Providing Feedback During Questioning

We have conversations in our classrooms every day, but have you ever considered the fact that the when you question your students and provide feedback you are engaged in formative assessment? Those discussions help your students (and you) know in which areas they are doing well, and they also help students improve in areas of need as you speak… literally.

How teachers react to their students’ responses to questions determines how the students process (or don’t process) the content on which the questions is focused. Intentional questioning and thoughtful responses can increase student engagement in a big way.

For example, research shows that when a teacher replies to a student’s response by asking a follow-up question, it expands the thoughts of all the students. However, when a teacher offers a monosyllabic response like “Yes” or “Correct” students often ignore the answer.

In their book, Quality Questioning: Research-Based Practice to Engage Every Learner Walsh and Sattes offer the ideas in the table below to help guide teachers as they react to student responses to questioning:

Adapted from

Adapted from “Quality Questioning” page 96.

5 Easy Questions that Lead to Deeper Thinking

When talking to students we often ask very specific, content-driven questions, but it can actually be the more general, vague questions that lead our students to think more deeply.

1) What do YOU think?

This question, as simple as it is, can seem intimidating to students. It is a good idea to let them share with a neighbor first, and then share aloud with the class what they think.

2) Why do you think that?

This question allows student to go even deeper. You may need to provide significant think time before a student knows how to respond. Don’t give up on them – wait it out!

3) How do you know this?

This question leads students through their thinking process and allows you (and their classmates) to see how they are drawing conclusions.

4) Can you tell me more?

This question invites the student to broaden their thinking. This is the time where students produce less expected, and sometimes extremely insightful, thoughts and ideas.

5) What questions do you still have?

This question also usually requires quite a bit of wait time, but it gets easier after some practice. Once the students realize that you welcome their questions and will wait it out, their questions begin to come faster.

This post is based on “5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students

Increasing Critical Thinking with Knowledge Cubes

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 12.20.31 PM

Knowledge cubes are 6-sided paper cubes with a question on each side that can be used multiple ways in the classroom to increase student engagement and critical thinking.

Traditionally, each side of the cube will have a question that addresses a different level of Bloom’s Taxonomy: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

The cubes can be pre-made by the teacher and used to facilitate either whole group or small group discussion over any given topic. In this scenario the cubes can be passed or tossed around the group, and the student can choose a side of the cube to answer and then pass the cube to another student, until all sides have been discussed.

Cubes can also be created BY the students by having them answer the questions on the cube and then cutting, folding, and taping or gluing the cube themselves.

Either of these scenarios allows students to be more active and tactile, allowing teachers to better meet the needs of their kinesthetic learners (about 50% of middle school students).

Click here for a printable cube pattern to try yourself.

And here is a cheat sheet for some possible question stems for the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy:

What is…
True or false…

Can you explain why…
Can you summarize…

Can you think of another time when…
What would change if…

What is the problem with…
How is this similar to…

What might happen if…
If you changed… how would that effect…

How does… compare to…
Which is better? why?

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.