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What’s in a Question? More Than You Might Think
By Mike Gershon, author of How to Use Questioning in the Classroom: The Complete Guide
As teachers, we ask hundreds of questions every day. They are one of the main ways we communicate with our learners. We use questions to help them think, to stretch their thinking, to challenge their thinking, to check knowledge, to root out misconceptions, and to stimulate discussion.
When I was teaching Citizenship, towards the beginning of my career, I began to pay more attention to my questioning. Citizenship is a subject in the UK curriculum that covers politics, economics, the law, identity and British values. It’s intended to give students a good grounding in some really important areas of life that fall between the cracks of the traditional curriculum. And it’s intended to help them become good citizens.
I would lead my Citizenship classes in lots of debates
After all, there’s a lot to discuss if you’re looking at politics, economics, the law and all those other areas. In these debates, I started to look closely at how the questions I asked affected the discussion. Whether they opened things up or closed them down. Whether they gave students opportunities to explore different ideas or channelled them in specific directions.
Through paying attention to the influence my questions were having on the structure and direction of the discussion I came to realise that a kind of game goes on in the classroom. The question-answering game. We, the teachers, pose questions and students understand that their role is to provide an answer. The rules are unwritten, but everybody knows what they are.
It was at this point that I started thinking about writing a book on the topic. A few years later, I produced How to Use Questioning in the Classroom: The Complete Guide.
My intention was to create a volume teachers could use as a guide to practical questioning techniques. A book they could use to navigate the question-answering game as effectively as possible. For this reason, I divided the main body of the book into three parts: Strategies and Techniques, Activities and Exemplar Questions.
Strategies and Techniques
Strategies and Techniques focuses on the different ways you can tweak, plan and adapt the questioning you use when you’re teaching. For example, it includes different ways to elicit responses from your students, as well as tools for increasing the quality of responses. This section is all about the fundamentals of the question-answering game, giving you the basic toolkit you need to immediately increase the quality of your questions, as well as the quality of students’ answers.
The second part looks at specific tasks you can plan into your lessons. There are twenty activities you can use to structure questioning. The different activities give rise to different results and help you ensure variation for your students. Something which is important when looking to sustain motivation over time. You can use the activities as they are described, or adapt them so they fit your own teaching style.
The final part of the book contains hundreds of exemplar questions. These are also ready to use, as well as being open to adaptation. The beauty of this section is that it does a lot of the work for you – making it really easy to quickly and effectively improve the quality and impact of your questioning. Here are five exemplar questions to give you a taste of what’s in store:
- What events might affect X but not Y?
- What might be the best course of action for achieving X? Why?
- How much do you need to know about X in order to use it successfully?
- Where and when might it be useful to translate X into a different form?
- Can you construct a new theory which takes X into account?
Overall, then, the book presents you with a complete set of tools you can use to develop and improve the quality of your questioning. In so doing, you’ll develop and improve the quality of your students’ thinking, as well as the work they produce. Maybe you and they will never look at questioning in quite the same way again.