One of the best ways you can help your students understand a concept is by teaching how to voice their questions as they learn. This not only gives you an opportunity to address areas your students don’t yet understand, it also promotes rich opportunities for classroom discussion.
Read on to learn how questions help students learn more fully from you and each other. Then, discover seven quick tips that will help you both encourage and teach students to ask questions in class.
The Importance of Asking Questions
First, asking questions can both motivate students and encourage them to approach topics with curiosity. When students get curious about a subject, they’re no longer learning just for a grade, and you as a teacher are more likely to instill a passion for learning.
Asking and answering questions in class allows students to engage in two-way communication with you. You (and they) are better able to understand their thinking, and they can use your support to solve problems themselves. It also gives other students an opportunity to share their socio-cultural experiences about a question and learn from one another.
Plus, encouraging students to ask questions can help you pinpoint gaps in their understanding. It’s a simple way to determine and focus on the topics where a student may need more practice. Even if only one child asks the question, other students may have the same question but feel too nervous to speak out.
Best of all, students are more likely to understand new material if they ask questions. One study found that when elementary students were taught to ask questions during science lessons, they could discuss what they had learned on a more complex level. Teach students how to ask questions so they understand the material at a level well beyond just memorization.
7 Tips for Teaching and Encouraging Students to Ask Questions
Now that you know why asking questions is a critical part of the learning process for your students, let’s learn how to apply this to your classroom. These seven tips willnot only help your students feel confident asking questions but improve the quality of the questions they ask, too.
Make your Classroom Environment a Safe Place for Questions
Some children may feel anxious asking questions, especially if they’re not familiar with the subject you’re discussing in class. Educator Warren Berger recommends letting your students know that questions are always welcome in class and that they will not be judged for asking them.
Reframe the idea of questions so that students see them not as a sign of weakness, but as a way to learn as much as they can about a topic. That way, they’re more likely to come to you when they don’t understand something instead of hiding it from you.
Praise Students for Asking Questions
Showing students you appreciate and respect their questions can boost their confidence as a learner. After a student asks a question in class, for example, you could say “Interesting point, David!” or “I’m glad you asked.”
Also, try to praise students equally for the act of asking a question. If a student feels that you’re shutting their questions down, they may believe their questions are not as important as others’—and stop asking.
Teach your Students About Open-Ended and Closed Questions
Teaching students how to ask good questions is just as important as encouraging them to do so. By teaching your students about open-ended questions, you can help students focus on asking meaningful and clear questions as they learn.
Open-ended questions are those that cannot be answered by a single word or phrase and that encourage students to use critical thinking skills. Closed questions generally have one right answer, whether that is a simple “yes” or “no” or a specific phrase.
For example, if you’re teaching social studies, a closed question would be one like “Who was the first president of the United States?” However, an open-ended question like “How would you describe George Washington’s legacy?” gives students more than one “right” answer and requires more thinking, analysis, and synthesis.
Open-ended questions are often helpful to ask in discussions because they allow for diverse perspectives. Keep in mind, however, that there is a time and place for both open-ended and closed questions. When teaching basic math, like multiplication, closed-ended questions are often more appropriate.
Slow Down to Leave Room for Questions
Rushing through material too quickly can leave students confused and too overwhelmed to bring up their questions. When teaching new or difficult topics, try to slow down and offer plenty of space for students to ask questions about the parts they don’t understand.
Provide Opportunities to Practice Asking Questions
Learning to ask questions can be just as important as the answers themselves. One way to encourage students to ask questions with more depth is by assigning them to create questions about a class topic.
For example, educator Jackie Walsh suggests making a homework assignment in which students must list both open-ended and closed questions about a subject. You can even have students ask these questions to each other the next day as part of your classroom discussion.
Include Time for Student Reflection
Allow students time to contemplate their own questions, as this can be an opportunity for them to practice their critical thinking skills. Additionally, educator John McCarthy suggests giving your classroom a few seconds to think together after you or a student asks a question. That way, students have time to sit with the question and consider their responses in a more thoughtful way.
Try Alternatives to “Are There Any Questions?”
According to University of Chicago Center for Teaching expert Brandon Cline, this phrase can can discourage students from asking questions and doesn’t help you evaluate what they do understand.
Instead, try more motivating ways to elicit questions. If you are teaching your students how to multiply numbers, for example, you could say, “I know multiplication is tough at first. Is there anything we should review again?”
- Cline, B. Asking Effective Questions. Chicago Center for Teaching. University of Chicago. https://teaching.uchicago.edu/resources/teaching-strategies/asking-effective-questions/.
- Berkeley Graduate Student Instructor Teaching & Resource Center Staff. Asking Effective Questions. https://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/lab-sections-intro/effective-questions/.
- Nayfeld, I. Always-On Inquiry: Why You Should Be Asking More Questions In Your Classroom. TeachThought. https://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/always-on-inquiry-asking-more-questions-classroom/.
- Chin, C., and Osborne, J. Students’ questions: a potential resource for teaching and learning science. Studies in Science Education, February 2008, 44(1).
- Spenser, J. Helping Students Ask Better Questions by Creating a Culture of Inquiry. The Synapse. November 16, 2017. https://medium.com/synapse/helping-students-ask-better-questions-by-creating-a-culture-of-inquiry-d1c4b0324a6f.
- Tenney School Staff. Encouraging Students to Ask (Better) Questions in Class. January 25, 2019. https://tenneyschool.com/encouraging-students-ask-better-questions-class/.
- Walsh, J. How to Get Your Students to Ask More Questions. Middle Web: All About the Middle Grades. May 27, 2019. https://www.middleweb.com/40383/how-to-get-your-students-to-ask-more-questions/.
- Berger, W. 5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners. Edutopia. August 14, 2014. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/help-students-become-better-questioners-warren-berger.
- Sesay-St. Paul, M. Forming Open-Ended Questions. Scholastic. https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plans/teaching-content/forming-open-ended-questions/.
- Responsive Classroom Staff. Open-Ended Questions. February 1, 2007. https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/open-ended-questions/
- McCarthy, J. Extending the Silence. Edutopia. January 10, 2018. https://www.edutopia.org/article/extending-silence.