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  • Writer's pictureKristin Phillips

Involving All Students in Answering Questions

When we ask questions in class, we are hoping to develop in our students a greater understanding of the material. We, as teachers, hope to pinpoint any misconceptions. But, too frequently, the questioning period of the lesson becomes a conversation between ourselves and a few students. We need to think about how to engage all students in the conversation.

If we think about feedback as being a way of knowing if your students are getting it, then you have to make sure you are asking questions that let you find out if they are getting it. Pay attention to the types of questions you ask. If they tend to be all one word answers, all factual questions, all yes or no questions, then you may wish to think about which type of strategy is going to give you the information you need for assessment.

If we think about feedback as helping students to understand a concept, then having them think about their answer in relation to others’ answers, is a type of feedback. Any time that a student has to express his or her thinking to another person, they are receiving feedback when the listener either understands or doesn’t. Any time that a student is able to compare his or her answer to others’ answers, they are receiving feedback.

As you are teaching this week you may want to think about the following:

1. How many of my questions can be answered yes or no and how many require a more thoughtful answer?

2. If you are asking questions in a whole group setting then you are often having a conversation with just one student at a time. Believe it or not, the others may not be listening at all. Here are some strategies:

a. Use little white boards so that everyone is participating and answering. b. Use little white boards between 2 kids so that when they agree on an answer they write it down (and make them switch who has control of the marker regularly). c. Ask other students to respond to the answer or paraphrase the answer not you. d. Don’t sit at the front of the class but in the middle of the students. e. Use a ball so that after one person answers the ball goes to someone else to add on not back to you.

3. Give enough wait time so everyone can answer. You could ask a question and tell kids to think about the answer and you aren’t going to ask anyone for the answer for 10 or 15 seconds. You can ask them to jot down the answer and then ask someone to share. Or, have table groups or partners share.

4. Use a knowledge building circle. Students and you sit in a circle and you start the conversation with a question or a comment. Anyone who wants to answer puts up their hand and you choose who answers. After that person finishes, anyone who has another question or wishes to respond puts their hand up. The person who just spoke gets to choose who speaks next based on who has their hand up. Only people with hands up can be chosen to speak. As the teacher you can put your hand up but need to wait to be chosen to speak. Think about how you could use this in math to talk about how to answer a question, in music or art to think about a particular form or art piece, in science to hypothesize, in history to discuss the causes of an event, in literature to discuss a character’s motivation or the author’s theme and so on.

5. Use exit cards to determine what kids have learned in a given class.

6. Use Today’s Meet ( or Padlet ( – check it out– it is like putting sticky notes on an online board) to have discussion about a rich question.

7. Keep track of who answers. Do you ask the same kids all the time? You want to be careful not to embarrass kids who don’t know the answer but only asking the kids with their hand up doesn’t mean others don’t know the answer. You can have everyone put thumbs down and ask a question. As individual students think they know the answer, they put their thumb up. You then can ask thumbs up people. This also forces you to wait until you have most kids with thumbs up. If you don’t, they need to turn and talk until most kids have thumbs up. Pretty soon your students will figure out that non-participation isn’t an option.

8. If you do ask a question to the whole group and ask for individual answers, ask multiple students to answer the same question without any feedback from you. You could record all the possible answers. Then have students think about all the possible answers to determine a best answer.

8. Ask the question and then have students turn and talk about the answer before you take it up with the whole class. Or, don’t take it up with the whole class since now you know everyone has talked about it.

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