Asking the right questions, in the right way, at the right time, is the most important thing you can do in a lesson. The right questions engage your children, identify their reasoning and challenge their viewpoints. Great questions enable students to analyse and evaluate their own and other children’s positions.
What questions should we ask?
There are two types of questions that we ask: closed questions and open questions. Closed questions are ones where there is a predefined response. For example, if I asked “Is your mummy at work?” your answer would be either “yes” or “no”. My question doesn’t require you to go beyond that short response, so the information I can gather from closed questions is very limited. However, with open questions, you will receive more extended answers. For instance, if I asked, “Where did mummy go?” the person answering the question could go in different directions, explaining their answer at great length and in whatever way they wanted. Open ended questions are very useful for finding out great depth and breadth of information that you may not even have known to look for.
Here are some question styles to encourage depth questions. Use them at the start of conversation, or during feedback sessions, to keep children’s thinking and to encourage them to go into greater depth. Design your questions so that they can’t give a direct response.
1. What do you think of…?
2. How far would you agree that…?
3. How similar is…?
Enhance questioning techniques by not letting the children feel intimidated. Many children fear questions because they feel scared to give the wrong answer. However, you can address this in a number of ways.
1. Ask children who are particularly quiet open-ended questions that don’t require a ‘right’ answer. By getting them to engage just once or twice, even with a basic response, they will begin to lose the anxiety which many of our children face.
2. Ask a variety of questions and then allow the children to choose the one they would prefer to answer. By allowing them to take ownership over their learning, their engagement will increase over time. They won’t be able to hide behind that they are ‘forced’ to learn in a particular way. They are choosing the way themselves.
Over time, keep going back to the “quiet” students, asking progressively more challenging questions. Once they begin to realise that they have nothing to fear, they will open up more and give deeper and more sophisticated answers. There are a number of resources that you can use with your children to create high quality questions. You can use a question-dice where each side contains a question such as ‘what is’, to ‘who would’, to ‘when is’, to ‘how might”. This way, children can choose a level of questioning they are comfortable with.