Posted in Miscellaneous

A Teacher’s Quest for Questions

Every teacher hopes for a classroom full of engaged learners and a sea of raised hands every time they ask a question. Obviously, this is not often the case in every classroom. However, how you pose questions to your students can make a big difference in participation!

So how do you ask questions to your students? First of all, have your learning objective in mind when thinking of questions. Next, what type of question do you want to ask and how should you ask them? Here are a few ideas of what kinds of questions to avoid and how to change them for the better:

Avoid:

Obvious questions. Nobody likes to answer obvious questions. Students feel silly and are unwilling to respond when everyone knows the answer.

Instead:

Ask questions that require higher thinking and are not just “what the teacher wants to hear”.

Avoid:

General questions. Students are unwilling to answer if they do not know the direction of the question.

Instead:

Ask specific questions about a certain subject or aspect of the topic being discussed.

Avoid:

Closed yes or no questions.

Instead:

Follow up a yes or no question with asking the student why or having them give an example.

Avoid:

A multi-layered question at the beginning.

Instead:

Build the students up to a multi-layered question using other questions.

Avoid:

Multiple questions at once.

Instead:

Move onto another question only after you have received an adequate answer to the previous question.

asking questions

Follow up on an answer from a student with another question, or if the answer is correct, let them know. If it is not what you were looking for, also let them know. Respond kindly so they are not discouraged from answering a question again, but make sure not to leave any confusion. If it is an opinion-based question, respond yourself or, even better, have other students respond with their opinions. Never act like a student’s question is unintelligent or that a student is unintelligent for asking such a question.

After asking a question, you may not receive an answer right away. It is okay to let them sit in this uncomfortable state of silence for a minute. As long as you have asked the right kind of question, you do not need to be the one that feels awkward. If the question might be a bit confusing, ask it again, ask it in a different way, or go back and restate the question if it didn’t come out the way you wanted it to. Sometimes the silence may be a result of their thinking. Instead of being anxious to break the silence, give them time to think. Tell them they have a minute and when the time is up, ask them again for a response. If it is a deep question, you can even go on in the lesson, letting them digest the question and come back to it later in the lesson.

question-mark

The website, “The Right Way to Ask Questions in the Classroom” and its links discuss some great ideas on the struggle of getting everyone involved in the questioning process. You often have the same students who answer all your questions and the others feel they are not smart enough or just don’t care. As a student, I never liked being called on to answer a question before it was even asked. I would get nervous and anxious and not even be able to focus on anything that was said after my name. However, when you randomly choose students to answer throughout your lesson after giving just 5-10 seconds for the students to comprehend and evaluate the question and their answer, participation is increased. They never know when they will be called upon so focus becomes key. You can also ask multiple students the same question to get different responses. To change things up a bit, have students tell their answer to a partner, someone next to them, or divide them into groups to discuss. You can then ask each partnership or group what they came up with. This can help break up the raise-your-hand type questions.

Responses to the right kind of questions can be incredibly rewarding. They help teachers know if the students are understanding the material and can also help the teacher gain new insight from their students. So remember to not only ask questions, but also ask the right kind of questions!

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