Photo: Students in Dialogue

Designing Questions

Questions are the lifeblood of every classroom. They set the terms for a discussion, they indicate differing levels of depth and breadth, and they control how personal these conversations become.

The goal of dialogic questions is to draw out personal stories around the topic at hand. They invite curiosity and foster deeper, more complex engagement with the course content. Five things to consider as you begin designing dialogic questions for your classroom:

  1. Will asking this question achieve its intended purpose? 
  2. Does the question invite new information, understanding or meaning?
  3. Does the question have an implicit assumption of a right or wrong answer? 
  4. Can everyone answer the question—speaking from their own experiences? 
  5. How will this question impact the relationships between those responding? Does it encourage connection or separation?

Effective questions invite new views and voices to the discussion. They promote constructive ways of talking about important issues and help sidestep common pitfalls (such as alienating students, shutting down discussions, or aggravating sensitive conflicts).

Like any skill, question design requires tenacity and patience.

Want to use dialogue in your classroom? Bring Essential Partners to your campus or attend the EP summer faculty workshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.