Teaching Seminar
Fall 1996
Dr. Scharff

Answering Questions in Class
Here is a "guide" to answering particular types of questions andcomments that inevitably arise in class.

The Good Question

  • Provide positive reinforcement: tell the student it is a goodquestion.

    The Dumb Question

  • Reinterpret or rephrase the question for the student. This makesthe question sound intelligent. When doing this, it may be advisableto say, "Do you mean...?"
  • Answer part of the question.
  • Answer a different question. (Regarded as a sleazy method.)
  • Tellthe student you can see him / her after class to discuss the issue.
  • NEVER say "That's a dumb question!"

    The Incomprehensible Question

  • Ask the student to rephrase the question.
  • Ask anotherstudent to rephrase the question.
  • Ask the student to provide a"real life" example to help clarify the question.
  • Tell thestudent you can see him / her after class to discuss the issue.

    The Argumentative Question

  • If it's a good / relevant question, try to discuss it in class ina non-argumentative manner.
  • If it's too argumentative, point outto the student that discussing the question would be pointless, sinceit is obvious that he / she has no intention of considering the otherside of the issue. (Be careful of your attitude if you take thisapproach!)
  • Try humor. (Use this sparingly
  • don't want otherstudents to think you are belittling their classmate, even if theydon't agree with him / her.)
  • Tell the student you can see him /her after class to discuss the issue.

    The Outa-Nowhere Question

  • This refers to a question that is clear off topic.
  • If it canbe quickly answered and may be of interest to others in the class,then answer it. (e.g. in the middle of the discussion, someone askswhen the next test is.)
  • Otherwise, tell the student that thequestion is not really related to the topic at hand but that you cansee him / her after class.

    The Unanswerable Question

  • Say straight out that you do not know the answer but that (a)here is your best (intelligent
  • ie. you have a basis for this)guess, or (b) you will look it up, or (c) you will tell him / herwhere to look it up.
  • If it is a question to which you shouldknow the answer: admit that you should know it and do (b) or (c )from above. (Or, if you're old enough, claim precocious old-agesenility.)

    The Redundant Question

  • This type of question is usually asked by either the student whois in class physically but not mentally, or the student who came inlate and missed the question the first time around.
  • Tell thestudent to ask someone else after class. You shouldn't waste timedealing with that student.

    Any Question Asked in a Large Class

  • Repeat the question for the benefit of the other students.

    The Inaccurate Statement

  • Ask the student for the citation, and for further informationabout the source (you'll most often get stuff they heard on TV newsshows or read in magazines.)
  • Advise the students not to believeeverything that they see / read.
  • Don't say "I don't believeyou."

    The Biblical Issue

  • e.g. You are teaching evolution and a student declares that youshould be giving equal time to creationism.
  • Admit that differentpeople hold different views on this topic. If he / she keeps pushing,state that as the school is currently organized, the teaching ofcreationism in that particular class would be inappropriate, sincethat is a matter of faith / religion rather than of science.

    The Sexist Accusation

  • i.e. You present a position and a student says that it is sexist.(E.g. you say there is evidence for an innate sex difference,favoring males, for spatial relations.)
  • It is necessary toseparate facts from ad hominem remarks. That is, point out that thefacts have been presented and that the discussion should center onthe issue rather than personal characteristics. Also in this case,can point out that greater individual differences reside withingender than across gender....


    Miscellaneous Issues

    You are teaching a small class and a few students never speakup.

  • Talk to those students after class. Try to find out why they arenot speaking up.
  • Let the class know early in the semester thatpeople who do speak up will be called on. Then call on them. -
  • Don't be too aversive (e.g. don't stare at them).

    You are teaching a small class and someone speaks up toomuch.

  • Speak to that student after class. Compliment him / her on goodwork, but explain that you also want others to participate.

    The "I gotta get a better grade" Student
    This will be prefaced by reiterating that which has already beenstated earlier this semester: Explicitly state the basis of the gradeon the syllabus, and the policy for make-ups.

    If the student comes in early in the semester:

  • Tell him / herto study harder. Talk about the study methods that he / she is usingand try to make some recommendations.
  • Go over the exams to seeparticular trends which may help guide future studying (type ofquestion missed, not reading the questions thoroughly, etc.).
  • Talk about good note-taking.

    If the student comes in after it's too late and asks how to get abetter grade:

  • Gently say it is too late.
  • Point out that itwould be unfair to the class to give a particular individual extracredit or special treatment.
  • Tell the student that you will getin trouble if you do not follow the guidelines written on thesyllabus.
  • The final word: "go see the chair".


    Class Discipline Please see accompanying handout fora write-up by Ludy Benjamin about class management, and hisaccompanying list of references.