Instructional Pitfall #2: Cop-out Questioning

This is the second in a series on common instructional pitfalls that many of us find ourselves in from time to time.  Today’s topic is cop-out questioning:  “Any questions?” or “Does that make sense?” or “Got it?” If those are the only questions you offer kids during your instruction, nine times out of ten they’ll nod, you’ll move on, and no one in the room is clear on whether or not students are actually progressing towards mastery.  Cop-out questioning is often to blame when the students are lost during practice time or fail a quiz and you're thinking, 'But I thought they got it.'  This can happen to the best of us and can become a dangerous habit without strategic change.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Scripted questions – Building off the idea of backwards planning, once you know the objective, how it will be assessed, and the key points, insert a step here of coming up with what questions you would ask students during your instruction to know they were understanding.  Their answers to those questions should be the key points of the lesson.  Then plan the lesson.  That way when you plan what you’re going to say and what activities you’re going to do, everything is geared towards them being able to answer your strategic questions and being ready for whatever assessment you’re using.


  • Pre-planted questions – This strategy was really helpful for me as I was getting used to stopping and asking good questions.  Either in your power point or on the student handout, literally insert a slide or a box with the question you need to stop and ask.  This worked really well so that I didn’t just keep on trucking through material and gave me an official stop for students to think & write or discuss their thoughts so I could see how they were doing.


  • Avoid yes or no questions – On the days when you’re not able to plan out your questions, default to making sure you don’t ask any questions where the answer can be yes or no.  This could even be a student job, if you’re comfortable, so that if you ask a yes or no question they stop and remind you that those questions aren’t allowed.  That shared ownership of making sure we’re asking open-ended questions can be powerful and help better questioning from you and your students become a habit.


  • Timed reminders – Using your timer, simply set it for 3 minutes when you start your instruction and when it goes off, stop and ask one of your planned questions.  Then reset the timer and repeat the process throughout your direct instruction.  This can also help with pacing so that you make sure you’re being succinct and clear knowing that you need to ask another substantive question in 3 minutes.  Setting the timer or even asking the planned questions could be a student job, as well.


  • White boards – If you have access to mini white boards or another way for students to visually show you their answers, take advantage of these when you ask questions during your instruction.  If you know you want your students to show their work or ideas on the white board, most likely you won’t just ask ‘Does that make sense?’ since seeing all of them answer that on their white boards would be a little silly.

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If you’re in our Teaching Excellence program, you’ll have a great session on September 21 expanding on a lot of these ideas!

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