re listening too) about? Remind me why it’s important to eat your vegetables."


As we go further along the questioning path to higher levels of cognition we run into similar problems as professional teachers.  We just don’t ask as many higher level questions.  Yet, I’d like to suggest that much of our impromptu teaching is rooted in the higher levels of cognition, if we can recognize and utilize it.  


For example your child comes to you about a problem.  You start with remember questions in order to find out what is going on.  Then you move to understand and analyze questions to help them see the situation from different perspectives.  If possible we can now engage evaluate and apply questions to help them navigate the situation when it happens again in the future.   Often we just go straight into lecture mode to tell them what to do.  While that is often quicker and sometimes needed, if they can evaluate the situation and create their own strategy to apply the next time the situation arises, it is more likely to have a lasting impact.  

Mother with two children talking with each other about their day.

Here is a possible dialogue from the perspective of an elementary age child. It’s long, but as it goes through all the levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, it’s more empowering for your child.  


Parent: Hey there! How was school today?


Child: It was okay, but something happened at recess.


Parent: Oh no, what happened?


Child: Well, I wanted to play with my friend, but they wouldn't play with me.


Parent: That sounds tough. Can you tell me more about what happened?


Child: We usually play together, but today they said they wanted to play with someone else.


Parent: I see. That must have been disappointing. How did you feel when they said that?


Child: I felt sad and confused. I don't know why they didn't want to play with me.


Parent: It's okay to feel that way. Sometimes people make different choices. Let's try to understand why they might have done that. Any ideas?


Child: I don't know. Maybe they just wanted to play something else.


Parent: That's a good point. People have different preferences. Let's think about what you can do next time this happens. How could you handle it?


Child: Maybe I could ask if I can join them or find something else to do.


Parent: Great ideas! Now, let's evaluate these options. How do you think each one might work?


Child: Asking to join might be good because they might not know I want to play. And if they still say no, then I can find something else to do.


Parent: Excellent thinking! And what about creating a strategy for next time? What could be your plan?


Child: I could make a list of other friends I could play with if my usual friend is busy. That way, I won't feel lonely.


Parent: That's a fantastic strategy! Having alternatives is always helpful. Remember, it's okay to explore new friendships and activities too. You're doing a great job thinking about how to handle these situations. Anything else you want to talk about?


Child: No, I feel better now. Thanks, Mom/Dad.


Parent: You're welcome, sweetheart. If anything else comes up, I'm always here to talk.


Bee on a yellow flower.

Another situation could be that they’ve noticed something in the world around them and want to talk about it.  You can end with, “Wow, that’s cool/interesting. Thanks for sharing.” Or if you have time you could unlock a meaningful conversation by going deeper with more questions.  


Child: Mom, look at the bees around that flower! Why are they flying around it?


Parent: Great observation! Bees are important pollinators. Can you think of what pollination means?


Child: Uh, I'm not sure.


Parent: That's okay! Pollination is when bees move pollen from one part of the flower to another. Why do you think they do that?


Child: I don't know.


Parent: Bees do this to help the flowers make seeds. It's like the flowers are having a conversation with the bees – they give the bees nectar, and in return, the bees help them make new seeds. What do you think happens if flowers don't make seeds?


Child: Maybe there won't be more flowers?


Parent: Exactly! Now, let's apply this. How do you think flowers without bees would make seeds?


Child: Maybe the wind could carry the pollen?


Parent: That's a good thought! While wind can help in some cases, bees are specially adapted to carry pollen more efficiently. Now, let's evaluate. Why do you think it's important for flowers to make seeds?


Child: So we can have more flowers and plants?


Parent: Yes, you're right! It's essential for the survival and diversity of plant life. Now, let's create a scenario. What if there were no bees? How could we help flowers make seeds?


Child: Maybe we could plant more flowers close to each other so the wind can carry the pollen.


Parent: That's a creative idea! While it may not be as effective as bees, it shows you're thinking about solutions. It's important to understand the role of bees and appreciate how they contribute to our environment. Great job, kiddo!


Child: Thanks, Mom/Dad! I like learning about bees and flowers.



These are just two examples of the many impromptu teaching opportunities we have each day. Not to mention that in each example the conversation could go a million different ways. If your child loses interest before you even get to the apply stage, that’s fine.  No need to push anything.  There will always be another moment and there are no tests in the family learning environment.  Just opportunities to strengthen bonds and empower each other as deep thinkers in impromptu and unexpected ways. 



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