Want Better Discussions? Questions are the Answer
Many teachers want to include more authentic conversations into their classrooms, yet getting students to deeply engage in large group discussions can be difficult. It turns out the key to improving the quality of classroom discussions is to improve the way we teach. This is kind of a good news/bad news situation.
The good news is that we have control of our teaching methods. The bad news is that changing what we do, including our habits and routines, is hard! But if you break it down and make changes gradually, your classroom can come alive with interested and invested students!
Ask Open-ended Questions
Teachers ask a lot of questions, but many of those questions target basic knowledge or recall. We can make our discussions more effective by beginning them with “What”, “How”, “Why”, “If…then”–open-ended questions that require more thought. Students can’t just throw out a fact, or a yes or no.
Looking at the words that begin the list of HRASE questions below shows that these two questioning methods are closely related. You can learn more about the HRASE Strategy (History, Relationships, Application, Speculation, Explanation) from Penick, Crow, & Bonnstetter, 1996.
To help you figure out what questions to ask, this list of sample questions will help you use the HRASE Questioning Strategy.
History–questions that relate to students’ experience:
- What did you do….?
- What happened when you….?
- What happened next…?
Relationships- questions that engage students in comparing ideas, activities, data, etc.
- How does this compare to…?
- What else does this relate to…?
- What do all these things have in common?
Application- questions that require students to use knowledge in new contexts:
- How could this idea be used…?
- What issues could this solution solve?
- What evidence supports…?
Speculation-questions that require thinking beyond given information:
- What would happen if you changed…?
- What might the appropriate next step be?
- What problems may result from…?
Explanation- questions that get at underlying reasons, processes, and mechanisms:
- How does that work?
- How can we account for…?
- What justification could be provided for…?
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