How “Open” are your Classroom Questions? Providing a Fertile Environment for Classroom Discourse

What is the difference between an open question and a closed question?  To put it simply, an open question allows room for discussion, growth, connections, and development; whereas a closed question points to one “correct” answer that the person asking the question hopes to hear.

Here’s a short clip featuring the awesome Lucy West* where she provides a brief intro regarding the types of questions used in classrooms:

According to Lucy West, based on a study of 500 classrooms in 5 countries (England, US, France, Russia, and India):

  • open questions only made up 10% of questioning exchanges in the classroom
  • 15% of the sample did not ask any open questions
  • probing by the teacher to encourage sustained and extended dialogue occurred in 11% of the classes
  • uptake questions (questions not on the lesson plan) only account for 4%
  • 43% of teachers did not use any such moves
  • pupil exchanges were short being on average 5 seconds and with 3 words or less 70% of the time

How to increase student capacity and discourse?  GET STUDENTS TO ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS IN A COMPLETE SENTENCE! This seems like such a simple concept, but it can make such a big difference.  I am definitely going to keep this in mind when trying to incorporate class discussions and discourse into my daily teaching.

Here’s a great resource found on Lucy West’s website that provides more information on Building An Environment for Talk

I especially love that part when Lucy West talks about students who ask questions that are not on “the plan” (uptake questions)! Isn’t it more important to have students immersed in rich discussions, rather than sticking to our lesson plans?  I think so.  If in doubt:

pretend lesson plan

Image source:


* I heard Lucy West speak at a conference my school board held a year ago.  She has a great website with tons of resources for teachers and this video provides great insights into robust dialogue with your students (just scroll down to the last video on that page).  The video is 86 minutes long (yes, I know) but it is so worthwhile to watch.

Children with Down Syndrome


It’s all in the Flip!


Have you thought about it?  How am I going to reach more of my students?  What can be done so we interact with them more while they strategize?  Why is it so difficult to do?  I know I struggle with these questions all of the time.  As we all know, students come to school with their homework incomplete, unable to recall anything you taught the day prior.  You then need to go through that whole scaffolding process and sometimes re-teach that whole lesson over.  So then you send them on their way and hope that they will work through the problems on their own.  Or maybe you have made some time to hold an extra help session (during another subjects time if you are able to) or during your lunch or afterschool.  I don’t think that there is anything wrong with extra help but would it not be better to be with your students when they are actually attempting the work?  Would it not be better to have them discuss, share, strategize in front of you all the while you working with them, in class, instead of teaching them the concept?  Would this not be a better plan, in order to deepen their understanding?  In order to reach all your students and the diverse ways they learn? You are probably wondering how in the world this can be done, with what time? This new strategy is called the Flipped Classroom!

We always look for innovative ways to teach our students, we re-invent, re-work, and re-shuffle.  Well here is one more way that could possibly change your whole practice.  How about converting the way you do things?  How about if your students do the work in the classroom and attend your lessons at home?  Yes, let me say that again, your lesson at home and the work at school.  Flipped!

With today’s technological advances, this is not a thought of the future but a thought for now!  Many teachers in the past five years have been taking aim at this process of flipping their classroom.  They record their interactive lessons (known as Educational Vodcasting) and students access them from home to watch and then come to school to work through the problems.   As summer is upon us, we have more time and researching this new practice would be worthwhile.  I hope you let us know what you think about this practice, let us know your plans and experiences.

This concept was started by two teachers John Bergmann & Aaron Sams who found great success with their students.  You can find their book through Amazon.

Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (2012). By Bergmann & Sams.

Also, a support network, with many examples of flipped classrooms can be found at  the Flipped Learning Network.  The website has a network of over 6000 educators in different phases of flipping their classrooms.

Good Luck to you all!

Disclosure:  This post contains an affiliate link; however, all opinions expressed are the author’s own.

Medieval Activities

From my experience, teaching a unit on Medieval Times is one of the best parts of the curriculum.    There are so many ideas, activities that can be done.  I find that organizing my ideas for the upcoming unit helps me plan out my activities and see the cross curricular aspects of my lessons.  The concept map below lists some activities/learning opportunities I have done in the past.


The 3AM Teacher:


We are all different…in our own way!

Whether you have had a student with special needs in your classroom or not, we, as teachers do understand that each student is different in their own way – from their unique learning strategies, to working at different levels and at a different pace, to having their own individual strengths, talents, as well as, weaknesses and areas of difficulty. Regardless, not only can we understand but we must also learn and know how to create a classroom in which all students can learn to the highest of THEIR learning potential. We need to educate ourselves through research, through experience and through others.

Attached is a list of just a few books that you may find helpful when teaching a student with down syndrome. From one book to the next, each share endless strategies to guide you in being the best teacher you can be for your student(s).

If you have any other resources to recommend, please let us know!


Disclosure:  This post contains an affiliate link.  All ideas/opinions are the author’s own.  Thanks for supporting our website!

Characteristics of Gifted Children

How many of you wondered about that student in your class?  Is he/she gifted?  How would you know?  When I was teaching grade 4, I found this list of characteristics helpful in deciding if I should nominate my students to be considered for the gifted program.  I printed this sheet out and inserted it in each student portfolio I had created and would observe to see if some of these characteristics were present.  Please note that this is not an all encompassing list and that not all of these characteristics need to be present.  I hope it helps you as it has helped me. Just click on the link below!

Characteristics of Gifted Children