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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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New Classroom Questioning Techniques for the Best Year Ever

Teachers ask 400 questions a day -- 70,000 a year, according to The Guardian. While preparing so many questions is a lot of work, you can save time by using some of the questioning techniques (QTs) described below.

But first . . .

Take the Questioning Quiz

QTs have been the subject of hundreds of studies, many of which Kathleen Cotton summarizes (PDF, 161KB). I've worded some of her most insightful takeaways into this short quiz.

Question 1

Which is more effective for fostering learning?
a) Oral questions posed during classroom recitation?
b) Written questions

Answer: "A", Oral questions.

Question 2

Should posing questions before a reading be done with students who are:
a) Older/better readers?
b) Younger/struggling readers?

Answer: "A", because young/struggling readers often only read the parts of the text that help them answer the questions.

Question 3

Increasing the use of higher-order questions to ___ percent or more is positively related to student-to-student interactions, speculative thinking, length of student responses, and relevant questions posed by learners.

Answer: 50 percent.

Question 4

Should wait time differ when asking lower- vs. higher-order questions?

Answer: Yes. Wait time for lower-order questions should be about three seconds, and beyond three seconds for higher-order questions.

Did you answer most of them correctly? Good for you! Now, on to the resources!

Seeking, Explaining, Relating, Predicting, and Describing

The NDT Resource Center recommends that you use the top categories of questions from their list more frequently than those at the bottom. Ask students to:

  • Seek out evidence. ("What made you say that?")
  • Explain. ("What caused Nixon's impeachment?")
  • Relate concepts, ideas, and opinions. ("Compare germ-eliminating antibiotics to natural alternatives.")
  • Predict. ("What will happen to Ahab if he continues to obsess about killing the Moby-Dick?")
  • Describe. ("What happens when Max is sent to bed without supper?")

Student-Generated Questions on Assigned Reading

Jonathan Bartels, a professor of education at the University of Alaska, directs students to bring their three best questions about the reading to class, and that kicks off a discussion.

Kari Lynn Wilson, a Washington State high school teacher (and my former junior high dance partner), has two-person student teams write a couple of questions, then share the questions with two other students sitting nearby. The newly formed four-person team votes on their favorite one, which is asked during the subsequent whole-class discussion.

Questions that Motivate: The TAPN Approach

In Larry Ferlazzo's Ways to Cultivate "Whole-Class Engagement", educator and behavioral therapist Jim Peterson describes how to motivate students to answer questions by contrasting two types of pre-reading prompts. Consider this:

You're going to read the next three pages. When you finish, you are going to answer the five questions that follow the reading.

Now consider this:

When I tell you to begin, you will have one minute and 45 seconds. You are going to read the next paragraph looking for the main point. As you read, you are going to highlight any words or phrases that support what you believe is the main point. When you are finished, be prepared to share with a partner or with the entire class. You may begin.

The second set of instructions are more motivating, says Peterson, because it addresses all the elements of TAPN:

  • Time: "You have one minute 45 seconds." (Takeaway: Racing the countdown clock energizes students.)
  • Amount: "You are going to read the next paragraph looking for the main point." (Takeaway: The workload should be challenging, but not overwhelming.)
  • Public: "When you are finished, be prepared to share with a partner or with the entire class." (Takeaway: Knowing their work will likely be made public raises the stakes and increases students' level of concern.)
  • Novelty: "As you read, you are going to highlight any words or phrases that support . . . " (Takeaway: Small variations in the academic routine arouse students' interest.)

Incorporating TAPN into your question protocols will increase the percentage of students who actively engage with your questions.

Socratic Seminars

For my money, the best way to socialize students into asking and discussing rich questions is through the Socratic Seminar, a model for facilitating collaborative dialogue. In this video, Tyler Hester of Teach for America introduces his ninth grade students to the Socratic Seminar:

Resources for Socratic Seminars

Ultimately, the whole point of QTs is to socialize students into asking good questions on their own.

Other Resources for Classroom Questioning

What are your favorite question techniques?

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Create an Inquiry-Based Classroom

Comments (9)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer
Staff

Todd - can you let us know where you found this stat?

Teachers ask 400 questions a day -- 70,000 a year, according to The Guardian.

You mention the Guardian but if you could provide a link, that'd be great. Curious on who they surveyed and their methodology.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)
Blogger

There are a few sources on this, though the variation will be huge, depending on the subject taught and grade level, teacher-preference, etc.

Report 300-400 questions a day --> Leven, T. and Long, R. (1981). Effective instruction. Washington DC: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development.

"[In multiple studies] researchers have found that in a single day teachers ask hundreds of questions of their students. In one study of third-grade reading groups, on average teachers asked a question every 43 seconds." (Gambrell, Journal of Educational Research, volume 75, pp. 144-148.) - See more at: http://www.educationworld.com/a_books/books018.shtml#sthash.S3ic66i7.dpuf

"Teachers ask up to two questions every minute, up to 400 in a day, around 70,000 a year, or two to three million in the course of a career ." -

Ginger Dunker's picture

This is amazing--this is a post after my heart!!! Love it! Brilliant! A confirmation of my own best practices. I would love to stay in touch--somehow--someway--

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)
Blogger

Thanks so much, Ginger! You're in touch!

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)
Blogger

Thank you, Costas. That's a great resource!

Suzanne Acord, PhD's picture
Suzanne Acord, PhD
High school history teacher and PD provider in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Thanks for the tips and for the additional resources. I will use a few of these during our dept. PD workshops.

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