With the new school year upon us, let’s discuss some ways to level-up our questioning strategies we are using in our instruction.

## What are questioning strategies?

Effective questioning is a skill or practice that a teacher employs to gauge the understanding of material from students at any given time during her lesson. Simply put, **teachers drive student understanding through their questions.**

## Why does this matter?

There are two main reasons questions are so important in a class:

**Student engagement**– We don’t want a classroom full of students observing the lesson. We want students to be active participants. Even rigorous note-taking is a form of observation; we are aiming for students to be THINKING about the content. In order for them to think critically about the content, they have to engage with it, form opinions/solutions, and even ask their own questions.**Student understanding**– You think your lesson is going great because 3 or so students keep raising their hand and answering your questions correctly. Slam dunk, right? Then when students are asked to work independently or turn in an assignment at the end of class, it turns out all the students whose hands weren’t raised were totally lost. If we aren’t asking questions of ALL of the students in our class, then we don’t know who is not mastering the material. Eliciting incorrect answers or misunderstandings can help pivot our instruction!**You can’t correct what you can’t detect!**

## Quick tips to Improve Questioning

**Wait Time is Your Friend**

For questions that are related to the objective for the day, slow down. Give every student a chance to think. I would even preface your question by saying, “I don’t want anyone to raise their hands for this question.” I think some students stop thinking as soon as they see raised hands.

This is why I recommend – think, pair, share. Ask the question. Give time for the students to think, then share their answer with their partners, and while you circulate to hear some of the responses, decide who to call on to share with the class.

**Shoot for Action**

When asking questions, I like to shoot for something for students to be doing. I want to SEE their thinking, which isn’t always feasible, but let me give you a few examples:

Instead of: what is -3 + 7?

Say: Use the number line to show -3 + 7

Instead of: 3x+5=17 What is the first step?

Say: Underline the part of the equation that we need to take action with first.

Here is what I like about these types of questions – all students are DOING something. It might not be the most rigorous questioning strategy, but 100% of your students accessing this material is important too. **By shifting the lift to a single student with a raised hand to all of your students, you are communicating that everyone is here to participate. **

Personally, I used a device that allowed me to be mobile during instruction while simultaneously projecting what I was writing, so I could scan the room and scan answers before proceeding.

## 3 Question Types to Get Started

Here are 3 questions that work for practically every math problem.

**What do you know? What do you need to know?**

If there is one thing I have learned about teaching math to middle schoolers is that sometimes you need to check that they even read the problem. **These two questions force students to make observations about the information they have and what they need to do with this information to solve. **

**How do you know?**

This question is my go-to for students to explain their thinking process. **This question is required if you are trying to put less emphasis on answers and more emphasis on understanding.** This is also a question you can continue asking as a student is explaining their answer.

Example: 3x+5=17

Student: “The answer is x=4.”

Teacher: “How do you know?”

Student: “I subtracted 5 from 17…”

Teacher (interrupts): “How do you know that is the first step?”

Student: “Well, I was trying to isolate the variable.”

After a student has shared their solution, I maintain a neutral tone and face to ask this question. Can a student explain their thinking without the assurance that they are correct? (Keep in mind that you have to create a classroom culture where mistakes/errors are encouraged and learned from.)

Then I like to continue not giving away if anything is right or wrong, and ask **another student**…

**Is this answer reasonable? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?**

For this same example, I would popcorn over to a different student to ask if the first student’s answer and justification were reasonable. Ideally, if the first student’s answer was incorrect, the next student can explain their reasoning. Now multiple students are engaged and working together to better understand the material. Instead of being the answer key, you have facilitated some mathematical discourse! You are such a fabulous teacher!

There are about a million other questions that you can ask in a class. This list of questions is a great place to get started.

What type of questioning strategies do you use in your classroom?