General Strategies for Asking Questions

teachingcenter. wustl. edu


When planning questions, keep in mind your course goals. For example, do you want students to master core concepts? To develop their critical thinking skills? The questions you ask should help them practice these skills, as well as communicate to them the facts, ideas, and ways of thinking that are important to their learning in your course. (For more information about course goals, see Planning a Course).
 
Avoid asking “leading questions”. A leading question is phrased in such a way that it suggests its own answer and therefore discourages students from thinking on their own.
 
Follow a “yes-or- no” question with an additional question. For example, follow up by asking students to explain why they answered the way they did, to provide evidence or an example, or to respond to a yes-or-no answer given by another student.
 
Aim for direct, clear, specific questions. During class discussions, rather than beginning with a single question that is multilayered and complex, use a sequence of questions to build depth and complexity. Essay questions on exams or paper assignments, on other hand, often provide an appropriate opportunity to ask multi-layered questions. If your exam will include multi-layered questions, use questions during class time to walk students through the process of answering multi-layered questions.
 
In class discussions, do not ask more than one question at once. When you ask more than one question, students often do not respond because they are unsure which question you want them to answer.
 
When you plan each class session, include notes of when you will pause to ask and answer questions. Asking questions throughout the class will not only make the class more interactive, but also help you measure and improve student learning. Do not save the last two minutes of class for questions. Students are unlikely to ask questions when they know that only a few minutes remain.
 
Ask a mix of different types of questions. You should use “closed” questions, or questions that have a limited number of correct answers, to test students’ comprehension and retention of important information. You should also ask managerial questions to ensure, for example, that your students understand an assignment or have access to necessary materials. “Open” questions, which prompt multiple and sometimes conflicting answers, are often the most effective in encouraging discussion and active learning in the classroom.
 
 
Responding Effectively
 
Wait for students to think and formulate responses. Waiting 5–10 seconds will increase the number of students who volunteer to answer and will lead to longer, more complex answers. If students do not volunteer before 5 seconds have passed, refrain from answering your own question, which will only communicate to students that if they do not answer, you will do their thinking for them. If the students are unable to answer after sufficient time for thinking has passed, rephrase the question.
 
Do not interrupt students’ answers. You may find yourself wanting to interrupt because you think you know what the student is going to say, or simply because you are passionate about the material. Resist this temptation. Hearing the students’ full responses will allow you to give them credit for their ideas and to determine when they have not yet understood the material.
 
Show that you are interested in students’ answers, whether right or wrong. Encourage students when they are offering answers by nodding, looking at them, and using facial expressions that show you are listening and engaged. Do not look down at your notes while they are speaking.
 
Develop responses that keep students thinking. For example, ask the rest of the class to respond to an idea that one student has just presented, or ask the student who answered to explain the thinking that led to her answer.
 
If a student gives an incorrect or weak answer, point out what is incorrect or weak about the answer, but ask the student a follow-up question that will lead that student, and the class, to the correct or stronger answer.
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