Questions are a teacher’s most powerful tool, they can keep a lesson flowing, highlight misconceptions or open up a discussion that gives the students a deeper understanding of the topic.
They are our Thor’s hammer.
Do you swing your questioning hammer with style and grace or do the questions in your classroom need an upgrade?
(That was a closed question!)
How to Ask the Right Questions
According to Patricia Blosser (author of How to Ask the Right Questions), there are four main categories that major types of questions fall in to:
|Managerial||Enable the teacher to keep the flow of learning moving.|
|Rhetorical||Used to reinforce an idea or emphasize a point.|
|Closed||For checking retention or to focus the thinking of the students.|
|Open||Allow the teacher to promote debate and discussion.|
Managerial questions are used to lead students into the next exercise.
This can either by checking they are prepared (Is there any questions about the activity you are going to do?”), whether they have the necessary equipment (“Does everyone have a green pen?”) or asking them to perform an action ( “Can you get yourselves into groups please?”).
These questions can be viewed as links that hold a lesson together.
While they may not serve to teach students directly, their use allows students to benefit from the following types of questions.
Rhetoric questions are not used to elicit a response (although you often get an answer anyway!).
They are used to either remind students what they already know (“at the beginning of the lesson we learnt that Camels have two sets of eyebrows to help keep the sand out of their eyes, yes?”), or to emphasize an important point (“We need protein in our diet to help with growth and repair, right?”).
Used regularly, students get used to the underlying message of rhetoric questions, that the teacher is repeating something because it is important, and therefore I need to remember this.
These types of questions should be used where there is a specific answer or range of answers e.g. “What is the change of state called that occurs when water changes from solid to a liquid”.
Students should have already been taught the answer, so closed questions are used as a method of practizing recall, to check retention and uncover misconceptions that can then be challenged and addressed.
Often, a closed question is followed up by an open question.
The how, why and where, questions.
They have no specific answer but force the respondent to provide an explanation.
The answers will draw on students experiences, their opinions, values and their understanding of the topic in hand.
I always, follow up a correctly answered closed question with a simple “Why?” I usually follow this the caveat “You’re right but why?”.
This gives the student confidence in their response and will more likely give a more detailed explanation.
It also highlights those who may have taken a shot in the dark with the closed question answer, allowing me to help them get to a stage where they understand the topic in depth.
When students are studying for a test, open questions really help them gain a deeper understanding of a subject than using closed questions.
Questioning is also an integral part of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction.
Other Types of Question in the Classroom
Hinge questions, in my opinion, are essential.
They give the teacher to investigate whether they can move on to the next portion of the lesson or if they need time to go back over a specific element.
They are really simple to write and even simpler and quicker to implement in a lesson.
Quick and easy…gotta be a winner right?
My own hinge questions are multiple-choice questions I put on the board. Usually with three or four possible answers.
The students all answer at the same time, either by holding up whiteboards, colored sticks or a physical action (hands on their head, left or right arm up).
The important thing (as mentioned in the video above) is the teacher needs to observe all answers at the same time.
These questions are pure progressors, they do not allow students to answer just from recall.
They require a much higher level of cognitive demand, encouraging students to think beyond what is obvious.
They take students into the world of opinion, inference, speculation and hypothesis. Linking between topics and even subjects occurs when we use higher-order questions.
‘What color are plant leaves?’ is a closed, observational question. Whereas asking ‘Why are plant leaves green’ is a higher question. It opens up deeper thought and speculation.
Again, this type of questioning strategy is super effective when students are studying for a test.
Examples from Ben Cooper at Wagol Teaching
As teachers, we hold a lot of power and influence in the classroom. Sometimes it is the smallest things we do or say that can affect the children’s mindset and attitude to learning either in a positive or negative way.
The types of questions in the classroom can hugely affect the engagement and progress made by our students.
Phrases like, ‘Do you understand?’ and ‘What is the answer?” can be completely innocent questions, but can actually hold back learning for some children.
It is always great practice to review all our interactions to ensure they are getting the very best out of the children.
Frequently, it can be a simple twist of a phrase that can completely enhance a simple interaction with a child and free up a child to take risks, share their ideas and thoughts and ultimately become a better learner.
Here are my top five things we should say more in the classroom!
5 Types of Questioning Techniques in the Classroom
1. What might the answer be?
‘What is the answer?’ is a straight forward question, asked hundreds of times a day by teachers across the world.
Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with asking this question, but does it get the most out of all of our children?
A confident child will have no problem in throwing out an answer. However, a less confident child may find this more challenging.
