How to Ask Questions in Class: 3 Time-Tested* Strategies

Students asking a question in classWant to know what will ruin your C- average faster than the average hummingbird’s wing beat? Want to know how to avoid confusion in class, a confusion that is murkier than pea soup? Want to know what would happen if a hummingbird drank pea soup?

Yes, I know that’s a lot of questions all at once. The answer to those questions, though, is to: ask questions in class. This helps your participation grade, your comprehension of the material, and, if you ask your teacher, you may just find out what happens to hummingbirds if they drink pea soup (I’d recommend asking your creative writing teacher).

Therefore, it stands to reason that, to get these positive things (with the exception being that you don’t want to understand Schrödinger’s cat, so this would be negative; trust me on that), you should take it upon yourselves to ask questions.

However, it is difficult for many teens to ask questions in class, because they may have too much gum in their mouth to talk, are under-confident, are asleep, haven’t been listening, or are tied up and gagged, in the back of the room, for sleeping and/or chewing gum in class. In the interest of improving your life, but mainly in the interest of science, and finding out exactly what would happen if a hummingbird drank pea soup (my guess is the hummingbird would develop a pea soup addiction, because that stuff is good, almost as good as stale, moldy, raw spinach), I’m going to offer you 3 Time-tested* strategies for asking questions in class.

*Before we proceed, I think I am legally obligated to tell you that when I say time-tested, I don’t mean that I’ve put these strategies to work and that, over time, they have consistently proven to provide good results. What I mean is that, as those of you who’ve read this blog since last November know, these strategies have been tested by my pet fish, whom I have named Time.

However, last November I forgot to mention Time is actually a plastic toy fish, and I have him test these things like so: “Hey, Time, I’m going to tell you my three strategies for asking questions in class. If you think any one of them is a bad idea, then tell me.” So far, Time has remained silent.

Raise Your Hand

This is probably one of the best things to do when it comes to upping that participation grade. Simply put your hand up in the air like you would if you were checking to see if you’d remembered deodorant that morning, and leave it there. This tells your teacher that you want to ask a question.

It is important to note, though, that due to the time constraint brought about by the fact that we only spend 7 hours a day in school, your teacher can’t get to everyone. So, hope that your teacher doesn’t actually call on you. This sends the message that you want to participate, and it is the teacher’s fault for not calling on you.

Of course, if you are actually called on, and don’t have a question, then simply use a great excuse, like “I was stretching, sorry,” “You just answered my question; never mind,” or “Aye-Oh, gotta let go.” (If you don’t get that reference, you should ask your oldest living relative. They won’t get it either, and you can both laugh about how weird that joke was. Or, you can go here).

Ask a Theoretical Question

Obviously, your teacher won’t cover every possible scenario of whatever they’re teaching. Thus, you should come up with a scholarly what-if question to ask.

For example, if your teacher is describing the proper way to construct a compound sentence, you should ask: “But what if chipmunks suddenly take over the world? Do I still need a conjunction?”

Ask Why

Anything can always be taken one level further. This means that you can always ask a simple one-word question, known as “Why?” In certain instances, it is necessary to add a “but” at the beginning. It is unwise to improvise; for example:

Teacher: “….and then he vetoed the law because he thought it was unconstitutional, as it violated the entire constitution and the whole bill of rights in every way possible, while also giving dead people voting rights.”
Student: “Why?”
Teacher: “What?”
Student: “Um…[Improvising, which is not a good idea], I was just wondering why the, er, square root was that number.”
Teacher: “Have you even been listening? This isn’t math class. I’m going to try to get you expelled and banished from this country, because that’s how extremely angry you’ve made me.”

As opposed to:

Teacher: “….and then he vetoed the law because he thought it was unconstitutional, as it violated the entire constitution and the whole bill of rights in every way possible, while also giving dead people voting rights.”
Student: “Why?”
Teacher: “What?”
Student: “Why?”
Teacher: “Great question. I forgot to mention that. In clause three there was a line that said, and I quote, ‘…and, finally, that any person no longer living be given fair and equal voting rights, assuming they continue to pay their taxes.”

And so, before I go, I leave you with one final tip: don’t ask these questions during tests. Instead, ask yourself a question: Do I know the answer? If not, can I guess? No? Can I make my face turn green on the spot and be ‘sick’?

Sometimes, rather than asking a question, you’ll raise your hand to vote in class with your head down on your desk. However, this is a terrible idea, as we explained last year in “3 Reasons to Abolish the Heads-Down Vote.” If you have ever voted heads-down, will ever vote heads-down, or are currently, as you read this, voting heads-down, then you should read this post.

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