Lecture discussion questions

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A traditional kind of question is the so-called knowledge display question: the instructor asks students to repeat or restate information that has already been explained or learned; the student simply displays what s/he has memorized, such as a factual question (who discovered background cosmic radiation?), or repeating basic concepts (how did Einstein explain the relationship between energy and mass at near-light speeds?). This kind of question requires little original thinking (unless perhaps you are probing a complex or difficult concept), so in modern teaching, we prefer to avoid display questions.

1 Using appropriate tasks and questions

For lecture-discussion formats, the following kinds of questions may be more useful for promoting discussion and getting students to think – to meaningfully engage and interact with the material, and thus, learn meaningfully.

1.1 Question types according to cognitive complexity

The following is based on the Bloom taxonomy, as it is known in education. These types of questions are useful for teaching, and these are more or less ranked by complexity. For example, application questions or analytical questions can be a good starting point for a task, a lesson, or a series of questions, leading later to more complex questions or tasks such as synthesis or evaluation tasks, which require students to engage in deeper types of thinking.

  1. Application questions help students apply concepts, principles or generalizations in different contexts – e.g., “How could we apply this model to the Korean educational system?”
  2. Analytical questions encourage students to pull apart different elements of the material they have been learning about to draw comparisons and contrasts, identify causes and effects; reason through explanations or arguments; etc. – e.g., “What are the key differences between Model A and Model B?” “Explain the different parts of this theory and how they fit together”
  3. Synthesis questions require students to integrate the elements of the material in new and different ways – e.g., “How could you combine elements of these two models and implement them in company X” or “Explain the differences and similarities between Model 1 and Model 2.” “Compare the use of metaphor between these two authors.”
  4. Evaluation (critiquing) questions require students to make informed judgments, using some combination of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis and/or synthesis – e.g., “Which method of teaching is more effective in your opinion and why?” “Which of the interactive methods for engaging students during lecture sessions do you think might work best together in a lecture on art appreciation?”
  5. Problem-solving questions challenge students to use their creativity, as well as the knowledge they have gained – e.g., “How would you go about designing a new course in your subject area that involves all of the levels of cognitive functioning in Bloom’s taxonomy?” “What is the best way to design a skyscraper in Taipei to withstand a possible 8+ magnitude earthquake?”

1.2 Questions according to genre or purpose

The following kinds of questions can be helpful for getting students to think more. Posing such questions to make students think through problems can often be more effective for learning than trying to teach them directly.

1.2.1 Evidential questions

Questions seeking more evidence. These are designed to help students understand the reasons for X, or why X might not be correct or well supported – not as a challenge to the student him/herself.

  • How can we be certain of this claim?
  • What data is that claim based on?
  • What information in the article supports this claim?
  • What evidence could you provide to one who is skeptical of this claim?

1.2.2 Clarification questions

These help to expand on conceptual understanding.

  • Can you give an example of that?
  • Could you give an example of how that works / how that might apply to...?
  • How could you explain that term you just used?
  • What does the word ‘theory’ mean in scientific usage? How is it different from hypothesis, conjecture, or belief?

1.2.3 Open-ended (or open) questions

These questions do not necessarily have one single correct answer, and require some thought. Such questions, especially with “how” or “why”, can stretch students’ conceptual, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

  • Is it ethically appropriate for photojournalists to artificially stage a news photo scene?
  • Can people really act out of purely altruistic motives? Or are all intentions for good behavior tainted by ulterior or selfish motives?
  • Why might rote memorization be a poor strategy for learning a foreign language?
  • Which of these two theories can better account for X, and why?
  • What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of X and Y?
  • Why would people devote their lives to education despite the low pay and less than ideal working conditions?
  • Which view of moral reasoning can better address a moral dilemma such as X?
  • Does Kuhn’s view of scientific paradigms really endorse or entail a form of relativistic philosophy?
  • How could hypothesis X be empirically tested?
  • Why does Melville play with gnostic elements in this novel?
  • Were these people motivated by political idealism or economic self-interest?

1.2.4 Linking or extension questions

These questions link different comments, or different concepts, ideas, or topics that have come up in the discussion. These can be good for promoting student-to-student discussion.

  • How does your observation relate to X’s comment from a few moments ago?
  • Does your idea challenge or support X’s theory?
  • How does your idea go beyond what X has said?
  • How does your comment relate to X’s ideas?

1.2.5 Hypothetical questions

These challenge students to apply concepts to new situations, thereby deepening their analytical thinking skills.

  • How might have World War 2 turned out differently if Hitler not attacked the Soviet Union in 1941?
  • If Shakespeare had intended Iago to be a tragic or more sympathetic character, how

might he have changed Othello’s narrative?

  • How would the universe be different if the gravitational constant (or other constants) tweaked to be slightly different by X amount? Would the development of some form of life on some planets still be possible?

1.2.6 Cause and effect questions

These also cause students to consider implications and applications of concepts.

  • What effect would [a change in the exchange rate of type X / a change of type X in the prime interest rate] have on the Korean economy?
  • How would a larger / smaller class size affect the effectiveness of discussion or group activities in a high school math / English / chemistry class?
  • What effect would higher parking fees have on traffic patterns in region X of the city?

1.2.7 Summary and synthesis questions

These lead students to identify important ideas in ways that will help them remember contents or concepts.

  • What are the most important ideas that have emerged from today’s discussion?
  • What remains unresolved or contentious about this topic?
  • Based on today’s discussion, what do we need to discuss next time in order to better understand this topic?
  • What is the main “take home message” from today’s class discussion?

1.2.8 Wrap-up questions

See: Formative assessment or formative tasks & assignments

2 See also