Ask or Tell? Effective Questioning Strategies

Effective Questioning Strategies

Effective questioning strategies are an important part of good teaching. We use questions to activate a student’s prior knowledge, draw him/her into the current lesson, and determine knowledge and understanding.

However, sometimes we fall into the question trap and waste time asking when we should be telling.

For example, notice the difference between the two lessons below:

Boys and girls, what did we learn yesterday in Writing Workshop? (Pause)

Yes, Anna? (Anna responds)

Well, we did talk about strong leads but that wasn’t our new lesson. Paul? (Paul answers)

That’s another good thing to remember but it wasn’t what I was looking for. Remember the book I read about the little boy and the vegetables? (Pause)

Yes, Richard? (Richard answers.)

Right! Small moments! We learned how an author often will focus on a small moment in a story.

Why do authors do that? (Pause)

Ethan? (Ethan responds.)

Well, that’s one reason but there is another one I’m thinking of.

And so on….

This is called the “guess which answer is in my head” game. The teacher has a certain idea in mind and she is trying to get the children to say the right one. This approach takes up time and can often be distracting from the real purpose of the lesson.

Notice this contrast…

“Boys and girls, yesterday we learned about small moments. We read the book, Night of the Veggie Monster, and we noticed how the author stretched out the small moment of the boy tasting his peas. When we stretch out small moments it makes our writing interesting and brings our story to life. The author, George McClements, used lots of different strategies to stretch out that moment and paint a picture in the mind of his reader. Turn and talk with a neighbor about that book and try to remember all the ways George McClements stretched out that small moment.”

See the difference? This teacher got right to the point! She told the children the key information and saved the question for important content. She also used an active response strategy so that all of the children were engaged in the thinking and remembering instead of calling on one child at a time.

This type of teaching is powerful because it:

1) Maximizes teaching time.

2) Provides direct instruction in a clear and concise manner.

3) Engages children in answering worthwhile questions that require deep thinking rather than playing “guess the answer in the teacher’s head.” Questions are often open-ended or challenging.

4) Requires all of the children to think and answer, resulting in much higher levels of student engagement. (And high student engagement has a high correlation to positive achievement outcomes.)

I will confess that I have often been guilty of playing the “guess what I’m thinking” game with my students. It was literacy expert, Carol Cook, who brought attention to this issue for me. She once said, “Why are you asking them what you want them to know? Just tell them!”

She is exactly right!

My challenge to you: listen to yourself this week. Notice the kinds of questions you ask. Are they “guess what’s in my head” questions or are they meaningful questions worthy of student thought?

Are you calling on one child at a time or are you actively engaging all of your students in the thinking/answering process?

Decide whether you should ask them or just tell them!

Thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear them!

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