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Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Improving Your Students’ Virtual Exchange Experience Through Curiosity

How is it that my students will fire a fusillade of interrogatives at me when it’s time to administer a quiz, or when they want to get me off topic, but when asked to film a short video, they claim, “I don’t know what else to say…” How are these inquisitive young minds only motivated to inquire when it suits them? Well, I call shenanigans on that! If we want kids to open up and share meaningful conversations in our virtual exchanges, they need to practice real curiosity—even if we have to train them to do it. And that’s why we need to get them asking the right questions.

1. Spark Their Curiosity with a Mystery Box

Kick off your virtual exchange with a bang by introducing the “Mystery Box” challenge. Have your class bring in items unique to their culture or locality, and then have them film the “unboxing” for their exchange partners. (Yes, just like the “unboxing” videos they probably watch on YouTube and TikTok!)

The catch? Each item must come with a riddle or clue, not an outright explanation. This activity prompts students to ask questions that dig deeper, encouraging a genuine curiosity about their peers’ lives and cultures. Maybe have them solicit their virtual exchange partners to come up with their best guesses about the item, its purpose, and its significance without doing a Google image search! This could be a good icebreaker or introduction video, but it also might be a good capstone to one of the courses with a specific topic, like reading The Giver or “Games Around the World!” 

2. Host a “Curious Cat” Q&A Session

I see people on Reddit all the time doing AMAs, or “Ask Me Anything” sessions. Your students, too, might be familiar with this sort of setup, so why not organize a live Q&A session where the kids can ask their exchange partners anything (within respectful and educational bounds, of course)?

But here’s the spin, especially for the LUV courses that start at the elementary school ages: label it the “Curious Cat” session and encourage students to be as inquisitively playful as a kitten. Whether it’s about daily routines, school life, favorite pastimes, or dreams for the future, this session should be a safe space for curiosity to run wild and ask all their ridiculous questions!

3. Create a “Question Relay” Game

This game involves students creating a chain of video questions and answers. One student records a video asking a question, which is then sent to a partner student abroad. That student answers the question and asks a new one in the same video. This relay continues, building a rich tapestry of dialogue that gets everyone involved.

It’s a fun, engaging way to ensure each student participates and practices their curiosity. You can bake this into any of your exchanges, and it’s actually good practice to have them always ask questions at the end of their videos. Plus, your students should be familiar with this structure, as so many YouTubers will wrap videos in this way; “answer in the comments below,” is a famous tag they can now use for themselves! 

4. Dive Into “Cultural Detective” Projects

Assign students the role of cultural detectives, where they investigate a specific aspect of their exchange partner’s country or culture. They’ll need to formulate insightful questions to uncover the mysteries of culinary traditions, festivals, historical landmarks, or local legends. This project not only boosts curiosity but also deepens cultural understanding and appreciation.

You can pick a topic that’s relevant to the Level Up Village course you’re doing, like sustainable energy practices of a certain country in “Human Impact on the Environment: Our Communities,” or also as it pertains to your curriculum as a whole, like Catholic traditions in Mexico in preparation for the Cultural Comparison portion of the Spanish AP exam! 

5. Implement a “Thoughtful Thursday” Reflection

Sometimes, with my seniors, I like to do “Philosophy Friday,” where they can ask me such gems as, “Will social security still exist when we get old?” or “Why do Europeans dress better than us Americans?” Maybe try something like that with your virtual exchange! Every Thursday, ask students to reflect on what they’ve learned about their exchange partners and what they’re curious to know more about. This can be a short video, a journal entry, or a discussion.

Encouraging regular reflection ensures that curiosity doesn’t wane and that students continuously seek to understand their global classmates on a deeper level. Just getting them talking about the videos and the whole experience will also give you some pretty direct and meaningful feedback about how the whole thing is going, their videography process, and what they’ve learned!

Kids having questions can be annoying when you’re trying to get them to listen, but hey—it’s natural! By integrating these playful, engaging strategies into your virtual exchange program, you’re not just teaching students to ask questions; you’re cultivating a culture of curiosity and empathy. This isn’t just about making virtual exchanges more interactive; it’s about preparing our students for a world that values not just the answers they can provide, but the questions they are brave and thoughtful enough to ask.

Let’s transform our students from passive participants into curious explorers, eager to discover the world beyond their immediate surroundings. And who knows? In the process of sparking their curiosity, we might just reignite our own. After all, the best part of teaching is learning alongside our students, each and every day. Happy questioning!