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7 Simple Ways to Make Your Learners Curious

How would you, as a teacher, make your learners curious about what you're teaching?

Part of an educator’s job is to get learners interested in the subjects they teach. It’s a healthy sense of curiosity that inspires enriching learning experiences for every child. Curiosity, after all, resides at the heart of powerful learning (Brod & Breitwieser, 2019).

Curiosity is our desire to know, realize, and understand, and it is a strong learning motivator that involves the pursuit of new knowledge and experience (Gross, et al., 2020). How do we generate curiosity amongst learners about what we teach and help them fuel a passion for lifelong learning?

The following suggestions we have for you are easy to use and make a part of your regular practice. If you’re doing these already, good for you—and even better for your learners. If not, give them a shot with any of your classes. They are timeless strategies that will succeed in tapping into your learners’ inherent curiosity anytime.

1. Teach learners to ask the best questions possible

Although an essential question can lead us to explore a problem and choose suitable strategies to generate an applicable solution, it’s much more than that. Solid essential questions are timeless and inspire the quest for knowledge and discovery (McTighe & Wiggins, 2013). Ultimately, essential questions represent possibilities.

It’s the exploration of possibility we’re concerned with here. By pondering the notion of finding out what’s possible, we ignite our sense of curiosity (Sannito, 2021). Here’s some even better news—responsibility, the development of learner agency, and relevant real-world connections naturally follow. And all because you asked your learners to think “What if …” and “Why not?”

2. Give learners opportunities to think critically

Critical thinking has become one of the most important skills for us to have when we leave school next to problem-solving ability. It's a concept with a rich history that's traceable at least back to the philosophical theories of the Greeks, including Democritus, the Stoics, and Aristotle's concepts of logic and their connections to human thought and society (Rimiene, 2002).  

So how does critical thinking inspire curiosity? The answer, of course, is by its very nature. It is essentially curiosity that has built our world, and which will continue to build it in the future. After all, everything around us in our daily lives began with the idea that there was a need to be filled somehow, that something needed to be created. 

As we teach our children, they observe us in ways we don’t even realize. They look to us for the most meaningful learning experiences we can provide.

Creativity and critical thinking are in fact complementary skills employed at different stages when solving a problem or forming a judgment (Taylor, 2020). Ideas inspire the motivation to create, and creation leads to critical and analytical thinking to bring an idea into reality.  

Our curious natures lead us to consider how we can enhance or improve our experience (Whitesides, 2018), and this will likely continue as long as humans exist on the planet. Ultimately, we can also bring this out in our learners through how and what we teach with the help of these terrific ways to make them curious through critical thinking. 

3. Use inquiry-based approaches 

Nothing engages the modern learner quite like inquiry-based learning. Its methodology involves providing opportunities that provoke the asking of deep questions, and that foster meaningful explorations of subjects. It has the unique ability to manifest itself differently in classrooms of every kind (Ernst, et al., 2017). All of this is made possible by the unrivalled capacity inquiry-based learning has for stimulating a learner’s curiosity.

At Future Focused Learning, we love inquiry-based learning for that reason. In our travels, we've seen firsthand how it engages curiosity like no other teaching we have seen or used, and the modern learner responds to it eagerly.

Learners are motivated to learn through curiosity, as we already know. As inquiry-based learning's purpose is to guide learners in constructing their own knowledge, and to both ask and respond to essential questions, developing learning pursuits with an emphasis on inquiry learning is worth our time as educators (Zion & Sadeh, 2007). 

4. Model curiosity as much as possible 

As we teach our children, they observe us in ways we don’t even realize. They look to us for the most meaningful learning experiences we can provide. Thus, if we aren't passionate and curious about the subject matter we instruct them in, then they won’t be either.

In the Edutopia article "Curiosity: The Force Within a Hungry Mind", Marilyn Price-Mitchell suggests we can make learners curious by “exploring their interests, expanding upon their ideas, and engaging them in meaningful dialogue about what matters most” (2015).

Failure can hurt, but can also be one of the best ways to foster curiosity. Yes, we failed, but why?

The same article goes on to cite research indicating that curiosity has just as significant an effect on performance as hard work does (Association for Psychological Science, 2011). Another interesting find about curiosity Mitchell shared is that people retained what they learned about a topic for longer periods of time if they were curious about it (Kashdan, et al., 2013).

If we openly involve our learners in their learning by meeting them where they are and then showing them where they can go by modelling curiosity, we effectively make the learning happen for them.

5. Let learners collaborate

Modern learners work in virtual partnerships on projects with kids from across the room, across town, or across the world. The skills they develop from this, embodied within Collaboration Fluency, will help them greatly since the working world is continuously affected by newer and newer communication technology (Crockett, et al., 2011).

There’s one other thing about collaboration among learners that isn’t often discussed but presents a major bonus for everyone. It’s the fact that curiosity is both multiplied and magnified when like-minded individuals come together in a group to achieve common goals (Rock, et al., 2023). This is the essence of modern-day collaboration. It’s more than learners sitting around a table working to solve a problem; it also means sharing ideas and experiencing the infectious power of curiosity.

6. Give them challenging problems to solve 

In a modern learning environment, we strive to provide learners with problems that are interesting and relevant to them, and whose solutions involve elements of the mandated curriculum. The point is that as long as we help them build these skills in ways that connect to what matters to them and to the world, they will always be curious (Crockett, 2019).

