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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What is Writing Workshop? An Overview

An Overview of Writing Workshop I could write 1,000 pages on this topic. In fact, every time I started composing this post in my mind, I felt overwhelmed. So let’s eat this big, rich pie in baby bites, shall we?

What is Writing Workshop?

The simplest answer is that it is a structure for teaching writing. However, that answer doesn’t quite do the job because Writing Workshop (WW) springs from a philosophical point of view called constructivism. It’s based on a belief that children are capable people who learn best when given the opportunity to construct their own understanding (“learn while doing.”) Therefore, teachers in a WW see their students (even those who are quite young) as competent writers with interesting ideas and stories to tell. They also believe that with intentional instruction and support, those children are perfectly capable of learning how to write meaningful and interesting pieces just like “real” writers.

What is the teacher’s role in Writing Workshop? [Read more…]

What Do Kids Need To Learn About Writing?

What Do Kids Need to Learn About Writing I got some great responses to my last post– many of them in person in school hallways or grocery store aisles, but also via text and email. The overarching themes were:

1- Writing is about so much more than conventions! 

2- Teachers want to be excellent writing teachers but often feel they need some coaching and support to get there.

I agree and am thrilled to engage in this topic here on Wonder Teacher!

Did you try my little exercise from the last post? (You know- the one where you wrote down all the things “good writers” do and then examined your practice to see if you are teaching those things to your students?)

I did! Here’s what I came up with. This is not a comprehensive list, by the way, just a bit of my brainstorm. After each point, I’ll list an implication for our teaching practice. [Read more…]

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