Asking Engaging Questions
When you are teaching do you ever find yourself wondering: Are the students interested? Are they understanding? Are they even listening?
Asking productive questions increases participation and engages students. Turning some of your presentation into questions will help you see if students understand the information clearly. Frequent classroom dialog also helps students prepare for communication in the workplace.
What questions work well?
- The questions journalists use are a good starting point. Most begin with WH: Who, what, where, when, how, and why. Example: What is your concept? Where could the lines be sharper? How do your color choices relate to the target audience?
- Yes/No questions are valuable to get shy students participating, but often need to be followed by a WH question or they’ll get a limited reply. Example: Is the perspective accurate for the chair? How can you tell? Try which and broaden from there: Which design has colors that work well for children? Why?
- Questions that elicit performance. Example: Could you demonstrate how you created that shadow? Show me where the most contrast is in this image.
- Questions that get students to predict the next part of your demo or lecture keep students engaged. They will listen to see if their answer was correct. Example: Can you guess what the next step will be? What might be some reasons for the point I just made?
Why do certain questions tend to flop?
- They are too broad. Questions like, What do you think?, tend to elicit overly general responses or opinions that have no basis. They are so open-ended that many students don’t know how to respond.
- They don’t yield informative answers. Do you understand? seldom elicits much information. At best a yes means that students think they understand. A no is more useful, but rare because students may be embarrassed to admit that they missed something or may not want to take class time for further clarification.
- They are not intended to include students in a dialogue. They are used as a rhetorical lecture device or seem to answer themselves. What is the meaning of _______? Well, it’s ______.
What influences the success of questions?
- The seating arrangement can enhance or stifle discussion. If possible, have students move into a circular configuration, instead of maintaining the traditional students-facing-the-teacher setup.
- The people you teach need to feel that their contributions are valuable. Using students’ names and actively listening conveys to students that you really want to know what they are thinking.
- Allow time for students to respond (up to 8 seconds) and resist answering the question yourself. If students are still silent, ask a yes/no question and broaden from there.
- Give students time to think about complex questions by having them jot down an answer or talk with a partner before responding. (See Launching Discussions)
Suggestions for Effective Questioning Techniques
Different Types of Questions Based on Bloom's Taxonomy
Launching Discussions with think-write-pair-share