Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

Asking Good Questions & Responding to Student Answers

North American September 20, 2017

As teachers, we often find our classroom discussions falling flat. How can we encourage critical thinking, deeper conversations, great discussions, content synthesis, and learner engagement? Here are some easy questioning and responding strategies to strengthen your classroom discussions.

Questioning Strategies

The 5 Whys
The 5 Whys method was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, a founding father of the Japanese industrial revolution. This systematic strategy can quickly get you to the root of the problem or identify information gaps.

When faced with a problem, ask ‘why’ 5 times, each time waiting until you get a more specific response. The responders must answer the questions based on fact, not opinion. If they run out of answers, it may be a good indication that more research or information is necessary before the problem can be solved.

Photo: Pixabay

Questions that Require Understanding
Use questions that require insight or understanding, not just information. This helps the student link point A to point B, without you explaining everything. Here are some types of questions that work well:

  • ‘How’ questions like “How does that work?”
  • ‘So what’ questions like “So what could be going on?”
  • ‘Now what’ questions like “Given that information, now what?”
  • ‘Benefit’ questions like “How does that make things better?”

Student Led Questions
Allow students to ask questions of you and of their fellow students. Make sure you set expectations for the other students’ answers. Ensure their responses to their peers are constructive, not critical.

Adopt the attitude that there are no stupid questions. When a student asks a question, listen and respond sincerely, even if you are surprised, perplexed, or annoyed by the question.

If the participant’s question indicates they weren’t listening or have a large knowledge gap, chat with them privately. Don’t humiliate them in front of their peers. If several students have similar questions, then perhaps it’s time for review.

Response Strategies

“Yes And”
Respond to students with “yes and” instead of “yes but,” and encourage students to do the same. This will drastically change the conversation from convergent to divergent.

Encourage students to add to other’s responses and extend the conversation by asking questions like, “Okay, can someone expand on that thought?” or “How do the rest of you feel about that?”

“I Don’t Know”
No one knows everything, so admit when you do not know something and direct students to helpful resources. By demonstrating that it’s okay not to know everything, you empower students to solve things on their own.

Great questions and responses support learning, and are useful in persuading others to courageously learn. Questions are also a powerful way to build relationships, avoid misunderstandings, and defuse heated situations. Remember to use a pleasant tone of voice and respond with open affirming body language to encourage your participants in their exploration. And listen – a lot. Questioning and responding inclusively will radically change the classroom conversations. The focus will shift from information to application and synthesis.


Additional Resources:

The Adventist Learning Community’s ‘Facilitator Course

Instructional Strategies from Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning.

Questioning Techniques




Sharon Aka

Sharon, PhD, is a consultant full time, currently working for 4 organizations: Adjunct Faculty at Andrews University in the graduate leadership department, Adjunct faculty at Notre Dame of Maryland University - leading their School of Nursing Competency-based Curriculum Revisioning, a researcher and author with the NAD Center for Research and Evaluation, and works half time for the General Conference as a contractor with the Virtual Exhibition Team and the Adventist COLLECTIVE. Sharon worked as the Associate Director of the Adventist Learning Community & Associate Director for the North American Division Office of Education. Sharon is a Registered Nurse by trade, with 16 years experience as Surgical Nurse and Nurse Educator at The Scarborough Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. She also has 11 years experience as a Professor of Nursing and Professional Development Specialist for faculty at Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning in Toronto, Ontario.

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