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Strategy Bites: Student-generated questions

question mark drawn on a blackboard

At Teaching and Learning Services, we regularly receive questions from instructors asking for ideas to enhance their teaching and improve students’ engagement in class. So, we’ve recorded 2-3 minute video bites that describe how to implement some strategies we’ve chosen based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. We’ll be sharing these strategies in the Teaching for Learning @McGill University blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

 Strategy: Student-generated questions 

The student-generated questions strategy involves getting students to write questions about peers’ oral presentations. The questions are shared among the class for discussion and can be submitted to the instructor, who then has a bank of questions that can be used as prompts for online discussions or even quizzes.

Why use this strategy?

As a student, one of the most disappointing things to observe while giving a presentation is feeling no engagement from your fellow classmates. Some students may be on their phone, some on their laptop, some quite obviously tuned out and staring in to space. While wrapping up the presentation you worked very hard on, you ask if any one has any questions and all you get is dead air. Of course, while the purpose of presentations might be to have students research a topic and practice their presentation skills, the topic itself is usually an important addition to the course content and it should therefore be meaningful to the whole class. So how can you teach your students to be a better audience?

An effective strategy is using student-generated questions – a strategy where students are asked to produce a number of questions during a presentation. The questions can be to clarify a concept, stimulate discussion, or be a potential exam question. By having to actively listen to the presentation and create questions based on the content, it is almost guaranteed that student engagement will improve. During my time in grad school, one of the most important characteristics of our weekly colloquium for thesis defenses was that fellow grad students were required to come up with two questions based on each defense. There was never time to address every question, but each question was to be submitted at the end of the session. This was great way to get everybody to listen and practice some critical thinking.

Having students generate questions is an effective way for students to practice formulating questions. As it is, there’s no such thing as a stupid question; however, the effectiveness of a quality question as a means to stimulate meaningful discussions is undeniably valuable in the learning experience. After all, asking a good question can be just as powerful a learning tool as giving a good answer.

Would you like to know more?

  • Does having students write questions enhance their learning? Read what one author has to say.
  • Students don’t always know how to ask meaningful questions. Strategies exist for helping students learn to ask meaningful questions.

Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:

What strategies do you use to get students to pay attention to peers’ in-class oral presentations?Share your ideas!

Jasmine Parent is an M.Sc. Graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGill. She is currently enrolled in the Masters of Education Technology Program at UBC and she works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at TLS. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga and spending time in nature.

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