2 Questioning Strategies to Engage Students

Sometimes increasing student engagement can be as easy as changing the way you ask questions in your classroom. Doug Lamov, education researcher, has documented some small changes in the way we can ask questions that lead to our students being more keyed in to classroom discussion and to deeper thinking. Two of those strategies, which can work hand-in-hand, are the Cold Call and No Opt Out strategies.


NO RAISED HANDsWe all know that when we are having classroom discussions, there is usually a student or two whose mind wanders away from the topic at hand. One of the reasons for this is that in a traditional classroom, where students are expected to raise their hands to speak, students know that if they keep their hand out of the air, not much will be expected of them. The key to the Cold Call method is eliminating hand raising all together.

To implement Cold Call, simply tell your students that you will no longer ask for raised hands – instead you will be choosing students at random to answer after a question is asked. This improves students’ engagement because you create a, “system that ensures that instead of one student answering each of your questions, all of your students answer all of your questions in their minds, with you merely choosing one student to speak the answer out loud.”

Teachers who hesitate to use the Cold Call strategy often are worried about what to do if they choose a student who responds, “I don’t know.” The second questioning strategy I want to discuss, No Opt Out, addresses that concern.


The main idea behind No Opt Out is that when called on, a student can never “get out” of answering by saying that he or she doesn’t know. There are multiple options that the teacher can use after a student cannot or will not answer the initial question, but all options should end with the original student saying the correct answer aloud (though he or she may not be the first student the answer correctly.)

Some options are:
1) ask a different, leading question, and then have the student answer the original question
2) give the student a cue that leads him or her to be able to answer the original question
3) ask the class as a whole to respond, and then have the original student repeat the correct answer
4) ask another student to respond, and then have the original student repeat the correct answer

Whether a student responds, “I don’t know” because they actually don’t know the answer, they weren’t listening to the question, or they are avoiding work, having a No Opt Out policy can create a classroom atmosphere of accountability, where every student knows that “I don’t know” will never be the end of the conversation. Lamov’s contention is that the No Opt Out strategy empowers students and, “reminds them that you believe in their ability to answer. And it results in students’ hearing themselves succeed and get answers right.”

More information on these strategies can be found in Lemov, Doug. Teach like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.


5 thoughts on “2 Questioning Strategies to Engage Students

  1. I love both of these ideas. I often do cold calls but I still often call on those with their hand raised. I like the idea of eliminating the hand raising altogether. I am wondering if it would be possible to try to implement no hand raising and no opt out norms this far into the school year.


    • Tammi, I implemented both last week for the first time, and there were a few hiccups since it is weeks into the school year, but mostly the problem was enthusiastic students continuing to raise their hands, which isn’t really a bad thing. It took less than a class period for those who sometimes tune out to realize that I was Cold Calling, and they needed to get focused! My favorite part about these strategies is that even when a student doesn’t know the answer, they have to pay attention to the next student because they know I will come back and ask them again. I really appreciate your comment!



    • I said, “I want to try something new today. I don’t need you to raise your hands; I am just going to call on people.” Other than that, I let them figure it out. I think it was a harder change in me than them. I have just as much a habit of calling on students with raised hands as they do of putting them in the air!


  2. Pingback: Second Semester – a Chance for Something New | Coaching Corner

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