The Right Question Institute


Isidore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize for physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied: “My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother used to say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’ That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist.”

A week ago my superintendent, principal, and 7 of us teachers attended a full day workshop The Right Question Institute in LA. Luz Santana and Dan Rothstein, authors of Make Just One Change, facilitated a worthwhile and engaging session, so I just want to share some highlights and my takeaways from it.


(Some of these might be direct quotes. I’m just writing from my notes.)

  • Not knowing what to ask is the fundamental obstacle to participating and therefore to learning.
  • The skill of question formulation is the single most powerful renewable source of intellectual energy.
  • How can we easily develop students’ question formulation skills? It’s simple. But simple does not mean simplistic — it means doing it so everyone can access it.
  • Six components of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT):
    1. A question focus — the teacher gives a prompt related to topic currently being covered in class, prompt can be visual. It should be a statement or phrase and not as a question. The simpler, the better.
    2. Producing questions — in small groups, students share questions that they have related to the question focus (prompt), one person records on large poster paper or whiteboard. But before starting, everyone is reminded of these rules:
      • Ask as many questions as you can.
      • Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any question.
      • Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
      • Change any statements into questions.
    3. Categorizing questions as “open” or “closed.”
    4. Prioritizing questions — choose 3 most important questions from list, pay attention to the question focus.
    5. Next steps — what’s one way you could use your priority questions?
    6. Reflecting — what did you learn and how did you learn it?


  • Luz and Dan are really lovely people. Warm, hard-working, fun. Their book — and this Institute — mark the arrival of a twenty-year journey for them! (Arrived, yes. Settled, no.)
  • This task of having kids ask their own questions is not unlike Act 1 of a 3-Act math task that many of us are familiar with.
  • But the QFT process can be used — and is used — in a variety of academic disciplines and in communities outside of school. (Their journey actually began when they worked on a dropout prevention project and heard from the parents who were not coming to the school meetings because they “don’t even know what to ask.”)
  • This is another powerful structure that empowers students when asking questions becomes a natural tool for them. They think more critically because the QFT process helps them hone in on their questions. Dan and Luz categorize the learning of asking questions as going from divergent thinking to convergent thinking, then that last component of reflecting is metacognitive thinking.
  • Teachers and students will get better at implementing the QFT. It’s building classroom culture, so it takes time.
  • We’re doing this already with our students to some degree with varying expertise. Maybe we just need to be more intentional about it. Give it a name.
  • If not, perhaps Make Just One Change.
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