Avoiding Common Problems with Questions
- Avoid asking a question and answering it yourself. Answering your own questions can create the impression that you are not interested in students’ responses. Furthermore, it may set a pattern in which they wait for your response rather than looking for the answer themselves.
- Try not to ask too many questions at once. When students have two or more different questions to think about, the result is often confusion rather than participation. If you think students need to see where the discussion is going in order to address certain questions, it might be useful to write 2-3 organizing questions on the board at the start of class.
- Be aware of asking a difficult question too early. Think of the initial phase of the class as a time to ask questions to understand students’ understanding and difficulties. If a complex question comes too early, students may become frustrated and unwilling to participate.
- Avoid consistently asking the same types of questions. A very common error is asking, “Are there any questions?” and not framing a variety of question types to get students to think at different levels about the materials. For example, you might want to encourage comparisons, probe for evidence, examine cause-effect relationships, or invite hypotheses and predictions.
- Avoid asking “Yes/No” questions. Nothing stops a discussion faster than being able to answer a question in one word. Think of alternative ways to address information, such that students must reflect more on their answers.
Getting the Best Student Responses
- Give students enough time to think. A good guideline is to wait at least 5 seconds for any simple question. For application or analytical questions, you may need to wait about 30 seconds or more. If students do not answer at all, you can try to rephrase the question. For very difficult questions, you may need to encourage students to write for a few minutes before you call on someone.
- Validate students’ answers. Telling students what is good about their comments will encourage other students to contribute. This is also an important practice when a student’s answer is not fully correct. After validating what is good about the comment, continue by correcting the student, amending his/her response, or asking other students to comment on what he/she said.
- Remember to build on students’ answers. Student responses can often lead to interesting questions. Potentially fruitful responses may not always come when you expect them, so taking advantage of these opportunities may involve reorganizing your plans spontaneously. In these instances, it is helpful to repeat the student’s point for the entire class and ask other students to respond or elaborate on it.