6 Types of Questions to Improve Classroom Discussions

The heart of quality discussion

Questions are the heart of discussion. A great question will challenge your students, sparking collaborative thought-provoking class conversations that lead students to communicate with their peers.

If the right questions are asked, students will be thoroughly engaged in the discussion, where they will share prepared and researched ideas, explore thoughts and reflections and actively practice 21st century skills such as:

  • communication
  • critical thinking
  • collaboration
  • creativity
  • problem solving
  • and much more, which will prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of today and the future.

All of these things are true, but only if the right questions are asked. If you want to propel your students to think more deeply during classroom discussions, it’s important to keep in mind the questions you’re asking.

The following 6 questions have been shown to improve the outcomes of discussion, helping to get students thinking about content more deeply.

Thought-provoking questions = better discussions

1. Moral/ethical dilemmas

Provide students with a problem or situation, and ask them to explore one or more of the moral and ethical concerns.

This type of prompt will get students thinking about the topic from multiple sides, giving them a broader understanding of the subject. This will help prepare them for discussion, as they now have the tools to form their own opinions and ideas based on those that they have researched.

2. Assess → Diagnose → Act

Assessment: What is the issue or problem at hand?

Diagnosis: What is the root cause of this issue or problem?

Action: How can we solve the issue?

This type of question will help students through the process of problem solving. Each step will have them evaluating the problem and prompting to think of ways that they can fix it/deal with it.

3. Compare and Contrast

Ask your students to make connections and identify differences between ideas that can be found in class texts, articles, images, videos and more etc.

When students understand the similarities and differences between different ideas they are able to develop a better argument because they understand both sides. This type of question will lead to better constructed responses from students and in turn deeper, more well-rounded discussions.

4. Interpretive → Evaluative

Begin with questions about the intentions or goals of the author, creator, character etc. Then ask students to evaluate the veracity of these intentions, and finally the effectiveness of the methods used.

5. Conceptual Changes

Introduce students to a new concept or idea, then ask them to search online to find a common misconception about this topic and explain it in their response.

Both 4. and 5. get students forming their own ideas about a topic based on the content they’ve read. Once they’ve formed their own ideas they must then question their own methods and challenge their original thoughts. These are great ways to get students thinking critically about their own ideas, coaching them to reflect and self-evaluate.

6. Personal Exploration

Let students explore a new idea on their own terms. Exploring what it means to them as individuals. This creative freedom helps them find their authentic voice. For example:

“What does _______ mean to you?”     OR     “Find an example of…”

Questions like this encourage students to be curious and build a personal connection with the topic. This makes the topic more interesting to the student which helps foster further engagement during discussions.

The Parlay Universe

The Universe is a great place to start if you’re looking for discussion topics, or question inspiration. Every prompt has great discussion questions that are framed using Bloom’s Taxonomy. This helps to make sure that every question supports the development of critical thinking skills and sparks meaningful and thoughtful responses.

Here are some examples:

Questions that inspire life-long learning

A discussion question that is truly great is challenging and inspires students to think critically and respond with well thought out answers. These questions are a framework for creating prompts that encourage inquiry, challenge students to think bigger and connect the classroom to real world ideas and events. 

These prompts set a standard for higher-order thinking and will have students actively participating in deeper more meaningful classroom conversations.

Here’s to more discussions and even better conversations!

Learn how you can engage every student in meaningful discussion.