August 14, 2022

Improve Your Questioning Skills – 5 Tips for Teachers

If you’re asking questions in your classroom, but not getting answers from your students, these tips for improving your questioning skills may be the answer!

Teachers are always asking questions. They want to know if their students “get” it. Do they know the basic facts, can they define the key terms, list the steps in a process, etc. Do they understand what I’m trying to teach them?

And, students are often reluctant to provide answers. Questions are intimidating to many teenagers. I’m sure you’ve seen them fidget, look away, and slump in their seats when the questioning begins.

Over the years in the classroom, some developed a questioning style that worked pretty well with their high school students. Some of these tips may look familiar, but I hope you get at least a couple of new ideas that you can use to increase engagement and build effective discussion in your classroom.

1: PLAN YOUR QUESTIONS

If you are a planner, so this one is easy for you. You like to keep a running list of questions on your desk as you work your way through a topic. Here’s why:

It helps you word open-ended questions so the students have to say more than just yes or no.

You should plan a variety of prompts or question stems to get more participation.

You can scaffold questions from easier to more complex to build their confidence in answering.

After a few years of teaching you’ll be much more familiar with the content and the concepts that students typically struggle with and this level of planning may not be necessary. But, even in my later years of teaching, you usually had at least a sticky note with a few questions on it to get class started or to wrap things up at the end.

2: KEEP IT QUICK & HAPPY

You don’t want to rush the students or not allow appropriate wait time for them to answer, but you do want to keep things moving so it doesn’t become a long boring D R A G.
Also, a smile from you goes a long way towards keeping student attitudes more positive and your questioning session less like an interrogation.
So, walk around the room, smile, use student names, and just generally look like you’re having a good time talking to them and finding out what they know.
And, here’s the best way to keep it happy . . . accept as many answers or parts of answers as possible. Say YES as much as you can. Grab on to any part of a student’s answer that is correct or almost correct and build from there. Instead of saying “no” or “wrong”, try saying things like this:

I like that word you used (insert word) – you are on the right track.

Yes, the first part of your answer (restate the correct portion) is excellent.

You may be thinking of (another concept) because that is a great example of (the other concept).

You are SO close! (Then, try to restate the question or give a hint.)

3: REPEAT & REWORD QUESTIONS

If you ask a question and get no response, try rewording it slightly. This does two things:

Takes the pressure off students. Maybe the words you used the first time weren’t clear enough. Maybe your students just needed to hear it two ways before they could formulate an answer.

Puts the pressure on you to find another way to word the question. It might be a little uncomfortable, but this is part of what we do as teachers – look for ways to reach every student.

You may also like to repeat the same question even after you get a correct response. This gives a student who is paying attention, but not comfortable taking risks, the opportunity to give a correct answer without fear.

4: ENCOURAGE STUDENT-TO-STUDENT INTERACTION

This is one of many absolute favorite questioning strategies! Some teachers love thinking of new ways to get students to support each other in classroom discourse. Here are some specific things you can say:

Excellent answer, Kelvin! Now, Adeola, can you name another example?

Haffiz, can you add another detail to what Ebuka just said?

Chat with the person next to you and come up with your own definition of (key term). Then, ask for answers from pairs of students.

Yusuf, can you reword (or expand on) the answer that Chima just gave?

You’re so close, Adeyinka! Can someone help her out?

I need 3 examples of (concept) OR I need the 4 steps in the process of (concept). Raise your hand if you’ve got one. Then, jump from student to student as they each contribute part of the answer.

If you know the answer to this question OR if you’ve already answered a question, talk to someone who’s not sure (or hasn’t participated yet) so they can answer.

5: DEPERSONALIZE THE QUESTIONS

Depending on your students’ willingness to participate, you may need to make additional efforts to reduce the pressure on them during questioning sessions. These ideas reduce the one-on-one (teacher-to-student) nature of questions:

Divide your written list of questions into groups by color. Throw a beach ball to a student and ask them to catch it with both hands. Their right thumb will be on a colored section of the ball and that determines the question they get. The ball is asking the question; not you. This can be done in groups or 2 or 3, too. One student catches the ball, then the group collaborates on the answer.

Allow a few students to write their answers on the board. This allows them to participate without having to speak out in class. And, more multiple answers are reviewed at once.

Offer the “phone a friend” option. They can ask another student to help them or answer for them.

Write 3 questions on the board and ask students to write their answers on scratch paper. Circulate around the room and find students who have written the correct answer. Let them know their answer is right and ask if they’d be willing to share. Then, call on them when that question comes up.

Start this strategy the same way as the one above. This time, ask questions like this:

Raise your hand if you think you answered Question 1 correctly. Then, select two or three students whose hands are raised and ask them to compare their answers and share their collective answer with the class.

Raise your hand if you think you answered Question 2 correctly. (No one raises their hand). Answer that one for them. Make a note and be sure to ask that question again later or in another class.

Which question was the hardest? Easiest? This gives you lots of information to inform your instruction.

Hope you find this article helpful. If yes, please, share.

Adeyinka Meduoye

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