I Have a Question!

by Arlene Birt


“Mrs. Birt, I have a question!”  Nelson called out.  Nelson has many questions.

When is God’s birthday? 

What does God look like? 

What is your name?  (It is not Mrs. Birt!)

I appreciate when children ask questions as they are learning and show that they are curious and wondering about their world.  Children sometimes ask questions when I am reading aloud.  “What is a coyote?”  “What does ascend mean?”  They ask questions related to our lessons. “Why does ‘know’ have a ‘k’?”  Asking questions helps them learn, aids in clarifying information, and gives information.

How do teachers handle questions from children?  Sometimes I will ask them to find the answer. Renee asks, “Where do I put this paper?”  I tell her to read the morning list: “You will find the answer.”  I may direct students to reread a page or story to find the answer to a question.  I may say the answer.  Maybe I don’t know the answer, so I tell them I will look it up.  (I need to make a note of the question, so I remember to do that!)  We can then have a brief lesson on what I find.  Currently I have it on my list to find out how large zebra’s eyes are!

Questions are also a good teaching tool.  Teachers ask high-quality questions of their students to spur thinking, begin discussions, direct understanding, and engage students.  Questions are a great method of assessing knowledge retention.

We are studying “Questions and Questioning” in our staff professional development sessions and thinking about the kinds of questions we ask and how we can use questions to grow in our teaching.  Some questions are used for classroom management, while other questions ask for information recall, and we need these types of questions.  However, for learning purposes, we want to have higher-level questions to develop deeper thinking.

Looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy (table below) can help in developing higher-level questions.  The words in the taxonomy can be used to plan quality questions and aid in higher level thinking.  On the Evaluation level, use the “trigger words” to create questions of assessing, evaluating, or defending.  You can ask students to support their answers with evidence from the text, as on the Analysis level.

Table from Doherty, J. (2017). Skilful questioning: the beating heart of good pedagogy. Impact Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching.

One of our PD activities was reading a text and coming up with good questions.  We then asked a colleague to evaluate our questions.  I realized that I need to plan ahead on questions.  I need to write the questions ahead of class and not try to come up with good questions while I’m teaching.

Teachers may write questions on the board and have students discuss them with a partner for a few minutes before writing or sharing their answers.  The students may be required to give evidence to defend their answers.  Questions may be used to drive a class discussion, or be included as part of a test or used for morning work.  Students may be directed to write the questions.

Here are some strategies for using questions (adapted from Doherty, 2017):

  1. On the Hot Seat: Students take turns sitting in the ‘hot seat’ and answering questions.
  2. Ask the Expert: The teacher asks questions of a student on a given topic, and encourages other students to also ask questions.
  3. Ask the Classroom: Display questions to encourage thinking about pictures or objects in the classroom.
  4. Phone a Friend: A student calls on a fellow-student to answer the teacher’s question. The first student also gives an answer.
  5. Eavesdropping: The teacher circulates in the classroom, listening in on groups, and asking questions based on their discussions.
  6. Question Box: The teacher has a box containing a series of questions.  At the end of the day, or end of the week, take some time to choose a few questions for class discussion.
  7. What is the question? Provide the answer, and encourage students to determine the question.

High-quality questions are powerful teaching tools. Let’s learn how to use them well!

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CONTRIBUTOR: Arlene Birt

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