and communication are on every list of 21st century skills every
student must have.
Lesson plans for teaching those skills typically involve activities
such as problem solving, using presentation media, and writing a
Such activities, while valuable, tend to crowd out an activity
students in this century may need every day. That activity is asking
a question in writing.
Questioning is collaborative
Although students should be able to collaborate with people in
a group to which they are assigned, it is at least as important
in the 21st century skills include informal collaboration.
Informal collaboration in which the benefits accrue primarily
to one party is an everyday occurrence, as these questions attest:
- Do I get fries with that?
- How do I unzip the file I just downloaded?
- What's this $13.70 charge for on my statement?
Although the questioner and the expert are not jointly producing
a product, they are collaborating in solving a problem. It just
happens that the problem is the questioners'.
The questioner's responsibilities
In order to ask a question and get a useful answer, the person
with the problem must:
- Identify a person with the answer.
- Enlist that person's help.
- Word the question clearly.
- Provide context so the "expert"
can focus his/her answer.
In the last century, most of these informal collaborations were
oral. In this century, because of the necessity of providing answers
24 hours a day, many of these interactions are written. Increasingly,
the informal collaborations are occurring across cultures as well
as across time zones.
Today's writing requires brevity
In the 21st century, skills in communication will stress short
writing. To write briefly without being misunderstood, students
- Be able to summarize. a lengthy discussion
or problem in a sentence.
- Have a precise vocabulary so they can choose
the shortest, most common words that convey their ideas.
- Spell correctly the words they use.
- Observing the conventions of standard edited English
to facilitate communication with people they do not know personally.
- Use audience analysis skills to determine
context an expert will require to answer their question appropriately.
Writing questions is essential skill
A 21st century skills set must include the ability to formulate
clear questions in writing.
Students will be required to:
- Phrase a question clearly when completing
- Request help with technical questions via
- Seek information from people in other countries
and cultures by email.
In most cases, students will need to write their questions clearly
the first draft. Extended revision time is becoming a last-century
Students' questions about writing
If you don't believe students need to be taught how to ask a
question, read students' questions posted to the
essay help forum at this website. From the computer addresses,
it appears each is from a student in the US. Here's a sample:
- the enfluence that school leadership and management have
on creating an environment in which education can flourish the
- I need help putting my eassy in order.
- i need help with an arguement on literacy?
None of those writers received an answer because none gave enough
information so someone could respond without additional information.
(The forum does not permit follow-up questions.)
If you plan
to teach the compare and contrast essay, you can teach questioning
skills at the same time.