The keyword in the question is ‘is’. ‘Is’ is definite and suggests there is one answer and one answer only. An unsure child may be reluctant to share their response.
A simple twist of the word ‘is’ to ‘might’ suddenly relieves the pressure. ‘What might the answer be?’ indicates chance and options.
It suggests there may be more than one correct answer or at least it is ok to make suggestions.
‘Might’ tells the children that whatever their answer is, it doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong.
For an unsure child, you are indicating that it is ok to be unsure but still share what you think.
From an assessment point of view, it also may allow misconceptions to be revealed. These can then be tackled head-on in class in a supportive manner.
This is such a simple change but one that can have a great impact on the attitude of your learners.
‘Might’ develops an understanding that it is ok to be wrong, but you can share your thoughts anyway.
2. Have I explained myself well enough?
Picture this – You are teaching a class and have spent five minutes explaining the next activity. You pause, look at your class and ask, ‘Do you understand?’.
Silence falls across the room. 30 faces look back at you and you wait.
No responses. Good, they are ready to go!
You set the class off and five minutes later you discover that three of them did not understand or have done it wrong. ‘Why did they not say something when I asked?’ you think.
The problem with asking a question with ‘you’ in, is the ownership and responsibility is placed on the child.
If they do not understand, it is their fault. It is their responsibility.
By flipping the subject of the question so now the responsibility lies with you as the teacher, children are far more likely to share their confusions or questions.
‘Have I explained myself well enough?’ leaves you as the teacher responsible.
The fear of being in trouble for not understanding is lifted, leaving children to freely admit if they don’t think you have explained it well enough or need some clarification.
The children’s self-assessment skills are suddenly improved too. Win-win!
3. What do you think?
‘What do I do next?’, ‘Am I doing this right?’ and ‘What are we doing after lunch?’.
Who has a child that asks far too many questions in a lesson?
Usually, this is because they get an answer and so the fire is fueled.
It is time to change the mindset that the teacher has all the answers and help children think for themselves. ‘What do you think?’ passes the ball back into their half of the court.
It encourages children to search for an answer themselves.
You may have to talk children through the thought process to start off with and you may have to be resilient.
Over time, the children will get the idea that they have to answer the questions for themselves.
Ultimately, you will eventually have a class full of independent, self-helping superstars!
‘I can’t do it’ is a common phrase used by children when they are stuck.
It can create a negative environment in class and children can put up a wall or barrier to certain subjects.
In fact, math Anxiety has actually been studied and is being considered as a medical condition.
It is the barrier and fear that can hinder a child’s performance.
Too much working memory is being taken up worrying and so there is not enough room to learn.
Classrooms need to be safe spaces where mistakes, lack of understanding and confusions should be accepted, if not celebrated.
Let me introduce you to the power of ‘yet’! Yet allows children to develop their growth mindset.
It paints a picture that learning is indeed a journey and that requires perseverance, resilience and a positive outlook.
By getting them to change their mindset by saying ‘I can’t do it yet!’ and ‘I don’t understand yet’, children will slowly develop a more positive attitude to challenging topics and lessons.
Their working memory will, over time, be relieved of the fear and worry and allow far more room for learning to take place.
This is possibly the most important word a teacher has to use in the classroom.
Children that can answer a question show a good level of knowledge but do they know why they are correct?
Often teachers are satisfied with a shallow level of knowledge. ‘That is a great answer Sarah, time to move on!’ Little do they know that Sarah took an educated guess and somehow (for reasons even she doesn’t understand) got the answer right.
‘Why?’ asks for more. More details or an explanation and a dash of reasoning.
It encourages the child to share not just their knowledge but their understanding behind it.
Get into the habit of asking ‘why’ after most questions. It will challenge and ultimately improve the level of knowledge in your children.
Discussions are also started and the question can be opened up to the class. Only one child can answer a direct question, but everyone can have a go at explaining ‘why?’
As I have said previously, if you did not use these phrases already, you have not been doing it wrong.
However, as teachers, it is our responsibility to get the best out of our children.
Sometimes, it is not about making massive changes to our pedagogy and revolutionizing our classroom.
It is about changing the culture and mindset of our children one tiny step at a time.
Marginal Gains in Education
The theory of marginal gains suggests if you break down your methods and improve everything by 1%, you will have made significant improvements to your overall approach.
Have I explained myself well enough? In short, by refining the language you use in the classroom, you can change the mindset and attitudes of your children.
It is all about reviewing your everyday teacher habits, which you may not have considered changing…yet.