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Asking and Answering Questions

As we near the end of the semester, have you noticed student enthusiasm waning? Do your students eyes glaze over when you ask a question? Do you end up answering your own questions? If you answered yes to any of the above, consider the following tips for asking, answering, and responding to problematic questions.

For more effective questions you might consider one or more of the following

  1. Prior to class, jot down your objectives (i.e., the two or three key points you want your students to understand by the end of the class) for that session, develop key questions, and then write questions that logically precede and will prepare students for the key questions.
  2. State the question simply, avoiding excess words or explanations.
  3. Develop questions sequentially to lead to higher levels of learning. Do this by asking a series of probing questions.
  4. Wait at least six seconds for a response (time yourself). Students need time to think. Better yet, give them time to jot down a response before asking for an answer.
  5. Ask questions that require different student approaches to the topic.
  6. Use the language appropriate to the level of the class.
  7. Start the question with the action word, e.g., explain, define, compare. (See Bloom's Taxonomy for more action words.)

When answering student questions

  1. Acknowledge a correct response in a strong and positive manner, using words like "excellent response," or "absolutely correct," versus "hm-hm" or "okay." This will encourage further responses.
  2. Make comments pertinent to the specific student's response. In other words, "That was excellent Pat. You included national political reasons and you mentioned ... "
  3. Hold your comments until all students have responded to a particular question. Your response may stifle further responses.
  4. Allow them to "check with their neighbor" before answering the question.

Handling problematic questions asked by students

  1. If a student asks a question about an assignment that you have already addressed, avoid using statements that would damage rapport such as "Where were you when I gave the assignment?" Instead, minimize repeating yourself, refer the student to the written instructions you provided, and ask exactly which aspect of the assignment needs clarifying.
  2. If a student tries to entrap you in an argument, acknowledge the students input and quickly move on. If this behavior persists, speak to the student after class and inform the student that his/her behavior is disruptive.
  3. If you are asked a loaded question, turn the question back to the student asking it.
  4. If a student rambles, take control by interrupting the student at an appropriate time and paraphrasing whatever meaning you can. Then supply the answer and move along. Or, defer answering it for the "sake of class time" and ask the student to raise the question after class or during office hours.
  5. If you don't know the answer to a student's question, say so. It shows courage and professionalism. You can either answer it later, when you have had a chance to research the question, or you can ask if another student knows the answer. Better yet, acknowledge the students question and ask him/her to research the answer for the next class session.


Hyman, R.T. "Questioning in the College Classroom." IDEA Paper No.8. Center for Faculty Evaluation and Development. Kansas State U., 1982. Print.

"Asking Questions." Teaching Idea Packet 3. Office for Teaching and Learning. Wayne State U., 1999. Print.

Nilson, L. Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Bolton: Anker, 1998. Print.

Cashin, William E. "Asking and Answering Questions." Faculty Development Teaching Tips Index. Honolulu Comm. Coll. Jan. 1995. Web. 22 Sept. 2010.

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