Teachers ask thousands of questions each week. They are the prime means of finding out what pupils think and to get them to think in the first place. And there are a range of techniques you can use to develop questioning skills.
Here are five ways to avoid that frustrating situation in which you ask a question and receive absolutely no response:
- Avoid questions that require a single, direct answer, such as: “What is the capital of Saudi Arabia?” There will be times when they are useful, but questions like these will discourage many pupils from responding, because they will be thinking: “There is one right answer to this and I don’t want to be seen to get it wrong.”
- Use questions that invite pupils to talk about what they think, such as: “What do you know about Saudi Arabia?” This elicits information in a broader way and the stakes are much lower. This becomes about pupils sharing their thoughts with the teacher and the class.
- Put pupils in pairs and ask them to talk to their partner first. This alleviates the social awkwardness of being the first to speak and the numerical imbalance between teacher and pupils. Giving pupils time to discuss in pairs means everyone in the class has a safe, easy setting in which to understand and share an answer.
- Give time to think. Ask a question, then wait, allowing pupils time to analyse the question and consider their answer. Avoid the trap of expecting an immediate response or asking quick-fire questions. You could tell them that they have 30 seconds of thinking time, or you could count slowly and silently to 10.
- Encourage pupils to write something down. This helps free up space in their short-term memory, allowing them to explore the issue in more depth. Also, it means they will have something in front of them that they can reflect on.