Magazine article Training & Development

Questions about Questions

Magazine article Training & Development

Questions about Questions

Article excerpt

Questions About Questions

Questions are one of an instructor's most valuable tools - for making points, for assessing understanding, for arousing interest, and for testing understanding.

Most trainers would agree. Still, many are uncomfortable in using questions as a means of converting lectures to dialogues.

Inquiring trainers want

to know

Many participants in train-the-trainer workshops on instructional skills are concerned about the effective use of questions. Here are the answers to some of their most common questions about questions.

Is it better to call on participants by name or ask "overhead questions" and hope for volunteers?

If you are trying to create a free flow of conversation and dialogue between learners and instructor, then it's better not to call on individuals by name. Naming a respondent in advance can have several negative effects: * The person may be embarrassed. * Someone else may be better qualified to answer and thus be of greater benefit to the group. * Others may feel that they are "off the hook" and may not think through their own answers. * The climate may become one of classroom recitation, a "parent-to-child" series of transactions in which the instructor plays the role of judge.

An effective instructor can call on participants by name without encountering any of those negative side effects. One way is to let a person know why you're calling on her or him in particular:

"Harry, I know you've had some experience with this problem at your location. What do you feel are some of the ... ?"

The danger of hoping for volunteers, of course, is that you may get none - or that the same people will respond, leaving the silent majority behind, not contributing and perhaps even resentful.

What about the silent


How do you get learners involved who never volunteer? What about that silent majority who see learning as a passive activity - a spectator sport?

Pareto's 20/80 ratio probably applies to classroom behavior as well as to so many other phenomena. Namely, 80 percent of your volunteered responses come from 20 percent of your learners. In a class of 20 trainees, the same three or four people may be answering all the time. Since people learn best by being actively involved, you want everyone to respond. How can you accomplish that?

There are many ways. After you've posed a question, have your trainees turn to their neighbors and respond to them. On short answers, have each person write his or her response on note paper. Then discuss the responses. On polarized issues (on which the responses are yes/no, more/less, and so forth), ask for a show of hands for each response. Once you've broken the ice with such techniques, your learners will be more willing to volunteer.

Repeat the question?

Is it a good idea to repeat a question to make sure everybody understood it?

In general, yes, although repeating every question can become tiresome. Most questions shouldn't need repeating. But if the question was not worded clearly, or was spoken too softly for everyone to hear, or came from "out of the blue," then it may be a good idea to repeat it. How should I deal with someone who has just given me a wrong answer, especially if the person has rank or status in the group?

There are two issues here. First, those with rank or status have no corner on the market when it comes to intelligence or understanding. Everyone in your class is entitled to make mistakes and have misconceptions. By the same token, everyone is entitled to respect; it is the instructor's job to "save face" for everyone.

A wrong answer from someone is an indication that others may also be having difficulty. It's not likely that you picked the only person who did not understand.

You may want to turn to the group after a wrong answer and ask, "How do the rest of you feel about Jackie's response? …

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