About Lori H Rice

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade since 1996. She has a passion for creativity, learning, questioning and the whole child. Her classroom is a place of acceptance and celebrating differences.

In an ever changing educational field, we have one tool in our belts that spans all geography, all ages, all subjects and all children-questioning.  There is a dice game called Petals around a Rose.  It is a simple game in which players roll any number of dice and the objective of the game is to figure out the rule.  The rule is reflected in the name of the game.  I played this with my family (my mother-a computer programmer, my father- a farmer, my husband- a police officer and my son,- a 4th grade at the time).  In order to figure out the rule, you must guess or ask questions.  It is always interesting to watch the thought processes.  What strategies are used to figure out the rule?  How do players feel when they do not know the rule?  Who shuts down?  I know when I first played the game there was a small part of my brain that decided they were changing the rules as we went.  I was one of the last people in the group to figure it out.  I  finally figured out there is only one rule; however, It took a lot of questions to get there .

In our classrooms  of all sizes, types, locations and age groups we  ask questions.  It starts before students walk through our door.  “What am I teaching today? What can I do to reach a student?” and these questions continues until the last student exits at the end of the day or hour, “Who left their book here? How did that lesson go?  What do I need to review tomorrow?  Extend?  What do I need to haul home?”  In between, we ask questions to engage, motivate, teach, lead, expand, understand and challenge.  Some of the questions we ask are sentences we never thought we would string together.  There are many strategies for asking questions, but we tend to fall to our comfort zones.  In this article I will share strategies for questioning in any classroom including classroom participation, higher-level questions made easy, and essential questions

I have found the best way to get students involved is to involve as many students as possible. I’m  stating the obvious, right?  But in a quick paced society which flows into a quick paced classroom how does this look?  It varies with the age of the student.  To keep things moving in my elementary classroom I use the  thumps up/thumbs down system.  If you agree…thumbs up, if you have heard this word before…thumbs up, if you can explain this concept to a younger student…thumbs up.  This is very basic questioning in a blanket style.  It does however, give you information about where students are so you can continue or back-track a lesson.

Turn and talk is my favorite method as it involves everyone.  Ask any type of question and have students respond to a partner near them.  “Can we make a group of three?”  Of course, we don’t want anyone feeling left out.  For your reluctant student or students you have concerns about, you can be their partner or you can listen in on their answers.  This decreases the wait time needed for whole class questions by allowing students to pre-think answers.  It also engages more student to student contact which is when the real learning takes place.  Then I take a sampling of the answers by randomly asking multiple students from different groups to share their answers.

Writing answers on wipe boards (or if your district is still old school use those chalkboards) allows for more information in the question.  Technology has advanced our ability to question students with the use of clicker systems or online interactive systems such as Socrative.  These allow for immediate feedback and will push your lessons further than you thought possible because you can see who is understanding instantly.  Whatever strategy you use, having students answer questions keeps them involved and allows you to structure your lessons to meet everyone’s needs.

In many classrooms, teachers ask lower level questions due to time and an effort to keep the lesson moving.  Higher-level questions ask students to analyze, evaluate and synthesize information for more learning.  By asking higher-level questions, you can actually engage and involve students more and increase the learning.  I use sticky notes in my lesson plan, teacher manual or the text I am using with students to have pre-thought higher-level questions to have student apply, evaluate and synthesize information.  Sometimes is is helpful to just have stems from Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I allow students the option to draw, use words or write sentences to answer questions.  This freedom gets the process of the answer started which is the important part.

What is the most important question you can ask?  What is the life connection to your unit or topic? What do you want students to take away with them and carry for life?  Those are your essential questions.  Essential questions are arguable, raise more questions than are answered and provide a purpose for learning.  They can’t be found doing a Google search, we can’t be experts at everything.  They can be created by teachers.  They can be created by students.  Great beginnings for essential questions are why, how, what if…those questions little kids ask that have big answers.  These questions provide you with a focus of the unit and can be referred back to as learning occurs.    They should provoke deep thought and sustain inquiry as new understanding develops.  It will stimulate on-going, re-thinking of ideas and allow students to link their prior knowledge to the new subject matter.  Most importantly, it sparks meaningful discussion so students connect to the subject matter.  What better way to remember?

You have been asking questions since you could talk.  It is human nature to question and be curious about our surroundings.  A free classroom tool you have is this curiosity of humans.   In our ever changing society teachers can find consistency in the use of classroom engagement, higher-level questioning, and essential question to reach their students.  So, what questions do you have?

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