To guide the students, we use a system like the 6 Ds of Solution Fluency (Crockett, et al., 2011) with the goal being learners attaining the ability to use it in an unconscious manner. It’s a structured process that builds strong problem-solving prowess that becomes more habitual and more versatile the more you use it. The 6Ds are:

  • Define: We must decide exactly what needs to be solved.

  • Discover: This is researching and gathering, and analyzing knowledge about the problem.

  • Dream: Open up the heart and mind to the possibilities of a solution the way we want it.

  • Design: The workshopping phase where the actual mechanics of the solution begin to take shape.

  • Deliver: This involves completing the product (Produce), and presenting the proposed solution (Publish).

  • Debrief: The reflection stage where you look at the ways you succeeded, and ways you could improve your approach in future situations.

Solution Fluency can literally be applied to any challenge you can think of. Also, it naturally amplifies curiosity by putting the agency for generating a solution directly into the hands of the learners, where it belongs.

7. Help them fail usefully 

When we talk about useful failure, we mean more than just learning from our mistakes. Using our mistakes as learning opportunities is part of having a growth mindset, which is crucial in constructively moving forward from failures; such a mindset reminds us that effort matters and that everyone grows through experiences both positive and negative (Halloran, 2022).

 In the article "Flourish And Failure: Learning From Mistakes" (2022), the author identifies four common types of errors most people make:

  • Slip-based: Mistakes associated with everyday tasks requiring little conscious thought

  • Lapse-based: Forgetting to do things or skipping a step in a process

  • Rule-based: Making the wrong decisions, and errors of judgment

  • Knowledge-based: Mistakes made due to inexperience or a lack of knowledge

The article goes on to suggest the following strategy:

"When mistakes do happen, it’s critical to take the time to understand what happened and why ... Analysis, however, is only half the battle. Once the situation is understood, it is important to document and record it. This is how we can turn a mistake into a learning opportunity ..." (Itlyashev, 2022). 

This is where curiosity comes into play. Failure can hurt, but it can also be one of the best ways to foster curiosity.

Yes, we failed, but why?

What was it about our approach or decision that led to failure?

What did we miss or not consider?

How would that have changed things?

What can we do differently, and who can we turn to for help if needed?

Interestingly, these considerations are all part of debriefing learning, and also an integral part of Solution Fluency, which we discussed earlier. The Debrief stage of this process presents the perfect opportunity for students to learn from errors, and to become curious about how to improve in similar and future situations.

A Final Word

Remember that what is most intriguing about curiosity is the path it reveals, not simply the destination it leads to. Allowing learners to explore this path with full autonomy and trust is a recipe for meaningful learning every time. Let them get curious, let them get messy, and let them be inspired by the unknown.

 And watch the magic happen.



Association for Psychological Science. (2011). Curiosity is critical to academic performance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 28, 2023 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111027150211.htm

Brod, G., & Breitwieser, J. (2019). Lighting the wick in the candle of learning: generating a prediction stimulates curiosity. NPJ science of learning, 4(1), 17.

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough: 21st-century fluencies for the digital age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Crockett, L. (2019). Future-focused learning: 10 essential shifts of everyday practice. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Ernst, D. C., Hodge, A., & Yoshinobu, S. (2017). What is inquiry-based learning? Notices of the AMS, 64(6), 570-574.

Gross, M. E., Zedelius, C. M., & Schooler, J. W. (2020). Cultivating an understanding of curiosity as a seed for creativity. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 35, 77-82.

Halloran, E. (2022). Response to “Mistakes”. Family Medicine, 54(4), 317-317.

Itlyashev, E. (2022). Flourish And Failure: Learning From Mistakes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2022/11/23/flourish-and-failure-learning-from-mistakes, Mar. 2, 2023.

Kashdan, T.B. Sherman, R.A. Yarbro, J. Funder, D.C. (2013). Curious People in Social Situations. J Pers, 81: 142-154. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2012.00796.x

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2013). Essential questions: Opening doors to student understanding. Ascd.

Price-Mitchell, M. (2015). Curiosity: The Force Within a Hungry Mind. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-pathways-curiosity-hungry-mind-marilyn-price-mitchell, Mar. 1, 2023.

Rimiene, V. (2002). Assessing and developing students' critical thinking. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 2(1), 17-22.

Rock, L. Morse, K. Eppich, W. Rudolph, J. (2023). Transforming Team Culture Through Curiosity and Collaboration: A Case Study From Critical Care. American College of Chest Physicians.

Sannito, D. (2021). Leading With Curiosity to Embrace Infinite Possibility. Retrieved from https://chopra.com/articles/leading-with-curiosity-to-embrace-infinite-possibility, Mar. 1, 2023.

Taylor, J. (2020). Creative Thinking vs Critical Thinking. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/creative-thinking-vs-critical-james-taylor, Mar. 1, 2023.

Whitesides, G. (2018). Curiosity and science. Angewandte Chemie International Edition 57, no. 16 (2018): 4126-4129.

Zion, M. Sadeh, I. (2007). Curiosity and open inquiry learning. Journal of Biological Education. 41. 162-169. 10.1080/00219266.2007.9656092.