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Leading Questions

Question mark on its side

Question mark on its side (Jon Tyson, Unsplash)

Question mark on its side

Question mark on its side (Jon Tyson, Unsplash)

Format

This strategy helps students solve a problem by asking each other leading questions.

Why use it?

  • To develop critical thinking skills.
  • To support autonomy and problem-solving.
  • To allow students to talk through problems and make their thinking visible.
  • To provide constructive feedback and without “giving answers”.
  • To improve prototypes or algorithms after the testing phase.

Tips for success

  • Asking leading questions is a skill that takes a lot of time and support to develop. Remind your students of this frequently. This helps students reflect on their progress and facilitates metacognition.
  • Consider modeling this strategy before students split into pairs. Ask students to identify the characteristics of a leading question. 
  • In the context of coding activities: When students get stuck, they often ask for answers. By learning to ask leading questions, teachers or coding partners (students) can support the person in finding their own answers. Learning this skill will remove the onus on the teacher to be ‘everywhere at once’ and will help students develop collaboration and communication skills. This strategy is especially effective when used in conjunction with the strategy of pair programming.
     

How do I use it?

  • With a partner, student A shares a problem or error in their work. 
  • Student B takes on the role of the questioner and asks leading questions to prompt student A to explain what they are trying to do and seek out solutions out loud. 
  • Student A and B switch roles, and repeat the process. 
  • Note: It is not necessary for student B to know the answer themselves. The goal is to encourage student A to identify errors or think about possible solutions.
  • Qualities of a leading question:
    • They prompt reflection.
    • They are not answers framed as a question.
      • E.g., Answer = “Do you think there is a word missing on line 18?”
      • E.g., Leading question = “Lines 16 and 17 look alright, but I wonder about line 22. Do you notice anything different about line 16 and 17?

Example questions:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What have you tried doing so far?
  • Is this similar to anything you have experienced in the past?
  • What is another way you might approach…?
  • What do you think would happen if...?
  • What might happen if you…?
  • Does your prototype meet all of the design criteria?
  • What might you do to improve your design?

Example questions for coding:

  • When you run a test, what actually happens?
  • What have you tried to fix the bug?
  • When you think back to a similar situation, did you encounter similar errors?
  • In which part of the algorithm do you think the error may have happened? Do you see any patterns?

Variations

  • Students can apply this strategy to working through word problems in math.
  • In coding activities, ask students to use appropriate vocabulary such as “bug”, “error”and “debugging”. Student B could ask student A to explain to them each step of their algorithm. 
  • In coding activities, students could record notes on the Leading Questions- Coding reproducible as they answer the questions. 

Extensions

  • During a peer-review, feedback or testing phase of a project, conduct a ‘leading questions’ round-robin. Students meet with multiple classmates to think through and refine their work.
  • Ask students to keep a “troubleshooting log” to document their errors and how they solved them. This could be done on a group or individual basis. When doing similar activities in the future, they can consult the log as a support for problem solving. 

Using this Strategy

Ready to Use

Ready to Use

References

Belfiore, R. (2021, January 27). 8 Debugging Techniques. BairesDev.


Cline, B. (n.d.). Asking effective questions. Chicago Center for Teaching and Learning.