5 Strategies to Inspire Curiosity in Students
“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
Think about the last time a book, movie, or conversation sparked your curiosity. When something ignites your curiosity, regions of your brain associated with reward, memory, and motivation actually “fire up” with activity. In other words, curiosity can be a great motivator that makes the brain sincerely want to learn. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, suggests a link between motivation and curiosity as discovered in 2014 when they set out to understand how curiosity affects learning.
Practical Tips to Inspire Student Curiosity
This research reminds parents, Learning Coaches, and teachers how crucial it is to engage our students’ curiosity every day. Consider these five strategies you can use to inspire curiosity in school and beyond:
- Be curious yourself. Model an open, inquisitive attitude to new and familiar activities, ideas, people, and cultures. Curiosity is contagious. Try a new sport, start a new hobby, or take an online course in an unfamiliar subject. Seek out people with different backgrounds and viewpoints, and then actively listen to what they have to say. As you take on these new challenges, share your experience with your student—the excitement, the rewards, and the challenges. In the process, you’ll inspire your student to tackle new subjects and persevere through the initial discomfort that often comes with learning something unfamiliar.
Ask questions and question answers. You’ve heard the saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” When it comes to curiosity, it’s the question, not the answer, that engages students. The destination has value and will reward a student’s hard work. The journey, however, makes that end result more exciting and satisfying. Curiosity starts the journey and motivates a learner to keep going, no matter how rocky the path.
In his book Why Don’t Students Like School?, cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham argues that focusing on answers first actually dampens a student’s natural curiosity. To draw students in, you need to ask open-ended questions that encourage them to seek out their own answers—questions that cannot be answered with a yes or a no or a shrug of the shoulders. Open-ended questions can begin with phrases like:
- What would happen if …
- What would it be like to …
- Why did …
- How do we know that …
- What did you think when …
Consider the format FQR: Fact, Question, Response. When presenting a new fact, expand with a question. For example, “Beethoven kept composing as his hearing was getting worse. I wonder how he felt about that?” A student’s response might be, “I’d be scared and angry.” With you as a model, students will learn to frame their own questions and even go on to question the answers. In the words of the late George Carlin, “Don’t just teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read.”
- Practice and encourage active listening. Of course, great questions are pointless if no one is listening. When you actively listen to your student, you’re also demonstrating how he or she can live curiously and communicate effectively. By example, show your student how to listen with full attention, how to play back or paraphrase the speaker’s comments, and how to ask questions that generate more information and maybe even more questions.
Look for the hook; relate “uninteresting” or difficult subjects directly to your student’s interests and daily life. One of the advantages of personalized online learning is the ability to tailor lessons to your student’s interests, strengths, and challenges. If your student loves sports, then explore a favorite game through its venue locations (geography), statistics (math), or background on a favorite player (memoir or biography). Team names themselves can have amazing backstories. The Lansing Lugnuts and the Burlington Bumblebees, for example … no, I’ll let your curiosity lead you.
Find books related to your student’s interests. Students who love horses might be curious about how the invention of the automobile diminished the need for horses as everyday transportation. A science lover may relate to the history of inventions or to Clara Barton’s impact on modern medicine. With the right hook to your student’s interests, you can completely transform almost any subject into a fascinating source of information.
- Present new information in chunks. Now that you’ve piqued your student’s curiosity, don’t risk killing it with information overload. Research shows that for every ten minutes of lesson time, students need at least two minutes to process what they’ve learned. A physical and mental break helps the body and the brain refresh themselves. So use the 10/2, or “chunk and chew,” strategy. By presenting new information in 10-minute chunks and limiting it to 2–3 main points, you’ll keep your student’s attention and make the information easier to absorb.
So now we’re curious. How are you inspiring your student’s curiosity? How do you find inspiration for you own curiosity? Tell us in the comments below.