Asking questions in class is a central part of teaching, learning and assessment. You should aim to ask challenging questions of students and they should feel comfortable to ask questions of you.
Questioning allows you to:
- Check learning
- Stretch learning
- Support learning
What follows are some approaches to maximise your questioning technique so that you can avoid the tumbleweed that blows past as you ask a question to a whole room of learners.
It’s important to ensure that questions are spread across the room. The same, generally confident, students with strong knowledge and skills are the ones who will put up their hands if asked to do so. What you must ensure, as questioning is designed to inform you of what everyone is capable of, is that you spread the questions around the room so that everyone’s learning is checked, stretched and supported. Keep an eye on who you’re asking and vary it throughout the lesson. One difficulty can arise from the learners getting comfortable when they know who will be asked next so varying your movement of questions around the room is of benefit.
Here are some great strategies for varying who you ask whilst also adding a fun element to it:
- Use a random name generator: try the ‘Decide Now‘ App for iPad or THIS SITE
- Use lollipop sticks with names on and pick them out at random
- Students nominate each other to answer- this is a good strategy if the class know each other well and are comfortable with one another
Give students thinking time
It’s crucial that whatever method of questioning is used, learners get an opportunity to consider what their answer will be. This allows them to enter the pit of challenge and when they answer, their response is likely to be more of a considered one than an inaccurate, rushed and pressurised one.
The think, pair, square, share strategy for larger questions can work really well if the confidence of your students in answering questions is an issue as they get several opportunities to shape and build upon their answer before it has to be delivered in front of all of their peers.
It is useful to plan questions in advance of a lesson so that you check the learning that’s really most crucial at a particular point of the course. Aim to decide whether the questions will be open or closed ones.
Planning the questions you want to ask can be done at the different levels of Bloom and this can ensure that you have questions that will stretch and challenge each of your learners; no matter what their level.
Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce
Using this questioning technique allows you to ensure that a question can grow, develop and that a full and correct answer can be reached. It adds high expectations to the lesson as you’re not just accepting the first answer you receive and you’re also challenging all learners to be paying attention to one another’s responses whilst thinking of their own. It encourages creativity and forces the learners to extend their learning past the immediately obvious.
Here’s a short video explanation of the technique:
This image was generated by City of Bath College and is an original idea from @TeacherToolkit
What about the rest?
In asking questions to a class of learners, it will be impossible for you to work around the room to get a response from each and every learner, but there are a few things you can try in order to achieve this:
- Give each learner a mini whiteboard (a laminated piece of A4 plain paper works just as well!). Count down from 3 and then ask them to all reveal their responses at the same time- immediately, you’ll get a sense of where any misconceptions lie.
- Ask questions via Padlet, Today’s Meet or Poll Everywhere so that you receive responses from all learners
Dealing with students’ answers
Dealing with students’ answers is sometimes as much of an art as asking them questions is. You need to offer praise at their bravery for answering but ensure that the correct answer is met. These are some strategies that can help you to deal with answers quickly and effectively. Leave an appropriate ‘wait time’ before accepting a response.
If your students are asking questions at difficult points during the lesson, there are things you can do to deal with this rather than sidetrack the learning activity in order to answer their questions.
- Create a designated ‘Question Time’ in the lesson that students are told about. You could even set up a panel to answer questions!
- Use a ‘wonder wall’ for students to place their questions throughout a lesson.
- Have a question wall up in the classroom. Students can add questions on sticky notes throughout the lesson. These can be dealt with at intervals or at the end of a lesson/ week. Students could self- regulate and remove them as soon as their questions are answered.
- Give praise and reward at the right time
- Right answers must be both complete and correct
- Let students know it is alright to try even if they do not get the right answer
- Do not make an issue of resistance to answer
- Be encouraging and sound pleased when you get an answer
- Correct your students’ answers without being discouraging
- Do not say “no” or “that’s wrong”
- Never make fun of student answers
- Give clues to help discover the answer
- Always try to get the correct answer prior to moving on to another question
Even More Questioning Techniques
The idea behind these kinds of questions is to force students to think about the process of learning. This should lead to them becoming a more successful learner through such evaluations.
Here are some examples of these kinds of questions:
1.What parts of the learning would you find easiest/hardest to explain to someone else?
2.How could you use this learning in another subject or outside school?
3.How will you remember this learning?
4.What are the steps or stages of explaining this concept/problem?
5.If you did this again how would you do it differently?
6.How have you solved problems like this before?
Pictures to generate questions
Try using pictures at the start of a lesson to engage students with a new topic or to recap and old topic.
Try to source pictures that are obscure in some way. The idea is that students would generate things they would like to know about the objects/ people/ places.
Suggestion 1: Give students sticky notes and they should walk around the room, look at all the pictures and stick on their questions as they go.
Suggestion 2: Put students in small groups or pairs. They can walk around the room discussing the pictures, generating questions and sharing possible answers.
The final part of this activity can be included if you’ve asked students to write their questions down anywhere. Get the students to identify the lower and higher level questions with what they’ve asked. You’ll find that ‘How is she feeling?’ might appear like a ‘knowledge’ level, perhaps ‘understanding’ but depending on what kinds of responses you push for, it could easily move to ‘analysis’ or ‘evaluation’ if the cause of the way she’s feeling is considered. Use some Bloom pictures to engage students with this process as it will promote a higher level approach to questioning.
Thunks are big thinking questions. They force students to contemplate an issue in a broader, philosophical sense. The presentation below, provides a few ideas to use. It is best if the ‘thunk’ relates to your topic in some way so try to create your own. Alternatively, Google ‘thunks’ and you’ll find a whole host of questions to explore with your students. The depth of thinking generated by a ‘thunk’ can lead you into discussions with your students about the simplest of things.
Try this question matrix
Give one (or two) students the responsibility of monitoring questions for a lesson (or at least a part of it). They should make notes about the frequency of questions (from tutor or students) and also the type of questions asked (try using the question matrix).
This highlights the importance of effective questions in the classroom for them and can also help you to see whether you’re asking enough higher level questions.
Although these resources can work for teachers, it’s great to train your students in this technique too! There are even suggested ways of responding more effectively. Use this to really get discussions going!
This video takes you through some of the premise of the Socratic questioning method to challenge your students and question their knowledge at a deeper level. Here, someone is asked to define what a dog is. This is a seemingly straightforward question but leads them to a more philosophical consideration than they had at first anticipated.
Teaching your students to question each other in this way will help them to study and revise more effectively.