The right question at the right time

When we are planning to address students’ misconceptions, we need a good set of strategies for finding out what students are thinking.

In his blog about assessing students’ understanding, Dylan Wiliam discusses how the right questions at the right time make a big difference in the classroom.

“When I was teaching full-time, the decision I made most often every day was this: ‘Do I need to go over this one more time, or can I move on to the next thing?’ I made that decision dozens of times every day, and like most teachers all over the world, I made that decision by asking a question.”

Dylan advocates using a well-planned, multiple choice question which the whole class can answer, called a hinge point question. Based on the evidence from students’ responses, you can see who’s ready to move on, and who needs more support. You can find out more about how to write a good hinge point question here: Hinge point questions.

A quick way to write a good question

You can also devise good questions from the mark scheme and examiners report from previous exam papers. Here is a very good example of how to do that, from the University of York Science Education Group – they have taken a section of a mark scheme and turned it into a highly effective way to assess student’s understanding: Making best use of exam questions

Ready-made questions

For a ready-made set of high quality diagnostic questions, together with the misconceptions they are based on, take a look at BEST Evidence Science Teaching

Gathering the answers

Of course, asking the whole class a questions means that you need a way of quickly collecting responses from every student. There are a range of ideas and all have benefits and limitations. Ideas include:


What questioning strategy do you find most useful in your teaching? Are there any strategies which you don’t find work so well?

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