Questioning Skills

Getting Them To Speak Up!  Questioning Skills to Promote Discussion in the Classroom

Faculty want to develop students critical thinking and problem-solving skills. One way to do this is to ask questions in the classroom to facilitate discussion and to get students to think. But, how many times have you tried to get the discussion going and found that you were the only one talking (lecturing) on the topic?  Here is some information and some activities to try to get the conversation going in the classroom--between students and faculty and between students and students!

Wait Time
One of the basic mistakes we all make is to ask a question and then immediately answer it before any student has time to even think of an answer. Most of us are not comfortable with the silences (which can seem to last forever!) that may be necessary for students to process information in the question, come up with an answer that relates, to actually get their hand up to answer. Make sure you give students and participants enough time to actually answer any questions you pose. Also, check to make sure that you aren't looking for a single correct answer that students couldn't possibly know unless they could read your mind.

Put up with the SILENCE that is necessary for thinking!
Try This Activity...  Activity

After you pose a question to the group or to an individual, mentally count to 5 (or 10) before asking someone else or before giving the answer. Do you feel like you are waiting too long? Do the students answer the longer you remain silent?

Types of questions

How you ask a question may affect how it is answered. If you ask "closed-ended" questions, you may get "yes" or "no" answers, but no further discussion will ensue. Try to ask "open-ended" questions--questions that force respondents to talk, give information, further the discussion or to ask questions themselves. There are a number of different types of open-ended questions. Here are some definitions and samples.

Factual questions
Factual questions are used to establish basic facts and to review concepts. They include who, what, where, when, questions. Example: "What is the standard treatment for hypertension?"   Students can generally tell that there are only so many "correct answers" to these kinds of questions.

Broadening questions
Broadening questions are generally used to introduce additional facts and to encourage analysis. For example: "What is the relationship between teaching and learning?"

Justifying questions
Questions used to challenge old ideas and to develop new ideas are known as justifying questions. For example, ask: "Why do you think so?" (Obviously no right answers to these, as an instructor, you need to look for creativity and that the students are basing their new ideas on valid old ones, not just "sacred cows.")

Hypothetical questions
Hypothetical questions can be used to explore unknown topics and to change the course of a discussion. For example, ask: "What if we did it this way? What would happen?"

Alternative questions
Alternative questions can be used to help a group make decisions between alternatives and to gain agreement or consensus on a project or an idea. For example, ask: "Which of book would appeal to a broader audience: 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'Gulliver's Travels'?"

It is NOT important that you remember the types of questions, just that there are a number of different ways to ask questions that can keep a discussion going and not shut it down.

Try This Activity... Activity

Write down at least two questions of each type for your content area. Practice using these questions to generate discussion in your classes. Do they work? Do they keep the discussion going? How much are you talking? How much are the students talking?

What other questions can you use in your classes?