The Power of a Two-Word Question

                One of my neighbors recently posted a question on the Home Owners’ Association webpage, “Does anyone have any recommendations for new windows?”  Several neighbors suggested various contractors.  I replied, “I use Windows 10.”  Undoubtedly there are some who would see that as silly or childish, but that sort of thing is one way I have found to build quick and strong relationships with people because when we make people laugh, physiology explains that we make them feel good (Savage, 2017).

                That brand of humor originates in a powerful two-word question.  In my two decades of teaching experience, I learned and shared that question with my students to equip them to solve many of their world’s problems as they pass through life.  The power of asking a two-word question is not limited to expanding one’s sense of humor, but that question can also help them navigate through a multitude of the world’s ills.  The question is basically, “What else?”  Its practical form ends up being something like, “What else could I try?”  Or, “What else could it be?”  Or, “What else should I be thinking about?”

Certainly, What else could I try? aligns well with SMPs 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8.  What else could I use? can motivate trying a different tool (SMP 5 and 7).    Engineers must think of alternate methods and components to make their designs work.  Scientists must think of other variables that might influence their experiment, What else could affect this? 

People that ask What else? questions may grow in their creativity as they look past the textbook routine or what they see in a picture.  The chef that asks, What else might make this flavor more exciting? will be able to create new recipes for others to follow.  Hairstylists might ask, What else might look good on this older lady that would be easier for her to manage? 

What else? questions can help us look past appearances to see the hearts of those around us.  When one of my students is annoyed by another student on their team, that presents an opportunity for social-emotional learning.  One of the best SEL strategies I have found is to ask, What else do you think might cause them to act that way?   When one of my students is struggling, I might ask myself, What else could be holding him back?  I would argue that the heart of the quest for equity is found in the question What else should it be?

With suicide rates growing (Aboujaoude, 2016), irrational thinking is being explored as to how it affects one’s decision to end their life (Lester, 2012).  Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, abandonment, and shame can be fed by self-talk that convinces the victim that suicide is the only solution.  What else should I be thinking? Might be helpful in re-mapping the responses that could follow repeated negative thinking and ruminating. (How to Stop, 2020)

What else? questions can also be used for evil:  twisting and warping, shading the truth, mocking or inuendo.  So let’s agree to use those questions in spirit of love, gratitude, and kindness.  We may not succeed in making the world a better place overall, but we can continue to learn ways to positively affect the many places in our own spheres of influence.

As I continue to look for work in my new Raleigh home, I ask my readers, What else should I try to find that perfect fit?

Aboujaoude E. (2016). Rising suicide rates: an under-recognized role for the Internet?. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)15(3), 225–227.

How to stop negative self-talk. (2021). Retrieved 13 March 2021, from

Lester D. The Role of Irrational Thinking in Suicidal Behavior. Comprehensive Psychology. January 2012. doi:10.2466/

Savage, B. M., Lujan, H. L., Thipparthi, R. R., DiCarl, S. E.(2017) Laughter, learning, and health! A brief review. Advances in Physiology Education, (41), 341.  05 JUL 2017

6 thoughts on “The Power of a Two-Word Question

  1. Hi Jane,

    Great post. Going forward I plan on using those two words when teaching my students, as well as, in my personal life.

    I hope all is well with you. Keep up the great posts!



    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Ms. Walker!

    I agree that, “what else?,” is a powerful question in the classroom as it forces students to elaborate on their thought process. I am a college student studying to be a high school mathematics teacher. Do you have any suggestions of how I can use this question while teaching a math lesson?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Tayah! I would stop at a point where logical thinking could construct the next “step” and ask, “What next?” At that point I might give 10 seconds of silence and then have students share their ideas within their teams. Then I would solicit a response from each facilitator or reporter. That way, students have 1) time to think, 2) time to bounce ideas around without talking to the entire class, 3) opportunities to hear other strategies. I definitely find that when students speak, others tend to listen intently. I often have students repeat directions for that reason!


  4. Hi Ms. Lane Walker,
    I too agree with you. Asking two -word question gives more understanding about the same among the children’s which makes them answer the question more enthusiastically as well as in their own creativeness.
    While teaching math “what else?” gives a different way of approach to the problems which helps the children learning a problem with different methodology. But for the poor learners, it may not work out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My experience is that poor learners become good learners when they discover “what else” can be done with math that is important to them and start to have small successes. The question after a small success might be, “What else can you learn that you never thought possible?”


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