Jeff Carroll - Legendary Texas
Shade Tree




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Discussion implies a two-way transfer of ideas. This can best be facilitated by the use of a planned questioning strategy involving only four general types of question. These questions, however, must be used in sequence to get the most benefit. Here are some general rules–of-thumb that should apply to ALL questioning strategies.

1. Be patient. NEVER rush a question. If you don’t have time to do it correctly, don’t do it. This is especially true with new students who have never had the opportunity to participate at this level. Someone has always told them what and how to think. They are afraid to voice their opinions until they think they know what you want them to say. If you have prepared your strategy correctly, they won’t know what your opinion is. They are on their own and must think for themselves. This is often quite painful. In effect, when you ask a question, wait as long as necessary to get an answer. The student must start from scratch and think about it before venturing an answer. WAIT! (I know, this is hard on you too. In most cases, all you can think of while waiting is how much valuable time is passing.)

2. Having posed a question, repeat it occasionally while you are waiting, but DO NOT CHANGE THE WORDING IN ANY WAY. The change of even one word can (and will) short-circuit the answering process. The student will notice it and wonder if the question has changed and if the thought process needs to change as well. This is one good reason for writing down each question – so you don’t forget.

3. Be accepting of answers in the beginning. This will also be hard on you. The first responses you receive may be so far from what you wanted that you feel compelled to correct the student immediately. DON’T! It will put a stop to any further interaction. The student will think, “I’m dumb. My answer wasn’t good enough.” Or, the student may think, “I thought that was a good answer but the teacher wanted to argue. I won’t fall into that trap again.” There is a time and place for eliciting more correct answers, but you need to wait for it.

4. If you are in a classroom setting and writing the student responses on the board, DO NOT PARAPHRASE what the student said. If necessary, say, “I didn’t quite get all of that. Please say it again.” or, “How can I say that so I can get it all on the board?” Then, write exactly what the student says. It verifies and justifies and rewards the student for a response.

OK! Are you ready for the questions?

The first type of question is the OPEN QUESTION.
The Open Question is designed to allow everyone to participate at any level and to elicit a large body of information on which to focus later. An example of an Open Question dealing with some of the Legendary Texas stories could be:

“What do you think were some causes for the Texas War for Independence?”

Another could be:

“What do you think were some reasons for Anglo-Americans to move to Texas?”

DO NOT be satisfied with only one or two answers. The rest of the discussion depends on getting a large body of information with which to work. Remember to accept ALL answers, no matter how off-target they may seem at the time. You can correct that later.

One open question often leads to another open question that focuses attention on one of the responses. So, we can call it:


The Focusing Question is also open, but directs attention to a particular topic and is usually a response to one of the answers elicited in the first type of question. For instance, you might ask:

“You said that the Mexican government was one of the reasons for the Texas War for Independence. In what ways do you think this was a reason for the war?”

Or, you might say:

“You said that the availability of land was one reason why Anglo-Americans came to Texas. In what ways do you think this was different than what was found in the United States?”

Again, you can elicit a large body of information and follow many open questions with focus questions, bringing in even more information for the mind to work with. Notice, however, that as the questioning progresses, it asks for more specific response.

Then comes the third type of question.


This is where you break into really higher cognitive processes. The student is asked to compare and/or contrast two or more concepts, feelings, relationships or ideas.

For instance, using the two general topics we’ve talked about above, you might ask:

“In what ways might the causes of the Texas War for Independence and the Anglo-American arrival in Texas be related?”

“How might you account for the fact that many Tejanos fought beside Anglo-Americans for Texas independence?”

This will probably be the place where you get rid of extraneous material you gathered in the open questions. Ask for the relationships. The students may see some that you never thought of. At the same time, they may see how something they suggested earlier really doesn’t fit with how the topic has progressed.

The first few times you try to create this kind of questioning strategy, it will not be easy. This is a learning process for you as well. However, after a few tries, both you and the students will get to where you enjoy it. Trust me and trust the process. It works. Some real plusses for this process is that it not only takes the teacher out of the role of always telling the student what to think, but it also gives the student the satisfaction of participating as a supplier of information on which the lesson is built, rather than just as a recorder of facts.

Now comes the last question:


Believe me. After you’ve perfected your questioning, you’re going to start getting more response from the students than you can easily handle. You and they may get so carried away with the exhilaration of the process that you run out of time. DON’T. Always save time for the Capstone Question. This is where you allow the student to summarize for his/her understanding and bring closure to the discussion. The question itself is usually very simple, but it might take a lot of time for the student to process it.

“Based on our discussion, what can we say about the Texas War for Independence?”

“How might we summarize the relations between Mexicans and Anglo-Americans in 1835?”

Now it’s your turn. If you want to try your questioning strategy on me first, there is a link you can click to send me an e-mail. It may take a while, but I WILL respond. Choose any story you want; tell me what it is so we’re on the same page, and send me two examples of Open Questions, Focus Questions, Interpretive Questions and Capstone Questions based on that story. Then, for each of your questions, give me some possible answers to your questions. Remember that you need to have in mind some of the more obvious answers on which to build your continuing questions. Establish a dialog with me about what you’ve done, and when we’ve hammered it out, with your permission, I’ll share some of them with others who access the site.

Trust the process. IT WORKS!


Atomic Web Katz