We all long for it. We all want it. That sense of amazement and curiosity. An awe-inspiring magic trick; the emotional story of a person who set a goal and crushed it with millions of barriers in her way; the child who inspired a whole town.
But why do we want it? What makes that excitement in our brain and in our body start to go crazy? We think about how that person could have done that thing, even with all of the obstacles he had to overcome. We ponder how someone – maybe someone on our Instagram feed – lives their life so well.
Friends, I am here to tell you – we WONDER and we are CURIOUS.
Think about the last time that you were inspired by something you wondered, inspired by something that made you curious. Were you more apt to figure out why that event, or that person, or that thing, made you so thirsty for more knowledge?
Chances are, you certainly were. And that’s good news! Because so are our students. They yearn to know more, and it is our job as teachers to find ways to create that yearning, even for topics that might seem a little dull. We need to create ways for our students to be curious and to wonder about their lives and their world.
So, without further ado, here are five simple, doable ways to incorporate curiosity and wonder into your classroom.
#1: It’s OK to not know the answer. Often, as teachers, we say this about ourselves. It’s OK if we don’t know the answer to a child’s question. While this still holds true, it’s also important for students NOT to know the answers to certain things. Too often, we as teachers want to swoop in and save our kids from any sort of harm. While it’s an admirable trait, some of us (my past self included) save students from the wrong kind of harm. Not knowing an answer – having to struggle with a question – is a part of the learning process that can inspire wonder and curiosity.
Put It Into Action: There are two things you can do here to build wonder and curiosity. First, be passionate about what you’re talking about. If you as the teacher are leaping up and down about writing in complete sentences, so too will the students! Second, be ready with resources and/or questions once the struggle begins. Be ready to probe the students along to find the answer on their own, and let the “uncomfortable” feeling of not knowing something become normal and comfortable. Not knowing is, after all, how all of the world’s biggest problems have been solved.
#2: Wait. Going along with #1, wait!!! Give plenty of wait time to let students think and ponder. You can cultivate a sense of curiosity when you let your students mull over a question for an extended period of time.
Put It Into Action: Wait time has been studied extensively, and the rule of thumb remains this: ask a question, and then give 3-7 seconds of wait time before calling on the first student (Rowe, 1972). Rowe found that student answers became increasingly more profound after 5 seconds of wait time, on average. I even give
#3: Ask fewer questions. This one might seem counterintuitive, but hang in there with me. Asking less questions, and making those questions deeper in nature, naturally brings curiosity and wonder to the forefront.
Put It Into Action: For example, I might ask the question, “Was conflict during the Civil War always a negative thing?” instead of asking “What was the conflict?”. Sure, my kids can tell me that slavery was a huge point of conflict during the Civil War, but it’s more important (and more stimulating) to know that conflict led to some pretty significant (and positive) changes in our nation’s history. Deeper, open-ended questions are almost always better than yes/no questions.
#4: Connect it to real-life. Whenever it’s possible (and I would argue it’s ALWAYS possible), connect the content you’re teaching to your students’ life.
Put It Into Action: When I teach government to my kiddos, we always learn about the steps for a bill becoming a law. What better way is there to do this than by asking students to create their own bill! The government unit takes on a whole new (and wondrous) message when the students are working their own bill through all of the legislative channels. When we work through fractions in math class, I always incorporate real-world objects to split (pizza for the win!) so that my students are curious about how this might play out in real life. Another example is when we learned about measurement. We measured each other’s palms and wingspans, which led to a whole discussion about how wingspan is usually the same as a person’s height. Talk about curiosity!!
#5: Replace undirected questions with directed questions. This one can sometimes be a bit tricky (cue “teachers saving students from safety”), but it’s another strategy that works really well when inspiring curiosity and wonder in your classroom. Stop asking questions to the whole class, and instead ask directed questions at one student (or, less intensely, ask a group).
Put It Into Action: This one can feel icky, but it’s a bang-on strategy for helping students wonder. A study done about this topic came up with one very successful method to incorporate this line of questioning into your classroom.
Two other things that I want to QUICKLY mention… allowing students time to explore their own passions and interests (think Genius Hour) and allowing time to just play (especially outside) are two more fantastic ways to bolster curiosity and wonder in your classroom. Grab these More Heads are better than one freebie!
So, I’d love to hear from you! Did any of these strategies make a difference in your classroom? Do you have any other tips for us to consider?
WHILE YOU’RE HERE
Check out these other great ideas for inspiring wonder and curiosity with your upper elementary students!
“Writing Riddles” for Mini-Research in Science | Tarheelstate Teacher
3 Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning During Reading | Think Grow Giggle
Modifying Math Word Problems to Encourage Curiosity | Mix and Math
Wonder Walls & STEM Challenges | Kerry Tracy
Word Wonders: Collecting Multisyllabic Words | Reading by Heart
Using Visible Thinking to Read With Wonder | Wild Child’s Mossy Oak Musings
Stimulating Curiosity through Questioning | The Owl Teacher
Inspiring Curiosity through Technology | Love Learning
Mathematicians Inspire Wonder & Curiosity | Tried and True Teaching Tools
Taking KWL Charts Up a Notch | Elementary Inquiry