One new teacher had a literacy coach observe her classroom. After the students left her classroom, she commented on how the new teacher asked the whole classroom a question. The rookie teacher would ask the question, wait a few seconds, then answer the question herself. The literacy coach observer gave her some well needed feedback and left her thinking about wait/think time and how to ask better questions in a better way.
Many teachers agree that for inquiry to be successful in a classroom, the teacher needs to be an expert at asking strategic questions, and not only asking well-designed ones, but ones that will lead students to ask themselves questions.
SIMPLE. SIMPLE. SIMPLE.
Asking straightforward, simply-worded questions are the most effective. With that in mind, here are a few questions to start off with:
- What do you think? This question keeps the teacher from telling too much. Teachers should try to create a balance between direct instruction and giving opportunities for students to make sense of and apply information using their own thought process.
- Why do you think that? This follow-up question pushes them to provide reasoning for their thinking.
- How do you know this? This question leads students to make connections to their ideas with things they’ve experiences, read, and have seen.
- Can you tell me more? This question can inspire students to learn how to extend their thinking and share further that they understand the idea.
- What questions do you still have? This is a great question to end with because it allows students to offer up questions they have about the information.
In addition to asking your students effective questions, make sure they have time to think about your question. Depending on their age, the depth of the material, and their comfort level, the time varies. It does well to push yourself to stay silent and wait for hands to pop up.
To help students feel more comfortable and confident with answering questions and asking ones of their own, invite your students to turn and talk through the answer with their neighbor. This allows all to have their voices heard and gives them a chance to practice their answer before sharing it with the whole class.
To get you started here is a short list of some great questions to be asking your students:
- Reflect on your thinking, learning, and work today. What are you most proud of?
- What do you like most about school? What would you like to see changed?
- When do you feel you are being respected?
- Where did you encounter a struggle today? How did you deal with it?
- What about your thinking, learning, or work today brought you the most satisfaction?
- What inspires you at school?
- Who helps you bounce back from setbacks?
- When do you get a chance to be a leader?
- How do you like to be greeted?
- When do you feel most safe/unsafe?
- When do you feel you’re being listened to?
- What strengths do you bring to the classroom?
- What is frustrating you? How do you plan to deal with that frustration?
- What lessons were learned from failure today?
- Where did you have success, and who might benefit from what you’ve learned?
- What are your next steps? What can you do now to navigate the road ahead with the most success?
- What made you curious today?
- Who believes you can succeed?
- How did I help you today? How did I hinder you? What can I do tomorrow to help you more?
- How did you help the class today? How did you hinder the class today? What can you do tomorrow to help your classmates more?
- What helps you feel welcomed?
No matter how you choose to ask these questions in your classroom (journaling, surveys, etc.) the use of powerful questions can affect a student’s education and confidence in themselves.
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