A Good Question

The idea here is that if one can generate a ‘good question’ from ones readings, listening to lecture or podcast, or watching video, one is well on the way toward effective learning.  If one is able to pose a question, a question that engages with the material at hand, that integrates it across domains of thought, then one is really moving forward with understanding and being able to use the knowledge one gains.


The good question exercise is one I often use in teaching. But more than that, it is an approach to learning and research that I use myself.

I try first to understand a piece of writing, say on a subject that is new to me or one that I might have a divergent perspective from the author. I am a strong believer in the efficacy of comprehension before critique.   It is so easy to create a shopping list of all the things wrong with something I disagree with.  It is more intellectually challenging to try and understand the logic, perspective, data, and argument of an author first. It will ultimately make any critique (positive or negative) more effective and nuanced in the long run. In my blog post ‘What does the prof want?‘ I discuss this approach in a bit more detail with an eye toward effective study technique.

Here is a standard set of instructions that I often use as the basis of a group activity in a class.

  • Each group is to generate two or three ‘good’ questions based on the reading assignments. Take a few minutes -no more than five- to brainstorm ideas within the group. Write them down so that you can consider them. These ideas should not be fully formed questions.
  • Next, review the ideas and begin to design questions from them. Ask yourself if the questions challenge you to think through the issues of fieldwork or do they help you understand the context of the two research sites. Be mindful that the answers must be in the readings and/or film. Also, the questions should not be designed to elicit opinion; they should require reference to information from the readings listed above.
  • After everyone in the group has asked and discussed the questions revise and winnow the questions to two or three that you would be interested in presenting to the class.
  • As part of this process you should also sketch out a brief answer to each of the questions.
  • After finalizing the questions each group will present one question to the discussion group. At the end of this session hand in the questions and answers.

Whether used as a group activity, or an individual learning technique, the idea behind the good question draws upon a variation of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is a kind of hierarchy of learning and knowledge. Imagine that the first step is simple memory and recall. Then we start to build comprehension. We apply our knowledge in some way. From there we start to analysis novel situations with our knowledge, link it together synthetically with other types of knowledge and then finally are able to evaluate (or critique our knowledge).

The good question approach is based on an idea of active learning – go beyond memory work- integrate the knowledge into one’s one understanding and make use of it. Doing it this way is one effective way to become a more proficient learner and ultimately a better researcher.



Good Question Excercise: example questions

Here are a selection of some great questions that students prepared in ANTH 100 (2013).  The good question exercise builds from the “What’s the Prof Want” activity and blog post.   I would strongly recommend that you read over the blog post as part of your preparation for the mid-term and final exam. Also, take advantage of the study tips menu tab on the top right of this page.

Questions from Cordelia’s tutorial groups:

  • How is the minutemen organization part of or a product of the neoliberalist government?
  • Identify patterns found in the methods used to socially and geographically segregate the illegal immigrants and the Palestinians.
  • To what extent do the minutemen reaffirm the culture of conservatism in the US but are also antagonistically  positioned to it?
  • Evaluate the material and cultural motivations of the minutemen individually and as a whole.
  • Analyze the various ways in which the key is an important symbol for Palestinian refugees.
  • In what ways are the minutemen and the Palestinians both trying to protect their cultures/identity?

Questions from Daniela’s tutorial groups:

  • How do Palestinians maintain their identity and self-representation after Al-Nakba? And how has it changed over time?
  • What factors allow the minutemen to perform their duties?
  • For Palestinians in Jordan and Minutemen in the USA how is a sense of nationality and belonging to a specific geographical area linked to identity?
  • How do the US minutemen consider illegal immigration and terrorism as two side of the same coin, and how does this further their ideology?

Questions from Sarah’s tutorial Groups:

  • How and why do the minutemen claim immigrants are a cause of social ills?
  • How do the Palestinians see themselves and their own identity after being displaced?
  • Compare and contrast the homeland power struggle of Palestinian refugees and American Minutemen.
  • How do symbols, such as a key, represent the struggles and determination of the Palestinian refugees?
  • To what extent has the Palestinian’s sense of identity changed as a result of becoming a refugee?
  • Compare how the older and younger generations of Palestinians have adapted their cultural practices after 1948.
  • Why do the minutemen feel they are necessary or important?
  • What is the relationship between the U.S. government and minutemen and what does this relationship represent?

Questions from Danielle’s tutorial groups:

  • In what ways are the Palestinian refugees in Jordan considered to be a part of their “new” and “old” society?
  • How has globalization affected the communities in the two readings?
  • How might focusing on an individual affect the bias of the fieldworker?
  • How (if at all) do Palestinians embrace the new culture in which they are displaced?
  • What role does ethnocentrism play in actions of the minutemen?
  • Evaluate the impact of displacement on the social/cultural identities of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan.



2012-Final Exam Essay Questions

You may bring this sheet (see linked pdf: Final-exam-essay?) with you to the final exam.

You can write an essay outline on this sheet. ONLY AN OUTLINE; NOTHING MORE.

You will write your name on this sheet and hand it in with your final exam.

The final exam will be scored out of 40 marks (worth 40% of your final grade).
Part 1 of the exam is 20 points (questions will be handed out on exam day).
Part 2 is 20 points with each essay question worth 10 points.

Select two of the following questions to prepare for your final exam.

The essay portion will be evaluated in accord with the writing guidelines listed on your course outline. The best answers will be those that are able to effectively draw from a wide range of the course materials, go beyond straight description, and include evaluation and analysis of the materials. Even though the questions do not explicitly say – answer from course materials- you should assume that is implied. Your role in preparing for your exam essays is to reflect upon the overall content and structure of the course, to delve as deeply as possible within the subject matter and then to prepare to write a detailed an essay as possible. Use your chance to prepare an outline (which you write by hand on this sheet of paper) to assist you in preparing a skeleton (or close line ☺ ) upon which to drape the body of your paper.

The Essay Questions.
1. What is neo-liberalism and what are the cultural analogs of neoliberalism? In your essay provide at least two examples of neo-liberalism in action.
2. Compare and contrast kinship systems and their associated ideologies of gender in relation to the ‘family’ as a unit of (re)production.
3. Describe and evaluate the ways that culture, gender, race, and nationality are deployed to create a society that is biased in favour of violence.