5 Hacks to Improve Questions and Answers in Your Classroom

Asking questions is one of the best ways to get students thinking about a topic. However, not all questions are created equal. Some questions are simply factual recitations or closed questions that can be easily answered with a yes or no.

To increase student engagement and understanding, ask open-ended questions that require students to think critically. These questions can be challenging, but they promote deeper learning.

If you want to ask students better questions while inspiring them to ask their own thought-provoking questions, try these five questioning Hacks in your classroom starting tomorrow.

1. Ask questions that allow learners to discover information on their own.

Questions that start with "Who" or questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no do not promote thinking. Questions should have more than one correct answer. Try something like, "How might you find several ideas about ...?" or "What are three arguments that can be made in favor of or against ...?"

2. Make "What if" questions a go-to strategy in your classroom.

"What if" questions inspire thinking and spark dialogue that can lead students down many creative paths.

A question like, "What if people lived to be 200 years old?" is open-ended and requires students to think about the potential consequences of scientific and medical advances—even those that seem like they'd greatly benefit society.

These types of questions occur naturally in everyday life, and children enjoy discussing different points of view and sharing their opinions.

3. Ask questions that connect issues that relate to things outside the classroom.

Educators are often obsessed with teaching about the real world. The problem is much of the curricula is not about real-world problems (have you ever diagrammed a sentence in the real world?).

Questions can connect students to a wide array of real-world issues: overpopulation, consumption, poverty, and the environment, to name a few. Imagine where this discussion might lead and the provocative questions your students might come up with on these hot topics.

4. Provide feedback that leads to more questions.

When students dig into your powerful "What if" questions, they'll discover plenty of rich information.

Share your observations about their data and follow up with questions like, "Where did you find your information? Why did you choose that source? What is the next issue that needs to be addressed? What other questions do you have?"

5. Discuss why particular questions are better than others.

We often assume that students know which questions to ask. In many cases, especially with young learners, kids don't know what to ask or ask unrelated questions. Talking about questions and when to ask which ones is a critical part of building a culture of inquiry.

Bonus Hack: Turn "I don't know" responses into more opportunities for questions. When students respond with "IDK," what if you respond with more probing questions? Connie Hamilton, author of Hacking Questions, suggests replies like:

"What part has you stuck? What can you rule out? What is your brain saying?"

Remember, the goal is to build a classroom filled with inquiring minds and to get more questions. Always more questions.


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