Questions are the answers: A pedagogical tool for interactive classrooms

Asking questions is a useful strategy for uncovering student thinking and generating instant feedback in classrooms. This workshop will provide practical tips to promote student engagement and help instructors design effective questioning strategies that lead to increased participation. Attendees will experiment with and explore the effective use of questions for inquiry-based learning and will develop a toolkit to bring questions into their own classes.

This workshop was offered as part of the TLC’s Fall 2023 Programming.

This workshop took place in person on Tuesday, October 3rd, from 4-5:30 PM in Room 3317 at the Graduate Center. The workshop and materials were developed by Şule Aksoy.


All materials on this page and in the linked Google folder are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

This folder contains a workshop agenda, handouts, and a slideshow.

Materials Folder:

Workshop Agenda


  • Name, pronouns, discipline/program, what you’ve taught / what you are teaching.
  • Would you go with aliens if they beamed down to Earth? Why? Why not?

Giant sticky note activity

Pose the questions below, and let them write on sticky notes. Ask them to work in pairs and organize the sticky notes.

  1. Why ask questions?
  2. How have questions worked or not worked for you in your own teaching and learning?
  3. What makes an effective question?

Possible discussion points:

  • Collective learning – transforming questions into public resources for others to think with.
  • Knowledge building opportunities
  • Engaging in productive discourse about the discipline
  • How do questions help students develop a deep understanding of disciplinary concepts (reflected in learning objectives)?


A simple activity to demonstrate the conservation of momentum and Newton’s third law of motion. Instead of Newton’s cradle, use pennies to demo how the momentum gets transferred. Tell them to record their predictions and ask the following questions during the demo;

  1. What happened? What did you observe?
  2. If I strike with two pennies, what happens? Why? What will happen when four pennies are pushed into the remaining pennies in the row?
  3. Where have you seen something like this before?
  4. Where can you find examples of this in the real world?
  5. What if I push a quarter to a row of five pennies?
  6. How does it work?
  7. How does your explanation fit this in the conservation of energy?

Unpack the demo

  • How is this demo incorporating questions?
  • What does it do well?
  • How can it be improved?

Introduce the worksheet (the first page) and show how you planned the demo and sequence of questions.

Building a questioning toolkit

Introduce the second part of the worksheet and talk about the points below;

  • Thinking about the goals for classroom conversations (define the goal ahead of time, then plan how to initiate the talk with students, select tools and routines for participation)
  • The cognitive demand of questions that set the stage for classroom talk (having a mix of high and low cognitive demands questions)
    • What are the planets in our solar system?
    • How do Newton’s laws of gravitation help us explain the movements of the earth, moon, and sun?
  • Developing a repertoire of talk moves to serve your goals

Remind them to put the questions through the following filters:

  • Does the question draw out and work with the pre-existing understanding that students bring with them?
  • Does the question raise the visibility of the key concepts the students are learning?
  • Will the question stimulate peer discussion?
  • Is it clear what the question is about?

Let them work on the worksheet for ~15 min. 


Time to talk about talk.

    • Share your work with your neighbor and the rest of the group.
  • When do we stop asking questions?
  • Tools for different teaching contexts and formats

Closing – Q&A

  • Any questions about questions?
  • The end.