Three Questioning Strategies for Any Lesson

Teachers know—questions play a different role, depending on when they’re used.

  • Before a lesson: Questions are a way to motivate, set goals, stimulate thinking, convey purpose, and create a positive learning environment.
  • During a lesson: Questions inspire thinking and reflection, allow students to review what they’re learning, involve students in evaluating their understanding of implicit and explicit learning, and encourage students to think ahead – to predict, anticipate, problem solve, and identify trends and patterns.
  • After a lesson: Questions prompt students to summarize what they learned, make analogies, reflect, draw conclusions, incorporate new learning with prior learning, and extend learning.

In her ASCD Annual Conference session, Sandra Page presented several questioning strategies that can be used at all stages of a lesson:

Student Sort Cards

On one side of an index card, students write their name large enough to be seen across the room. On the other side, students complete a brief inventory of their interested and learning preferences (group work, visual, etc.). Teachers can use this stack of cards to randomly call on students, and when appropriate, target questions to students’ interests. With differentiation for readiness-level, for students who need practice with a question before answering it in front of the class, Page writes their question on a sticky note she affixes to their name card. She shares the question with the students in advance, so there are no surprises when she asks it. Page gradually removes this scaffold as students become more proficient with their responses.

Student sort cards are also useful for getting students to discuss a topic with one another. “A discussion is not teacher-student, teacher-student,” Page said. Instead of calling out students’ names to respond to a question, she asks a question and holds a name card up to her face, so that students can see who is expected to respond. While the student responds, she is careful not to look at the student giving the response. Page looks around the room, so that the speaker will also direct their response to his classmates, not just the teacher. A minute or so into a response, Page holds another students’ name card to her face to signal the student who is expected to build on, clarify, or dissent to what the previous student said. This technique requires students to actively listen to their peers’ responses, and practice making transitional statements—a skill they’ll use not only conversationally, but also in academic essays and response papers.

If this strategy stresses students out—so much so that they are just focusing on whether they’ll be called on next, and not listening to the speaker—try some test-runs on a topic all kids are familiar with. Pair this strategy with the sticky-note strategy, so students know the question in advance and have some time to formulate responses. Display transitional statement stems on the board or around the classroom. Even further, students can, as a class, brainstorm potential stances on a topic, and record these in a chart or matrix that is visible during the discussion.

Question Stem Cards

Laminate these sheets of question stems, and then cut the sheets into individual question prompts. Have students use these stems to write their own questions about what they just read or learned. Page has students write and display their questions in dry-erase marker on a sort of DIY white board—stiff card stock covered by a plastic page protector. She will focus on a specific category of question stem (i.e, analysis, evaluation, application) when she wants to reinforce a particular thinking skill. When students write their own questions, Page added, it invites the novelty of discovery, reveals misconceptions, and gets students thinking in questions

FY3

During discussion, Page often asks students to “FY3” their responses. FY3 is shorthand for diversify, verify, and amplify. She’s asking students to enhance the discussion with a response that

  • Diversifies: provides more than one perspective
  • Verifies: offers evidence
  • Amplifies: elaborates on an idea

These strategies provide scaffolds that encourage students to ask and answer questions. How do you encourage questions in your classroom? How do you get students discussing topics with one another?

Laura Varlas is an ASCD project manager in publishing, and a graduate student in the secondary education: English/language arts program at George Washington University.