What a good question is depends on the course, the students and the teaching situation. That said, please consider the following. Ask open question and limit your use of closed questions. Open questions provide space for several possible answers, while closed questions limit response options. Ask questions because you want to hear the students’ answers, not necessarily the correct answer. Students don’t like guessing what the teacher is thinking. Start by asking relatively simple and concrete questions and gradually ask more difficult and abstract questions. In this way you are warming up the conversation. Prepare your key questions in advance and write them down. It takes time to construct good questions.
Teachers’ question-asking styles vary greatly, and therefore the students’ willingness to answer also varies. You should therefore stand in the middle of the room, look at your students and then ask your question. Don’t speak too fast. Your body language and voice will then indicate that a question is coming. Then wait! The students need to think. Look around the room. Don’t ask the first student that puts up their hand to answer. Be patient. If only a few students put their hands, you may repeat your question. Avoid answering your own question.
You should allow your students a minute to think about the key questions; then ask your students to speak together in pairs before asking for their questions. This gives them an opportunity to develop and test their answers, and it gives you an opportunity to ask a group, even if they did not necessarily put up their hands.
It is not only necessary to ask good questions. It is also important that you build on the answers you receive. Many teachers tend to quickly begin to speak again, but as the figure demonstrates, there are other options. Playing ‘ping pong’ means that we begin a conversation with the individual student. If we are uncertain about what the student actually meant, we can examine their statement. If we accept the statement but would like the student to include more aspects, we can expand the statement (see the figure). We can also ‘play the ball’ to other students to invite them into the conversation. When doing so, we are of course responsible for making sure that the tone is constructive and factual and that we discuss the statement, not the person. If Lisa said that “Denmark was part of the allied forces during World War 2”, it is important to ask “do others think Denmark was among the allied forces?” and not “do you agree with Lisa?”
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Wichmann-Hansen & Wirenfeldt Jensen (2015). Processtyring og kommunikation i vejledning. I: Universitetspædagogik, (329-350) Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur.
Brown, G., & Atkins, M. (1988). Effective teaching in higher education. Oxon: Routledge.
Christensen, R. (1991). The Discussion Teacher in Action: Questioning, Listening, and Response. In: Education for Judgment (s. 153-174). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.