My Favorite Question for Students and Teachers

As a teacher, my day is filled with asking questions. Some are benign, like asking a student, “How is your day going?” While I never seem to lack questions to ask, I must admit that improving my skills in this area has been a goal since I started my teaching career. The really great, meaty questions will not only lead you to a better understanding of a student’s ability, they will inspire critical thinking and creativity. Best of all, these types of questions will lead to even deeper questions and discussions.

There is one question that has become my all-time favorite: “If you could do this again, what would you do differently?”

First, it helps my students become better musicians. Recently, I asked my second graders this question after they accompanied a song with xylophones. I got a wide range of responses back. Some students focused on the technical aspects of holding mallets while others honed in on maintaining a steady beat while performing. At the same time, I had students emphasize aspects of their singing. After our discussion, we performed the piece again and it was evident that the students had applied their recommendations.

Second, asking my students what they would do differently encourages them to be more creative. My third-grade students had taken part in a small group composition project for boomwhackers (a pitched instrument made out of plastic tubes). They had done a great job of writing and performing their pieces. When I asked them to identify what they would do differently, many suggested adding movements to their piece.

In addition to improving musicianship and encouraging creativity, I love this question because I can use it many different situations. When speaking to students about behavior concerns, it helps them think through their actions/reactions and find better ways to respond in the future. It also makes my reading interventions fun. I’m currently working with six kindergarten students that need help with identifying letters and sounds. The flash cards can be incredibly monotonous. By asking the question, the students have kept it interesting by using high/low voices, loud/soft voices, and singing.

This strategy is not limited to the lower grades; I believe it can be helpful to any teacher in any grade level. A high school science teacher could pose the challenge to students following a science experiment. Math teachers can ask students to find another way of solving a problem. ELA teachers could ask students to read a story again utilizing a different strategy.

And while this is a useful question to guide students, it is also important for teachers to ask themselves. Following each lesson, I ask myself, “If I could teach this lesson again, what would I do differently?” It helps me reflect on and improve my own teaching. In the end, it has made me a better teacher.


Image via Tom Woodward