3 Encouraging students to ask questions

There are two main reasons why students need to learn to ask questions. Firstly, if they don’t understand the work and need help, it is important that they have the confidence to ask you or to ask a classmate. Feeling that it is OK to ask and being able to formulate a question are equally important.

Secondly, in order to become active members of a democratic society they need to be able to interpret data, question its validity and challenge assertions that people make.

Case Study 2: Asking questions

Mr Singh asks his students to make up some questions.

When I reach the end of a topic, I usually ask my students if they understand everything and if anyone has any questions. I always get the response ‘Yes, we understand’, and very few students have ever asked me a question. However, when it comes to the test, they never do as well as I had hoped and it is obvious that there are a significant number who don’t understand some of the concepts. I decided that I need to do something about this.

When I finished the topic ‘Why do we fall ill?’, I decided to adopt a different approach. For homework, instead of doing the questions at the end of the chapter, I asked them to make up a test for their classmates. Everyone had to devise five questions. I also asked them to separately make a note of any questions that they wanted to ask about the topic.

The next day I arranged them in groups of four. I arranged the groups so that students of similar attainment levels were together. Each group had to work through each person’s questions (making 20 in total). I concentrated on supporting the groups of weaker students but I found that they had devised some good questions at an appropriate level. If a group finished early, I asked them to think of extra questions around any areas they needed help with.

In the last ten minutes of the lesson, I set them the task of answering the questions at the end of the chapter. As they did this, I went around and answered any questions that the students were still unsure about.

Pause for thought

What steps can you take to make sure that your students feel able to ask questions?

It is important that students feel confident to ask questions. You need to create the time and opportunity for them to ask questions, and must respond carefully. Tell them that it is a good question and you are pleased that they have asked. Explain the answer as clearly as you can, maybe finishing with a follow-up question that will demonstrate if they really have understood. If you can create a supportive and friendly atmosphere, students will find it easier to ask questions.

Activity 3: Encouraging your students to ask questions

This activity will give your students the opportunity to think of questions to ask about some data. It is this sort of thinking and questioning that will help them to become good citizens in a democratic society. They can follow this up with some project work.

  • Copy the data from Resource 3 on to the blackboard (If you have other data available you could use this instead).
  • Ask students to look at the data and write down two questions that they could ask about the data.
  • Ask them to compare their questions with the person next to them and together to try and think of two more.
  • Ask for volunteers and record some of the students’ questions on the blackboard.

Hopefully, you will have some obvious ones such as, ‘Which state has the highest immunisation rate?’ and some more interesting ones, such as, ‘Is there a relationship between being breast fed as a baby and being underweight as a child?’ or ‘Why is there such a big difference in the percentage of children immunised in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh?’

Now ask your students to choose one of their questions to investigate in more detail. They could do this for homework. Encourage them to choose a question that it is realistic for them to answer. For example, if they have access to the internet, they could choose a different question than if they were relying on the library, the TV, the radio or family members.

2 Questioning techniques