2 Ways of handling questions

When you ask a question, do all the students think about the question? How do you know? How can you encourage all the students to participate more?

Research shows that many teachers only allow one second for students to think before calling for an answer. Do you give students time to think about their answers? Teachers also often ask the same students to answer questions, because they have their hands up first and the lesson can move on. But by just waiting a few seconds longer before asking someone to answer, you will see an increase in:

  • the length of pupil responses
  • the number of pupils offering responses
  • the frequency of pupil questions
  • the number of responses from less capable pupils
  • positive interactions between pupils.

The next activity asks you to try some of these techniques in your next lesson to see if this happens to you.

Activity 2: Increasing thinking time

Plan your next lesson on forces, or another topic, and think about the questions that you want to ask.

List the questions you might ask. The questions below illustrate how a simple change in the way you construct your questions means that your students would be encouraged to think more deeply before they speak.

  • What do you think will happen if you push this brick along the table?
  • What happens if you push harder?
  • What might happen if we put the brick on the concrete playground and we push? Will it be the same? If, yes why? If not, why?

You should allow time for students to think before you ask for responses. Then, as you teach your class, remind yourself every time you ask a question just to pause a little longer and note what happens. You may want to encourage more reticent students to think more by asking a short supplementary question. For example, if you have asked ‘What do you think will happen if you push the log harder?’, after a few seconds you may ask ‘What will happen to the speed of the log if you push harder still?’ Think of other questions like this that you could use.

After the lesson, take time to think about the students’ reaction to your new use of questions. Note down any significant responses and reactions from the students.

Pause for thought

Most of your students may not have been aware of the subtle changes you made, but what effect did it have? How well did you manage the questioning? Were you able to pause and let them think longer? How did it affect their participation? Who participated, responded or had greater involvement in the lesson?

How do you know this? What did they say or do that made you think the students were more interested?

1 Questioning and thinking

Extending your students’ thinking