Responding to Student Questions During Class

The ability to ask questions about new material is an important part of learning.  The challenge for faculty is balancing individual student’s curiosity and desire to understand with keeping the class productive for all students.  Recognizing that handling of questions is highly dependent on class size, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Emphasize that questions are a valuable part of learning.  Suggest students jot down questions as they occur to them during lecture.  Then specify how you want them asked:  as they think of them, save and ask at designated times during lecture, limit per student per lecture, after class, in section, in office hours, via Ed Discussion or whatever works for your class.
  • Have the students talk in small groups to answer each other’s simple questions and to come up with a question to ask you.  This can engage all students in thinking more critically about the content, get more questions answered by peers, and raise the value of the questions asked of you. Call on a couple of students to ask their group’s question and answer them.  Consider a method to collect all questions such as 3x5 cards or Ed Discussions or take their question to section.  This will also help you see how the material is being understood.
  • Respect the student asking a question even if the question shows lack of understanding or needs to be deflected to avoid derailing lecture.  Some possible responses:
    • That is an interesting question, but it is beyond the scope of this class.  I’d be happy to discuss it with you in office hours.  
    • That is a good question and brings up a point that we should go over as it relates to a common misconception
    • Good question, but I am going to hold that one as we will be covering it later, or in lab or …
    • Let me try explaining another way, …
    • I don’t have the answer for you, but here is where I would suggest starting to learn more about the topic, or how I would start thinking about that question.  This is especially useful in grad courses where you can start to direct students to find answers themselves. 
    • With a smile – good try, but I am not answering that question relative to the upcoming exam (when students pester you by asking if something specific will be on the exam or for details of a coming exam beyond what you have already shared).
    • If someone is harping on something or asking well below the level of the class – I can see that is still not clear, but if you can please come to office hours I will have more time to explain in more detail.