Secondary English – questioning techniques

I’ve been reading about ways of multiplying the learning in the classroom, i.e.making small changes which can have a significant impact on students. Now ‘small changes’ sounds good to me, as at this point in the year I am running out of time to breath, never mind find time to plan more complex lessons. One of these small changes is strangely called ‘Basketball not ping-pong’. This seems at first glance far too sporty for me but actually it requires very little effort- phew!

The idea behind ‘Basketball not ping-pong’ is that some questioning techniques can help learners to explore and develop their ideas in more depth. One of these techniques is for teachers to stop themselves from intervening in question and answer sessions and instead to ask learners to comment on a peer’s answer, so that each learner can build on the ideas of the previous student, maybe exploring what they found useful in the previous answer or adding a new idea to the one just offered. This is called the ‘basketball’ effect and should stop the ‘ping-pong’ effect of teachers asking questions, receiving an answer, commenting on the answer then asking another question. In the ‘ping-pong’ approach it is felt that teachers are doing more work than students and in the ‘basketball’ approach the class will be more engaged and ‘on the ball’ as they are expecting to be included in the feedback.

I thought it was worth a try. I combined it with a ‘no hands up’ approach and after giving my year 10 class time to look at a magazine article on fast food, I started them off with one question, ‘How do the headline and image contribute to the effectiveness of the text?’ Each student then had to add to the last student’s comments, by either developing the previous point, adding another idea which answered the question or commenting on what was good about the previous point. I have to admit that I was surprised by how well it worked. I was expecting it to peter out after about two students but we managed to get through ten students in the class before the run broke down. And if I can get my year 10s to play ball then this can work with any class!

There is still work to do- ideally I would like to get the whole class involved but I guess that, as with basketball, the more we practise this the better the students will get at commenting on and developing each other’s answers.
The most successful part of this strategy is that it forces the students to really listen to each others’ answers. But best of all is didn’t require any time or effort in planning- that has to be good!

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher
Steyning Grammar School

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