We have all seen the commercials where the guy goes into the phone store and has a million questions about the phone he is about to buy. The next scene the same guys is in a hospital gown and he doctor asks him if he has any questions and he says, “nope.” That’s what is has been like in my classroom lately. 

I really don’t know if its my questioning strategies, or the type of questions I am asking my students, but lately I get frustrated when I ask open-ended questions, and all I hear are crickets. I try very hard to get my gifted students to really think deeply. I wrote a few weeks ago that I use a scenarios in my class to get them thinking, which works very well. It just seems like my older students (grades 5-8) just don’t get what I am asking them.

How can I improve? Does anyone have suggestions that I can use to help improve the reasoning and answering skills of my middle school gifted students? I love to hear the discussions that I have with my younger students (grades 3rd-4th), and I don’t have that with my middle school students. Is it because of the type of teaching that goes on in the elementary schools? Is it because of the lack of open-ending questions in the middle school? Does it have to do with the fact that we teach so much to the state standardized tests that our students don’t get the techniques of answering questions correctly with some thought and reflection? I don’t know. I do know that I need to push my students forward if they are going to be successful later in life. Life’s hardest questions you can’t answer on a scantron answering sheet.

If you have any good techniques or resources that I could use, please contact me through the following ways:


Twitter: @jeff_shoemaker

A open Google Doc

Or just leave your comments. I will read them and reply. I want to thank you in advance for your help and support.


6 thoughts on “Questions…Questions…Questions…Crickets…

  1. lisamonthie

    Are the students afraid to answer? Are they afraid they might answer incorrectly? I try to combat this by having students discuss with an “elbow partner” their answers and then share. Sometimes, I have the student share their answer with several elbow partners before sharing. Another option: I use PollEverywhere and have the students anonymously answer. I also ask a question at the close of class and have students write answers on a slip of paper and anonymously place them in a jar on the way out. I then review the answers during class next day. Just a few thoughts….

    1. Jeffrey Shoemaker Post author

      I have my students from 3rd to 8th grade with little change other than more children qualify and some move away. They do know eachother and and don’t seem to be afraid of answering questions. I will definately use your “elbow partner”. My wife uses polleverywhere. I have never used it, but I will check it out. Thats a great idea.

      Thanks for your help!

  2. Lisa Conrad

    Yes, yes, and yes! That being said, are the open-ended questions based on things they are interested in? Have you ever combined the questions with projects (presented and assessed, but not graded)? Do you ever play ‘devil’s advocate’ with them? Do you personalize the questions? (How do you feel in the regular classroom?)
    I am not a teacher, but I substitued for 5 years in the classroom (and in the GATE program, by teacher’s request). As such, I sometimes was a bit unconventional in my approach but I always got excellent feedback from students and parents.
    One of my most rewarding experiences was a project for the GATE class that lasted 3 weeks. I asked them what they would do if they inherited $300,000. They had to figure out taxes, buying a house, determining a career, educating their children. Throughout the project, I constantly challenged their choices and they had to make some hard decisions. I also used “Stories with Holes” by Nathan Levy. These are best used above 5th grade and in GATE only. Just some random thoughts … hth 🙂

    1. Jeffrey Shoemaker Post author

      I will start each lesson with an open-ended questions. Its just to get them thinking. Its normally paired with the topic we are studying. Sometimes I do play deveils advocate…infact they hate it, but they will play along. Lately, they just sit and look at me, and aren’t interested in answering the questions. You see, in my middle school classes I have only 2-8 children depending on who is going back to music/band/art/gym class. So keeping a discussion going can be difficult. But they know each other, and have other classes together. I am hoping to get out of this in some way and get them discussing again. I will definiately check out that resource.

  3. Rusty Biesele

    Ask them a philosophical question related to the subject. Tell them many philosophical questions go unresolved for thousands of years if ever they are ever resolved. Removes the fear of not getting the correct answer but challenges because no one has ever solved it. For example, if studying science, “Can a mind created by random genetics ever produce deterministic thought and if so, how?”


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