Managing the Questions that Aren’t Asked

The opportunity to ask questions of experts is one of the advantages of in-person instruction at Cornell. But this is also a limited resource, especially in large classes. How can you distribute this resource more equitably to the advantage of your students? This tip focuses on including the quiet students and their unasked questions. A previous tip dealt with answering questions actually asked in class.

Having questions when learning new material is normal, but many students won’t ask questions for a variety of reasons such as intimidation, confusion, and cultural norms.

So, how can you draw out some of these unasked questions?

  • First normalize that asking questions is part of learning something new.
  • Periodically stop and ask for questions. Provide sufficient wait time for questions to bubble up.
  • Ask students to discuss their questions in small groups. Then call on a few groups to share a question. This also helps address simple and off-topic questions.
  • Try a one-minute paper: ask all students to spend a minute or two writing down questions they have. Collect responses on paper, or a 3x5 card, a discussion board, through a short-answer poll, or a Canvas survey. Responses can be anonymous or part of a participation grade.

Possible responses to one-minute papers:

  • Address a question in class ( if a co-teacher or TA in class can select a question real time).
  • Collect the papers. After class, read some papers and select a question(s) for the next lecture.
  • Post answers to a few questions. For example, seed them into Ed Discussion.
  • Hand off a few questions to the TAs to cover in recitation.
  • Encourage office hours for remaining questions.

You don’t have to answer all the questions. Just pick one or a few that seem to show up for multiple students or that seem especially relevant. The goals are to answer questions from quiet students, to validate/norm the value of asking questions, and to increase the sense of belonging in the class. You can find more information and hints on using Minute Papers on the new MTEI website being developed.