ineffective question prompts February 26

“Everybody with Me?” and Other Not-so-useful Questions


“Any questions?” “Is everybody with me?” “Does this make sense?” I have asked my students these vague types of questions many times and the most common response was…silence. But how should I interpret the silence? Perhaps the students understand everything completely and therefore have no questions. Maybe they have questions but are afraid to ask them out of fear of looking stupid. Or it could mean that they are so lost they don’t even know what to ask! Only our boldest students would say; “Um, you lost me 10 minutes ago, can you repeat the whole thing again?”

pile of question marks May 9, 2017

Questions to Ask When Students Won’t Participate


Participation continues to be one of the most common methods faculty use to get students involved in their learning. It’s a go-to strategy for many, but various studies have shown that it’s not always used in ways that realize its full potential. We go to the well so often, we fall into patterns and do not observe or analyze what we are doing and why.

Meanwhile, getting students to talk in class, much less provide meaningful contributions, is like pulling teeth. Whether they’re shy, unprepared, or simply reluctant to share their ideas, getting students to talk in class is a constant struggle.

The point here is not to find out who’s to blame for the lack of discussion, but rather to encourage teachers to take inventory of what’s occurring in the classroom. Is there something else that might be done to encourage students to get involved?

Ideas and Strategies to Encourage Participation 

Have you given students something to talk about? Something to read? Questions to consider as they read? A reaction paper that captures their thoughts and gives them something concrete to contribute?

Discussion Prompt: “When you do the reading, I’d like you to note a passage that you disagree with. We’ll use those passages to start our discussion of the reading.” Alternatively, the selected passage might be something that relates to a personal experience or something we’ve talked about in class, or something you don’t understand, never thought about before, or would have a question about. This option works best when the prompt is singular and specific.

Have you talked about the role of participation in this course? Why do you want it? What it contributes to learning? How do you feel about wrong answers and mistakes?

Discussion Prompt: “I encourage participation in this course for five reasons: 1) it gives me feedback so that I know how you’re thinking about and understanding the content; 2) it gives you practice speaking like a biologist, political scientist, engineer, philosopher (whatever the field); 3) it gives your classmates the chance to learn from someone besides me; 4) it helps you develop an important communication skill; and 5) it gives us a chance to get to know each other. I don't expect you to perfect--you'll make mistakes and so will I. That's how we learn.”

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November 6, 2013

Better Questions are the Answer


Good answers depend on good questions. That’s why we work so hard on the content of our questions and why we should work with students on how they ask their questions. What also helps to make questions good is asking the right type of question. It goes to intent—what we want in the way of an answer. The type of question we ask conveys this intent to the listener.

June 5, 2013

Questions about All Those Questions Teachers Ask


For some time now my good friend and colleague Larry Spence and I have been discussing the role of questions in the college classroom. The conversation started with concerns over the quantity and quality of questions students ask—those earnest questions about what’s going to be on the exam and gently demanding queries about what the teacher “wants” in almost any kind of written assignment. Those questions are important to students, but they certainly are not the questions of curious learners nor are they the type of questions that motivate learning and intellectual development.

June 27, 2012

Three Ways to Ask Better Questions in the Classroom


I’ve been doing some presentations on classroom interaction and thinking yet again about how we could do better with our questions — the ones we ask in class or online. Good questions make students think, they encourage participation and I think they improve the caliber of the answers students give and the questions they ask. To achieve those worthwhile outcomes more regularly, I’d like to recommend three actions that have the potential to improve our questioning.

May 4, 2011

Questioning Skills to Engage Students


Questioning skills are essential to good teaching. Teachers often use questions to ensure that students are attentive and engaged, and to assess students’ understanding. What is important to note is that in addition to the intent of the question, the question itself matters. For instance, to ensure that students are attentive, a teacher could ask the students “Are you listening?” To assess if the students have understood, the teacher could ask “Do you follow me?”