Questioning – great ideas and common pitfalls

30 Ideas of How to Improve Your Questioning:

1. Probing – this promotes reflective and critical thinking. e.g.: ‘Can you be more specific?’, ‘Does that always apply?’, ‘What makes you think that?’, ‘How does that fit in [with]?’
2. Using a ‘no-hands’ rule to contribute to creating a supportive classroom climate. If you only ever ask people with their hands up, it limits who is included and can leave some students disengaged from the process. The ‘no-hands’ tactic also lets you direct questions where you want and to pitch a question at the appropriate level to extend the student you are asking.
3. Reflecting/echoing – who agrees/disagrees?
4. Stalling – hold that thought and we’ll come back to it
5. Echoing – If a student asks a question, don’t answer it until you’ve asked the class, “How would you answer that question…?”
6. Guiding – use the student’s response to guide your next question rather than to use your question to guide the student’s response.
7. Ask a rich question…allow thinking time…discuss with partner…ask some groups for feedback (without judgment)…note replies on board…whole class discussion on responses and misconceptions
8. At the start of a unit of work allow students to write down as many questions as possible as a focus for the teacher to begin the pathway to learning.
9. Place a minimum requirement on answers: Saying something like ‘Do not answer this in less than 15 words’ will begin to produce longer responses.
10. Talk partners – allow students discussion time before responding to questions
11. Snowballing – following a question allow talk partners to merge, then merge again…until a consensus is reached
12. Ask a question then allow 3 mins open forum discussion between the whole group – the teacher must step back…just listen and learn!
13. Ask a question then students jot down 3 key points in their books. These are then ticked-off as they come up in discussion.
14. Ask a question and allow students to jot 2 points on post-it notes. Stick these on the board and remove 2 others for talk partners to discuss.
15. Ask a question and allow each student to respond via mini-whiteboard. This encourages participation.
16. Ask questions that require students to defend their positions. Play “devil’s advocate,” even with students you agree with or who articulate their points most cogently. All students can benefit from this intellectual exercise.
17. Ask a question with multiple possible answers. Write all options on the board without commenting on the list being produced. Then have the class discuss the options, explaining why some answers are better than others.
18. Explore a statement: Rather than asking students a direct question, give them a statement and invite them to discuss, perhaps first in pairs and then in fours, what it means. The statement could be correct or false or ambiguous, for example: ‘nuclear weapons are an effective from of deterrent’; ‘swimming is the most effective form of aerobic exercise’. Statements can be extremely successful as alternatives to questions. Studies have shown that student responses to teacher statements can be longer and more complex
19. Similarly, simply by adding ‘agree or disagree’ to a statement you are likely to get a more considered response…’ glaciers are frozen rivers…agree or disagree?’.
20. Give the students the answer in the form of a question – ‘rivers form ‘v’ shaped valleys. Why?’
21. Paint the picture: This is particularly useful for exploring abstract ideas. Ask a question and then get students to draw how they picture the answer they have in their minds. You might say, for example, ‘So the energy in the battery is transferred around the circuit to the bulb and then to the air by light and heating’. What is in your head? How do you picture this? Draw it.’
22. Generate questions together: Start with a problem and discuss with students what questions are needed to find an answer. For example, a teacher might say: ‘If we want to find out what happened to Thomas Becket, what questions do we need to ask? Discuss this in pairs; you have 3 minutes and then I will take some of your questions.’
23. Invoke the ‘big question’ at the start of the lesson…which provides the overall focus.
24. Start each lesson with a thinking exercise based around a question – which isn’t even necessarily linked to your subject… ‘is it possible to be friendly on a deserted island?’.
25. Get your older students to rephrase questions for younger students. By asking a Year 10 class to reshape questions for a Year 8 class they are, of course, developing their own thinking and questioning skills.
26. Look at GCSE key questions from syllabi as a probable starting point for discussion.
27. Stick questions on your walls, display questions everywhere, hang-up key quotes that inspire questioning, give question starters prominence in your classroom.
28. Start with a stimulus – photo, artifact, quote, etc – as a useful opener. Your opening question is simply…’What do you think this is’ or ‘what would you like to know about this?’ or ‘if this could talk, what would you ask it?’ The key point here is that the teacher becomes the chairperson or conduit during Q&A through which rich questioning and discussion take place. Debate is had, learning is assessed and students are doing the work! Do not answer the questions yourself!
29. Use incorrect answers from homework as a platform for class discussion at the start of a lesson.
30. For each lesson, have 2-3 really quality questions planned. Make this something you get in the habit of doing as a matter of course.

20 Suggestions to Avoid:

1. Teacher dominance – The teacher often contributes at least two-thirds of the talk. usually follows the pattern: teacher question, student answer, teacher evaluation and next question.
2. Low-order questioning – asking too many closed questions that need only a short answer
3. Elliptical questions – These are vague: “What about the League of Nations?”
4. Tugging questions – These place emphasis on rote: “Come on, think of a third reason.”
5. Guessing questions – These encourage speculation rather than thought: “How long do you think man has been on earth?”
6. Leading questions – These tend to give away answers and infer bias: “How do vitamins help to build strong bodies and make up deficiencies?”
7. Vague questions – These don’t give students any direction as to what is called for: “Tell us about ‘of mice and men’”, ‘What do you think we’re going to do today?”
8. Vague Redirection and probing – often demotivating: “That’s not right; try again”; “Where did you get an idea like that?”
9. Rhetorical questions – often demotivating: ‘Haven’t we covered that already?’
10. Procedural questions – “Have you all done your homework?”
11. Exclamations – “Haven’t you done that yet?”
12. Inviting students to respond in chorus – this encourages rote learning
13. Answering your own questions – “What will happen next? Well, the liquid will probably…”
14. Expediting discussion – moving on after only one student answer. Interrupting student response
15. Pace – asking questions too soon after an intense learning experience that may need time for absorption and reflection. Asking too many questions at once. Not giving students time to reflect, or to pose their own questions
16. Progression – asking difficult questions without building up to them
17. Asking bogus ‘guess what’s in my head’ questions – a period of interrogation takes place until the ‘right’ answer is reached
18. Involvement – focusing on a small number of students and not involving the whole class. Favouring boys/girls
19. Inappropriateness – asking questions when another strategy might be more appropriate.
20. Negativity – Negative tone of voice/body language from a teacher diminishes confidence and discussion

Posted in Assessment and Questioning

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