How to Ask a Great Question to Get Students to Talk

The first article I ever published in a real magazine revealed the seven ways to ask a great question.  I used to be so good at asking questions!  I remember that article today as I stare out at a group of students who aren’t talking.

They don’t answer my questions, and suddenly I know the problem:  I’m not asking good questions.

I’m asking the worst questions.  

Closed questions seek one-word, obvious answers.  Insignificant questions don’t relate to anything students consider important. Leading questions position the professor as a fisherman baiting students to tell him what he wants to hear. Vague questions nobody can understand.

What makes a great question?

I realize that I might ask how instead of what.  I venture asking why instead of where or who.  And then I understand something new.  If I ask from a place of authority instead of curiosity, the conversation stops.

I step back, frame a new question from my own curious heart, and all of a sudden, they won’t stop talking.

I know it’s true, as Parker Palmer states, that “we teach what we most need to learn.”  If I forget this, then perhaps I should stop asking students questions. 

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How have you experienced the power of a great question?

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