Ways to Encourage Questions from Students

10 02 2010

 

Ways to Encourage Questions

A teacher cannot encourage questions solely by standing at the front of the class and asking, “Are there any questions?” There is so much pressure forcing students NOT to ask questions that it cannot be overcome by this single act. The only way to encourage questions is to create a complete “question-asking environment” in the classroom. You must encourage questions constantly, using a variety of techniques.

The most important technique that you can use to encourage questions is to always answer questions kindly. Even if you have answered the same question three times already, the fourth answer should be friendly, and should include a new example. The student may have been copying something down, or may have been daydreaming. But normally questions occur multiple times because students cannot understand the language you are speaking. Until the students understand the vocabulary, all of those answers will be completely meaningless. A student asking a question for the fourth time has just come to understand the vocabulary him/herself, and only then can understand the answer when you give it.

Here are some other ways to promote questions:

• Make students who ask questions feel like they have done you a favor by asking a question. Reward students for asking a question. Try saying, “That’s a great question” for every new question you get.

 • Leave gaps for questions that are long enough for students to actually formulate questions. Rustle through your notes or drop a pencil or erase the board – leave good sized gaps throughout your lectures.

 • Do not insult students, even subtly, when answering a question. Take a tape recorder to class one day, and then play it back and listen to how you answer questions. How do you come across? Would you like to be talked to in that way? Put yourself in your students’ shoes. Also listen to the answers you give – do you answer the questions?

• Use questionnaires at the end of class. Ask your students to write down one thing that they don’t understand from that day’s class. Then go over those questions at the beginning of the next class. Once students realize that everyone has questions, they will be more inclined to ask questions vocally during class.

• Have your students work problems during class. Put a problem on the board and let students work it in their notes. Then show them the right answer. You can do examples all day, but nothing is learned until the students do a problem themselves. It shows them exactly what they don’t understand, and this often leads to questions.

• Make lists of questions that you get asked after school, and then repeat those questions to everyone during the next class.

• Give homework assignments that force students to think about and question the material, and make time available in class to answer homework questions. If a homework assignment generates no questions, then it is probably useless.

• Use tests to find out where you have been unclear, and where questions remain. A well designed and well graded test tells you as much about your teaching as it does about your students.

• Introduce a difficult concept for 5 minutes at the end of class. Then cover the concept fully during the next class. Students will have a day or two to become familiar with the concept, and will be more inclined to ask questions when they see it again.

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