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Use Questions to Improve Classroom Instruction

written by: Mayflor Markusic • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 1/6/2012

Questioning is not just an impulsive act on the part of the teacher. A single question can help students process the information they are learning, and come to conclusions on their own. Questioning is an art form, and not all questions are good questions.

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    The Purpose of Questioning

    If the purpose of art is merely to express, then everyone is an artist and there will be no art critics. But art is more than an expression. It can be used to echo the state of affairs of the society. It can be used to censure or satirize a certain tradition. And it can be used to galvanize a community to take action.

    In the same way, the purpose of questioning is not merely to ask questions. In the classroom, the question serves multiple purposes. A question provides feedback to the teacher on whether the students have obtained full comprehension of a given topic. A question reveals learning difficulties. A question encourages student participation. A question develops critical and creative thinking. A question introduces a new lesson. And a question promotes learning. With so many functions, the teacher carefully plans the questions that will be asked in the classroom.

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    Art of Questioning: Canvass, Chisel, and Paints

    When engaged in making a masterpiece, the painter must first prepare his materials, such as the canvas, the chisel, and the paint. In the same manner, when engaged in the art of questioning, the teacher must prepare all the materials that are needed, such as the students, the topic, and the strategy.

    The teacher’s canvas is the classroom that is full of students. Just as the painter brings out form and shapes out of the canvas, the teacher brings out the curiosity and participation of students. To accomplish this, it is best to ask open-ended questions. Unlike yes-or-no questions, the open-ended questions invite the students to give voice to their opinions, feelings, and ideas. Unlike factual and single-answer questions, open-ended questions will stimulate discussion among students.

    The teacher’s chisel is her arsenal of prepared questions. The painter produces bad art when a blunt chisel is used. The teacher gives bad questions when these are not planned. Good questions usually begin with the “why,” “how,” “where,” “what,” and “when.” When questions start with any of these words, the students are provoked to think. Unfortunately, some teachers start use blunt chisels by beginning their questions with “tell me what..” or “describe for me…”

    The teachers cans of paints are the variety of questions. Some questions are easy and require low-level thinking. Other questions are more challenging and develop high-level thinking. The teacher must place emphasis on the latter. Questions that encourage creative and critical thinking are the best questions for helping the students.