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Asking Good Questions & Responding to Student Answers

As teachers, we often find our classroom discussions falling flat. How can we encourage critical thinking, deeper conversations, great discussions, content synthesis, and learner engagement? Here are some easy questioning and responding strategies to strengthen your classroom discussions.

Questioning Strategy 1: The 5 Whys
The 5 Whys method was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, a founding father of the Japanese industrial revolution. This systematic strategy can quickly get you to the root of the problem or identify information gaps.

When faced with a problem, ask ‘why’ 5 times, each time waiting until you get a more specific response. The responders must answer the questions based on fact, not opinion. If they run out of answers, it may be a good indication that more research or information is necessary before the problem can be solved.

Photo: Pixabay

Questioning Strategy 2: Questions that Require Understanding
Use questions that require insight or understanding, not just information. This helps the student link point A to point B, without you explaining everything. Here are some types of questions that work well:

  • ‘How’ questions like “How does that work?”
  • ‘So what’ questions like “So what could be going on?”
  • ‘Now what’ questions like “Given that information, now what?”
  • ‘Benefit’ questions like “How does that make things better?”

Questioning Strategy 3: Student Led Questions
Allow students to ask questions of you and of their fellow students. Make sure you set expectations for the other students’ answers. Ensure their responses to their peers are constructive not critical.

Adopt the attitude that there are no stupid questions. When a student asks a question, listen and respond sincerely, even if you are surprised, perplexed, or annoyed by the question.

If the participant’s question indicates they weren’t listening or have a large knowledge gap, chat with them privately. Don’t humiliate them in front of their peers. If several students have similar questions, then perhaps it’s time for review.

Response Strategy 1: “Yes And”
Respond to students with “yes and” instead of “yes but,” and encourage students to do the same. This will drastically change the conversation from convergent to divergent.

Response Strategy 2: Redirect
Encourage students to add to other’s responses and extend the conversation by asking questions like “Okay, can someone expand on that thought?” or “How do the rest of you feel about that?”

Response Strategy 3: “I Don’t Know”
No one knows everything, so admit when you do not know something and direct students to helpful resources. By demonstrating that it’s okay not to know everything, you empower students to solve things on their own.

Great questions and responses support learning, and are useful in persuading others to courageously learn. In fact questions are also a powerful way to build relationships, avoid misunderstandings, and defuse heated situations. Remember to use a pleasant tone of voice and respond with open affirming body language to encourage your participants in their exploration. And listen – a lot. Questioning and responding inclusively will radically change the classroom conversations. The focus will shift from information to application and synthesis.


Additional Resources:

The Adventist Learning Community’s ‘Facilitator Course

Instructional Strategies from Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning.

Questioning Techniques



Sharon Aka

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