One of the best strategies to help students learn in the classroom is to use effective questioning techniques. A question of any kind immediately sparks the thought process in people of all ages, especially children. Even if a student initially believes they do not how to respond to the question, you can be sure they are thinking about it, and that is the ultimate goal of effective questioning in the classroom.
Of course, there are different types of questions:
- Simple knowledge questions to recall facts and information
- Comprehension questions requiring a bit more insight
- Questions used to apply information in new situations
- Analysis-related questions to distinguish inferences, facts, etc.
- Synthesis for combining parts to form a new meaning
- Questions for evaluation, such as those for judgments about ideas, values, products, etc.
Regardless of the type of question you ask, it is important for students to become comfortable answering a question in the classroom without the fear of ridicule following a “wrong” answer. Every wrong answer should be the impetus for another question immediately asked of the class or the individual student. If students are afraid of answering questions in the classroom, effective questioning techniques or strategies will be useless. It is vital that all students become part of the give-and-take classroom conversation.
There are several effective strategies you can use with your students, starting with the basic “5 Ws and the H” questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. The why and how questions will most likely be the best for developing improved thinking skills in children, but the following strategies can be just as effective:
- Allow thinking time once a question is asked. This will take the pressure off students who need a bit more time to start the thought process. Tell students to not raise their hands until you give permission.
- Pair students following the presentation of a question. Allow them a couple of minutes to discuss their response to the question, and both share in the response.
- Hands-free questioning in which students do not raise their hands but must be prepared to respond. Note that with this strategy, you must allow some thinking time as well. It also allows those students who often choose not to answer to become part of the conversation. Using this method is best for questions without right or wrong answers such as opinion questions.
- Ask one question and then build upon the response from a student to ask subsequent questions. The strategy can be used for almost any type of question.
- Distribute a list of questions ahead of time that will be asked during a class period. Students will not write out the answers but would receive all possible questions ahead of time for reflection. This allows students who are nervous with being put on the spot during class to prepare and participate.
- You can ask a question to a student during hands-free, and if they do not wish to answer or do not know an answer, they can “pass” the question to another student. The strategy is effective for simple knowledge questions and will help alleviate some of the stress for the students.
- Start with “easy” questions and then move to higher-order thinking questions. Students will note the sequence and will be prepared. Brighter students will look forward to the challenge and those who struggle can respond to the “easy” questions, allowing them to participate.
- You can also try beginning with higher-order thinking questions and working toward the “easy” questions. Many students need the immediate challenging, thought-provoking questions, and following a robust conversation, the “easy” questions will give students a well-needed mental break.
- Many classrooms use cooperative groups to help students learn. During those moments, listen in on a group’s discussion and target specific questions for each group. Inspire their thinking and discussions to go beyond the assignment or project.
- Ask a complex question and allow several students to give parts of a response. Students are then sharing the same question as you build off each answer as well, expanding it often, and including as many students as possible. This allows students to practice using their collaborative learning skills and will take some of the pressure off the individual students as they work together to find the answer.
There are several other effective questioning strategies you can use or develop yourself based on a lesson you teach and the needs of your students. But remember, the questions you develop must be relevant to the lesson and your students and should increase their knowledge and inspire them to think outside the box. In the end, they will learn to develop and ask their own questions.
When students have more questions at the end of a lesson or class period, usually it is a good sign that you have done something right. Effective questioning in the classroom will lead to higher-order thinking skills, relevant feedback, and student achievement.