Question Everything

credits to Ian Burt on Flickr
credits to Ian Burt on Flickr

“You start a question, and it’s like starting a stone. You sit quietly on top of a hill, and away the stone goes, starting others.” -Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Cases of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

A question is a conversation starter. Questions are what allow a statement to expand. And the beauty of questions is all in the response. If I ask “How are you?”, you can reply with a simple “fine”, or you can reply with how you’re actually doing. “I’m doing pretty well and all, what with having to live through the complexities of the human condition.” Okay, maybe you wouldn’t say that. But there’s a lot of things you could say. You could tell me that your mood is “irritable because I spent all night studying for a test that was postponed until tomorrow” or “ecstatic because I didn’t study at all for the test today and it was postponed until tomorrow.” The best questions are the open ended ones, ones that allow you to ask another question, and another after that.

Asking questions while you’re reading is one of the most effect way to dissect the text.  There’s always something specific or unusual that stands out, like a reoccurring motif or an odd choice of wording.  Heck, you might even drive yourself crazy over the punctuation.  We did an activity in English where we had to generate questions in groups about The Great Gatsby.  I was really surprised at all the things I missed while I was reading.  When I revisited the reading, I noticed some pretty clever incidents of foreshadowing and I was able to trace how the tone of the narrator changed in different situations.  My group even started obsessing over the tiniest details – we decided to sticky-note every mention of trees or leaves in the book, just in case it had any significance.

Another thing about raising questions is it helps determine how much significance you want to assign something.  Let’s face it, you could pose a question about every sentence in The Great Gatsby, and you’d never get all the answers.  But asking questions in the first place is what gives you the opportunity to make discoveries, like the parallelism between two scenes or instances in character development.  Questioning is what makes us more active readers; it allows us to have a relationship with the text, and it’s one of the best ways to connect with the words placed in front of us.

Questionably yours,

the Mad Hatter


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