Active Question & Answer Techniques

Low-Prep Ways To Engage On-The-Fly

This post is part of a series on Active Learning methods. Click here to see the menu for this series.

Active question and answer approaches are among the simplest forms of active learning, making use of some basic structures to bring students into engagement.

Some Techniques


Before the class is asked a question, the teacher tells them “I’m going to give you all a minute to think about it, then I’m going to call on someone.” This prompts everyone to do the thinking necessary to prepare a response so they will care about what others have to say and stay engaged, even when they are not the person being called upon. This is in contrast to “cold-calling” in which one person is singled out with a question, putting them in the position to think quickly and speak publicly while the rest of the class may or may not be also thinking as hard about the question.


In a “think-pair-share” (Lyman, 1981) students are given a moment to think or write about something before being asked to confer with other students and compare their thoughts before all-class discussion. You can ask students to look for themes in their responses, or ask them to see if they convince each other of their own answer. This technique can be done quickly and ad-hoc, but enables cognitive rehearsal and peer-instruction.

Visible Quiz

active-Active-Question-and-Answer-ApproachesDuring a visible quiz (e.g., Millis, 2010) students are given a multiple-choice question upon which they must answer individually or in groups. At reporting time, they hold up lettered cards indicating their answer. Requiring groups to come to consensus by only allowing on card per group can be particularly powerful in terms of driving student thinking. This allows discussions among individuals and groups to compare their thinking.

Some Technology to Support Active Learning Q&A

Though definitely not necessary for active learning, judicious use of specific technology platforms can bring an extra dimension of organization and engagement to the experience. Academic Technology Services provides hands-on training and individualized consultations on many forms of instructional technology.

Classroom Response Systems

Web-based classroom response systems can be used to facilitate active Q&A by allowing anonymous individual responses. This anonymity allows for broader student participation and therefore gives the instructor a better understanding of student comprehension. PollEverywhere is a popular platform supported by Academic Technology Services.

Social Media

Social media can be used to generate and display an ongoing “back channel” (a secondary forum for the exchange of ideas and questions during class; particularly in large classes) to provide another means for students to ask (and answer) questions during class. Students are provided the opportunity to pose questions online during class that can be addressed during a time devoted to questions. Some forum software (like Piazza) give a class the ability to both create and rank order questions, raising to the surface topics that are confusing and need clarification. This provides the opportunity for students to ask questions in “public” situations where they might not otherwise do. While powerful, there are also important strategic considerations when using social media, overviewed in this Social Media Quick Start-Guide from Academic Technology Services.


Lyman, F. (1981). “The responsive classroom discussion.” In Anderson, A. S. (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest. College Park, MD: University of Maryland College of Education.

Millis, B. (2010). Cooperative Learning in Higher Education: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy. Sterling, VA: Stylus.