Asking questions

Interactive educational conversation

It is usually preferable not to first explain a new piece of material, but instead to start with a catchy example followed by an interactive teaching-learning conversation. The students' prior knowledge is then activated, with the result that the explanation of the new material ends up in more fertile ground. The teaching-learning conversation after the explanation will also be more efficient. After the teacher has explained the new learning material and indicated the relationship with the existing knowledge, he asks the students questions. These can be • knowledge questions to activate the students' memory or • insight questions to encourage students to analyze the new learning material. • These can be integration questions, in which students have to reorganize their prior knowledge based on the new learning material and • finally evaluation questions to ask the students for an opinion on a certain subject. During an interactive teaching-learning conversation, students not only answer the teacher's questions, but they can also ask questions themselves. These can be clarifying questions, but also all the types of questions mentioned earlier. Students can ask these questions to the teacher, but also to each other. A necessary condition for interactive educational conversations is that the teacher is able to direct the direction in which the question is formulated and to lead this group process. Moreover, the students must be sufficiently task-oriented to participate in this conversation. If these conditions are met, then this is the most natural way to integrate prior knowledge and new knowledge.

To conclude the teaching-learning conversation, the teacher can ask application questions that highlight a problem that the students must solve with the help of the new integrated knowledge. At a higher level, the teacher can ask the students to think of a problem themselves that could be solved with the help of the new knowledge. During the group process, the teacher must keep a close eye on which students withdraw from the conversation. He can address them directly about this, but it is safer for these students to ask about their behavior in individual feedback shortly afterwards. If a teacher is unable to lead an interactive conversation, it is better to ask for another approach. He then organizes the questioning in such a way that he himself remains central in the question and answer game.

For example:

The teacher asks a question to an individual student. He presents that student's answer to the next student. A student asks the teacher a question. The teacher answers or passes the question on to another student. This student gives his answer to the teacher, etc.

The advantage of asking questions to individual students is that the process is easier to manage. The disadvantage is that the other students may think: “The question is not for me, so it is none of my business.” This disadvantage is compensated to some extent by passing on student answers to other students.

Points of attention

Questions must be formulated unambiguously in language that is adapted to the target group. Elaborating, refining or formulating differently should be avoided as much as possible when asking the question. It must be clear to the students which question they are expected to answer, or which problem they need to find a solution for. It is very good if questions are interesting and challenging, but they do not have to be. The daily reality of adolescents is in itself fascinating and challenging. School reality does not have to adapt to this. It could very well be a counterpart to that turbulent reality. Questions and answers from the teacher should not be asked in 'street language' or in 'Jip and Janneke' formulations. Abstract concepts should not be avoided either. Research shows that such an approach only widens the gap between prior knowledge and school knowledge.

Students' answers in 'street language' or 'Jip and Janneke' that is very simple formulations must be treated with caution. Students sometimes feel inhibited in giving an answer in front of a group or for their teacher, especially if the teacher rejects their own language use. It is not enough to point out to students that they are allowed to make mistakes. The teacher's entire attitude should show that it is safe to give a wrong answer. On the other hand, a teacher can paraphrase such an answer before passing it on, for example, without ridiculing the previous answer. Students should be given time to think about an answer and they should be able to pronounce when they give an answer. During a teaching-learning conversation, this can cause the dynamics to disappear from this learning activity. If students have to wait too long for an answer from a fellow student, unrest arises. It is up to the teacher's craftsmanship to find a good balance here.


One option is to first have the students think about the answers in groups or in pairs. However, not every subject is suitable for this approach. Sometimes a teacher only wants to talk briefly about a topic with his class. Once a few students have formulated an answer and the teacher has used this to clarify the material or point out misconceptions, the lesson can continue. PairsWhen students work in pairs or groups, they expect feedback on their answers. It is also not wise not to give this feedback to every group or to every pair, because in that case the motivation will be considerably less the next time you work in groups. Working in pairs has the advantage that it is more difficult for students to avoid the assignment. . Pairs have the disadvantage that it takes longer for each pair to give their answers. It is important to take sufficient time to discuss the question and the answers. Even in the event of an incorrect or incomplete answer, it is important to ask the student the correct answer by asking further questions, breaking down the problem or asking a sub-question. This also endangers the dynamics of a lesson, but asking questions without good feedback is disastrous for the motivation of adolescents. The question is whether it is wise to repeat a good answer again. If students know that the correct answer will be repeated anyway, there is a good chance that their attention will wane. On the other hand, adolescents are often unable to get the right answers from an educational conversation, no matter how well structured. They need to hear those answers explicitly from the teacher. Here too it is important to find a balance.