Lectures and Lecturing

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Asking Specific Questions

Lots of lecturers do ask questions in lectures, and they also encourage students to ask questions. But people often complain that they can't get an answer, or that they don’t always get the answer they were hoping for.

Try not to make a general offer like "Anyone got any questions?" - especially not right at the end when most of the group will be hoping that nobody asks anything so that they can get away on time! Many members of a large group will not have the confidence to ask general questions. The ones that have will often know the answer already, so they won't learn anything from the experience.

It's better to ask specific questions. Don't try to catch people out by asking things like "what did I just say?" or even "what did you think of what I just said?". Try to ask questions which will help to reinforce understanding, such as

"why do you think [the topic I've just covered] is important?".

You can also try to get them to apply what you've just said to a different example

"what would happen if...?"
"supposing we replace X with Y, what do you think might happen to Z?"
"has anyone got any experience of...?"
"can you remember your first impression of...?"

It might sound obvious, but it's important not to ask questions which might embarrass or upset people. In some subject areas, asking about personal experience might do this, do be aware of the potential problems.

Set yourself a time limit for each question you plan to ask - 3-5 minutes should be enough to get three or four sample answers and then discuss them briefly before you move on. Nottingham University have produced many useful videos on these topics. Try looking at this one of Liz Sockett talking about using questions in lectures.

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