As teachers we ask a lot of questions and I mean a lot. I’ve read some reports that suggest that we ask nearly 400 a day! That is an eye-watering amount but does that mean there are 400 moments of pure pupil engagement?
My gut answer is “no”. I know from my own teaching that I can easily zone out and repeatedly direct questions to the same handful of pupils, especially those excitedly waving their hands in the air. But what about the discreet pupil who quickly starts to adjust their tie or looks puzzled over something that seems out of place in their exercise book? I’ll be the first to admit that they were side-lined in my lessons. I guess I had this belief that pupils being merely present would magically help move learning into their long term memory.
And I know what many of them feel like. I never wanted to be asked a question because, usually, I had no clue what had been happening in the last ten minutes or so in lesson. It had nothing to do with the subject but because I was in la-la-land as I was allowed to mentally abscond.
I have come across many creative techniques to engage a whole class in questioning. One for a hot day would be the use of popsicle sticks being pulled from a cup with pupil names on them and for the tech people an app that spins a wheel stopping on a lucky winner. They are nice and can do the job but they take time to create or set up in lesson.
Effective questioning does not have to add to teacher workload. Here are three quick techniques that I regularly use in the classroom that takes no time to prepare. And better yet you can start using them now to engage all your pupils.
A sea of fluttering hands flapping in the air is not a sign of good questioning. More than often it will be the same eager pupils always biting at the bit to answer it. For the rest of the class this charade becomes their force field that blocks any incoming questions from reaching them. Unfortunately, it also stops those hiding behind it from thinking.
Spectacularly blow up the force field by removing the hands-up ritual. And watch the engagement gauge start to tick north with every question because ALL pupils are now accountable to the possibility of being asked a question.
Question, [pause], name
The norm to classroom questioning is “name” followed by “question”. For instance, “Jason, what is one of the contributing factors to the start of World War II?” Nonetheless, this format lets everyone else who is not named Jason off the hook.
A more encompassing approach is to switch it – first state the “question” followed by a pause and then the “name”. Now all pupils are in the hot seat and have to think about the answer, not just Jason.
You would think that this is a common technique but I never considered it until after reading it in an excellent book Making Every Lesson Count.
Pose, pause, pounce, bounce
Okay, this technique is pretty much the same as the one above but with an additional twist – a “bounce” option. And I also like it because it conjures up imagery of Tigger bouncing around the room.
As playful as it sounds, it keeps everyone on their toes.
Start by posing your question “What are the causes of drought?”; pause just long enough to give everyone the time to think through their answer; next pounce “Areena, what do you think?”; then bounce the question to another pupil to build on Areena’s answer.
And you can keep bouncing to other pupils giving your pupils no other option but to be 100% engaged in learning.