4 Questions to Promote Discussion

By Rebecca Alber, Edutopia website, 10/31/13

For inquiry to be alive and well in a classroom, the teacher needs to be expert at asking strategic questions–not only well-designed ones, but ones that will also lead students to questions of their own.

Asking straightforward, simply-worded questions can be just as effective as intricate ones. With that in mind, if question-asking is an area where you’d like to grow, start with these five:

#1. What do you think?

This question interrupts us from telling too much. There is a place for direct instruction where we give students information. But strive to balance this with plenty of opportunities for students to make sense of and apply that new information using their understanding.

#2. Why do you think that?

After students share what they think, this follow-up question pushes them to provide reasoning for their thinking.

[Michael’s Note: My research into study skills suggests that the simple inquiry, “Why?” may be the most powerful word in all of education. Think about it: Asking “Why?” (sometimes interminably) is the way children start learning at an early age.]

#3. How do you know this?

When this question is asked, students can make connections to their ideas and thoughts with things they’ve experienced, read, and have seen.

#4. Can you tell me more?

This question can inspire students to extend their thinking and share further evidence for their ideas.

In addition to routinely and relentlessly asking your students questions, be sure to provide time for them to think [known as “wait time” or “think time”]. What’s best here, three seconds, five, or seven? Depending on their age, the depth of the material, and their comfort level, this time will vary. Just push yourself to stay silent and wait for those hands to go up.

Also be sure to vary your tone so it genuinely sounds like a question and not a statement. When we say something in a declarative way, it is often with one tone and flat sounding….

Idea: To help students feel more comfortable and confident with answering questions and asking ones of their own, you can use this scaffold: Ask a question, pause, and then invite students to “turn and talk” with a neighbor first before sharing out with the whole group. This allows all to have their voices heard and also gives them a chance to practice their responses before sharing in front of the whole class.

Rebecca Alter is Consulting Online Editor for Edutopia, which offers “evidence- and practitioner-based learning strategies” for grades K-12.

See also in ClassWise: “Combine Lectures with Active Learning”

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