Be Able To Elicit Discussion

Being able to ask good, thought-provoking questions will not only help a TA start an interesting discussion, but it can help maintain the discussion and…the students' interest. The following are some suggestions and comments about asking questions:

  • Ask clearly worded questions.

Simply put, students cannot answers questions if they do not understand the question. Clearly worded and succinct questions often elicit the best responses. Also, be prepared to rephrase your questions if, initially, students do not understand. Do not get discouraged if you need to repeat yourself. If students ask you to repeat the question, at least they are paying attention enough to ask!

  • Ask open-ended questions.

Closed-ended questions can most definitely be appropriate if you know exactly what you want the students to learn or there is one specific point you want them to understand. However, open-ended questions can be much more beneficial to ongoing discussions and to challenging your students to think.

Brookfeild and Preskill (2005, pgs. 85-89) have delineated 6 other types of questions.

  1. Questions that ask for more evidence. (How do you know that? What data is that claim based on?)
  2. Questions that ask for clarification. (Similar to check for understanding.) (What's a good example of what you are talking about? Can you put it another way?)
  3. Linking or extension questions. (How does your comment fit in with Neng's earlier comment?)
  4. Hypothetical questions. (How might World War II have turned out if Hitler had not decided to attack the Soviet Union in 1941?)
  5. Cause-and-effect questions. (What would happen if the pressure was removed?)
  6. Summary and synthesis questions. (What are the one or two most important ideas that emerged from this disscussion?)
  • Some silence is okay.

You propose a question to your class…Nothing but crickets…Don't panic. It's okay to give your students some time to think. They may actually be thinking during the silence. If no one responds or asks an additional question within 10-15 seconds, rephrase the question.

  • Other suggestions.

To ensure that everyone gets a chance to think about their response (especially helpful if you have one or two students that are always quick to answer), have all students write their answers on a piece of paper. They all do not have to share their answers, but this allows time for everyone to consider your question. Alternatively, propose the question and have students respond first in pairs. (See pairwork.) Let them discuss their answers briefly and then ask for them to share with the class.

Helpful Links "Asking Difficult Questions" presentation. Address many key points regarding asking questions. Teacher and Educational Development. Comments on asking questions and responding to answers.

Brookfield and Preskill. Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2005.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.