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  • Writer's picturelaurawippell

What's QFT and why is it so great for inquiry?

Have you heard the following before? Teachers have to foster students’ curiosity. Teachers have to involve students in real world contexts. Teachers have to use inquiry-based learning.

This all sounds great, but for some of us it can be hard to come up with new activities that will develop inquiry skills, without using the same style of assessment, such as problem-based learning, to death.

If we boil it all down, what is the essence of inquiry?

For me, it’s all about getting students to ask questions.

"A wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions." Claude Levi-Strauss

Sounds easier said than done, right? I’ve lost count of the number of times I have asked “any questions?” to my high school class and been met with crickets. The same can be said when I’ve asked “what questions do you have?” - less crickets than before, but more than half of the time there’s still an overwhelming silence.

That’s why I was thrilled after attending a workshop about Question Formulation Technique (QFT). It’s been around for a little while, but I think it’s under-utilised and I recommend giving it a go to get those questions flowing with your students!

What is the Question Formulation Technique?

Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is a process developed by The Right Question Institute, designed to get students asking questions and develop important thinking skills.

How does it work?

Here’s a step by step process as outlined by the creators themselves. I recommend reading through this first, or just skip straight to the next section where I explain how I use it in my IB English classroom.

How I’ve used it in my classroom

I’ve used the QFT many times to begin a unit in MYP Language acquisition and DP English B classes. The students had no idea what the unit would be about, so this was designed to pique their curiosity about what we would be exploring over the coming weeks.

Since it’s adapted for my classroom, the way I have used the QFT may look slightly different to the process that is outlined by the creators. That’s the beauty of it: it’s adaptable. Here's how I used the technique:

Step 1

First, organise your students into small groups. I found 3 - 4 students worked well so everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

Step 2

Explain that the objective of the lesson is to ask questions.

Step 3

Next up, clearly outline the rules. Here’s what I said:

  • I will show you a prompt related to the unit

  • Ask as many questions as you can about it! (Number the questions)

  • Do not stop to try to answer, judge, or discuss

  • Write down every question exactly as stated

  • Change any statements into questions


Step 4

I then showed students their ‘question focus’, which is a prompt that they will base their questions on. Prompts can be a quote, advertisement, literary extract, a picture, an audio, maths problem, statement etc. I like to change it up the types of prompts I use every time. Sometimes I show one prompt, another times I choose two different types of prompts, (e.g. a quote and a picture). Generally, for the Middle Year students I print the prompts out and give one each to the groups, while for older students I project both prompts, and let them choose one. These are strategies I used for specific classes for classroom management, so feel free to use what works best for you.

Step 5

Give each group paper and pens for writing the questions, and I recommend projecting a five minute countdown timer on the board, so they know how much time is remaining for them to write questions as a group.

Step 6

Once the timer has gone off and the frantic question writing is over, now comes the analysis. First, ask the groups to label their questions as either open or closed. According to The Right Question Institute, “closed-ended questions can be answered with yes, no, or with one word. Open-ended questions require an explanation and cannot be answered with yes, no, or with one word.” (2022)

Step 7

Next, get students to change their questions:

  • Change one closed question to an open question

  • Change one open question to a closed question

Step 8

Now get them to choose what they consider to be the three most important questions. You could adapt this part, to what three questions are most important for the upcoming unit, or which three questions are best to answer their problem - change it to suit your needs!

Step 9

After choosing three questions, ask them to justify their choice. Here are some examples of what you could ask:

  • Why did you choose those three questions?

  • Where are those questions in the sequence of your entire list of questions? What does this tell you? E.g. We chose questions 3, 6 and 7. This is interesting because…

Step 10

The final part is a task that I adapt depending on the unit and level.

  • For MYP I have done the following:

    1. Write down what you think our unit will be about. Explain.

    2. Using three of your questions as a base, write a factual, conceptual and debatable question.

  • And for DP English B HL students I have tried this:

    1. Choose one of the questions. Use it as the first line/title for a text type of your choosing. Write a minimum of 450 words. (this activity usually extends into another class).

Step 11

Don’t forget the plenary activity! Wrap up the lesson by asking: what did you learn today about asking questions?

Doubts you may have

1. Students don’t ask questions orally, so why would they write them down? I had the same doubt at the beginning, but there are three great things at play here:

  • They are asking questions to group members, not the teacher. In most cases, students feel more comfortable talking to their peers than their teacher.

  • No one is expected to answer the questions. The pressure is off.

  • The group activity and countdown clock create more of a game-like challenge! MYP and DP students alike were all gunning to have the longest list of questions.

2. Sounds quite complicated and confusing for students… I’m not going to lie, the first time you do this activity your students will take a while to get the hang of it, but that’s because it’s developing important critical thinking skills! The second time I did the QFT with a class, they were raring to go, and competition was on!

Why I love QFT as an inquiry activity

  • Show, don’t tell. I’m a teacher and children’s author, so I’m a big believer in showing, not telling. What’s more boring than standing up in front of a class and telling them what the next unit is about? Make them work for it, they’ll thank you for it.

  • Celebrate Curiosity. By working with prompts, you are developing your students’ curiosity, and they will in turn be more engaged in the activity.

  • Your prompts serve as authentic texts for students to analyse, and make real-world connections.

"Curiosity is the engine of achievement." - Ken Robinson

There you have it! For me, one of my favourite inquiry activities involves stepping back, forgetting what the ‘right’ answer may be, and letting students think about what their best questions are instead. What’s your favourite inquiry activity? I’d love to hear your comments below!

Like the sound of all of this, but need a visual aid or guide? Check out my DP English B Inquiry resource based on the War on Waste series.


IBO (2019). Language B guide: First assessment 2020

The Right Question Institute. (2022, May 6). What is the QFT? Right Question Institute.

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