Questions are essential components of a learning environment. The inquiries you present to your students may make or break the environment you have carefully designed and crafted. Due to this fragile nature of questions, it is always important that we, as educators, find ways to ask the right questions that may invite productive discourse among our students. But before we go through a guideline of constructing a productive question, let us explore the foundation of a good question: its purpose.
Exploring the Purpose of Teachers Asking Questions.
A simple question may lead to several effects because questioning has a causal relationship with the learning environment (though further studies on this are required). Let us go over some possible motives for asking questions:
- Check for the students’ knowledge and understanding.
- Allow the students to form “critical” opinions.
- Engage in meaningful discourse with and among the students.
- Co-construct understanding among peers.
- Allow you, the educator, to have a better understanding of your students’ perspectives.
- Improve class dynamics and the learning environment.
- Elicit a certain response or key idea from the students.
- Develop a persuasive argument.
- Use the Socratic Teaching Methodology.
The hardcoded purpose of asking questions is not on this list and will never be due to education and communication being very dynamic fields of study. However, this list is a good foundation for finding a purpose in a question.
A good question is grounded on purpose and does not stray away from it.
Forming Your Questions
Question forming follows its purpose. Basically, once you find a purpose for asking a question, it is time to craft the question. Here are some guidelines for crafting questions:
- Know the purpose of the question. Stick to one purpose per question to keep conversations in check.
- Understand your own question so that you can follow up, rephrase, and justify.
- Be morally responsible in forming your questions and make sure you follow ethical guidelines on communication.
- Your questions should be open ended, meaning they should not only elicit a “yes” or “no” response.
- Ensure that the questions you pose do not morally compromise the students or go against their personal beliefs.
- Make sure the question is understandable in terms of sequencing. Clarify its meaning before asking a critical question.
- Your question should not pose any bias towards certain cultural beliefs or personal stances. Keep conversations on neutral grounds.
- Silence can often be a good indicator of a question’s effectiveness, as it may signify that the students are in deep thought. However, there are times that silence may be a sign of a lack of understanding, so check their understanding by having them rephrase your question in their own words.
Once you have formed your questions, it is always a good idea to simulate possible responses in your head and see whether these responses elicit follow-up ideas for a more fruitful discussion.
For certain topics, some questions are quite obvious and it is expected that the students are able to answer these questions with ease as they start forming a database of understanding once the lesson is introduced to them.
Here are a few examples:
Topic: Education – Why is education important?
This question does have its purpose, but it does not fulfill its purpose well. It is too simple and too straightforward and does not invite the student to think outside the box. Here is a way to rephrase the question.
Improved Version: What makes education an important part of youth development?
The question serves the same purpose as the one above: to check for students’ opinions, but this question explores the idea further by allowing the student to think through a wider lens within a focus topic: youth development. It allows them to take into account not just themselves but other people’s experiences as well. It can be improved even further.
Topic: Education – In your opinion, what makes education important in terms of developing the youth in your culture?
The addition of “in your opinion” allows the students freedom to think without constraints and fear of judgement. It serves the same purpose as the question above but would definitely elicit a different response if asked the former question.
Let’s Try It!
Let us do a short activity for this topic. I will give a topic. Then in the comments section, I would like for you to write down some possible questions you might ask students within a class session. I will personally go over the questions and write down some remarks and feedback! You may also state your purpose when you write down your ideas.
- The Coronavirus Pandemic and its Effects On Daily Life
- Personal Creativity
- Stereotypes and Prejudice
- Hacks for Self-Improvement
- Optimism vs. Pessimism
- Health and Wellness
- Technological Advancements (and Limitations)
- Life in the 21st Century
- Cherished Memories
Give it your best shot and comment with your questions!