Clarifying Questions in the Common Core Classroom

If you think about your educational experience growing up, it may have looked something like this. The teacher asked the questions, students gave the responses, and the answer was either right or wrong. A correct answer was rewarded with “good job” and a smile. An incorrect answer was met with a shake of the head or a frown, and the student felt bad for getting the wrong answer, and didn’t always know why the answer is wrong.

With the Common Core State Standards, students are asked to validate their answers with evidence. Instead of accepting an answer as merely right or wrong, push students to support their answer with evidence by asking clarifying questions. Here are some clarifying questions that you could ask your students:

Why do you think that?
Can you explain that?
What is the support for your thinking?
What evidence do you have to support your answer?

I recently taught a lesson in a classroom, where the students talked about a photograph of a Native American woman peeling acorns in the forest. I asked the students, “Where do you think the woman is?” Sam responded, “She is in the forest.” His answer was correct, but I asked him to explain why he thought it was the forest, and he looked confused. He knew his answer was correct, but he wasn’t expecting me to question his response. After some think time, Sam was able to respond with evidence to support his thinking. Another student, Sara, said that she thought the woman was sitting in front of a sand castle. Instead of telling her, “That’s not right,” or “Try again,” I responded with, “Do you have evidence to support your thinking?” She took a moment to look at the picture, studied the woman’s surroundings, shook her head no, and revised her answer. She was able to conclude that the woman in the photograph was outside in the woods or the forest, and not at the beach. She told me why she changed her mind.

Think about the power of students having the ability to revise their own thoughts and finding evidence to support or refute their answers. Learning becomes more meaningful to students when you stop accepting a right or wrong answer, and ask students, “Why?”

What are your tips for asking questions?

3 Responses to Clarifying Questions in the Common Core Classroom

  1. Shayla McCorvey

    Mathew,
    I think this is a great post! We should challenge student’s more with supporting question’s behind the answer’s they have given. Some tips that I would use for asking question’s would be:
    -Where did you get that answer from?
    -How So?
    I hope this will help a little.

  2. Hi Mathew!
    My name is Tori Hudson and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I agree that the way of teaching has changed/is changing to keep the kids more in engaged and to give them a deeper understanding of the subjects. Open ended questions are definitely a great way to do that! Some open ended questions to ask would be: How did you know…? What brought you to that conclusion…? What would happen if…? Would it be better if…? How would you apply what you have learned if…? and many more! Teachers should also be open to all students’ responses and ask questions based on their answers to find out more. Asking open ended questions is a way for students to really grasp an understanding of the concept.

  3. Hi Matthew,

    My name is Jennifer Flowers, and I too am an EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama. I love the idea of more engaged students and I think that that begins, by changing the way teaching is done. You’re 100% right about the way school used to be. Black and white, yes and no, wrong and write answers… no in between! The problem with that is, are we really learning? or just regurgitating it…? I think open ended questions lead to more thought provoking ideas, and that leads our students to want to know more. Thanks for posting!

    -Jennifer

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