The Dangerous Trap of Questions in the Classroom

I´m a mother of teens. As a mother, it is almost unavoidable to ask too many questions, and to my despair getting monosyllabic answers.
The story goes more or less like this, “So how was school today?” “OK”. And sometimes the most I can get is, “boring as always”. Well, being a teacher, this questioning mindset simply doubles!

By observing classes for the past few years, I came to realize that we teachers have this question system ingrained in us. Many times we consider that a pre-listening activity and post-listening activity can only happen through questions. We blame our students of being unmotivated, lazy, not interested. We have this nostalgic idea that youngsters are just not the way they used to be. And we tend to keep teaching the way we used to learn.

492022317One day, things just clicked because of my own kids. I came to realize that if you are dealing with teens, questions can be a trap to lack of response. Our teens are really not into answering. And you might be asking yourself, but then how will I start and wrap-up. Think ACTION, forget QUESTIONS. If you had to start your class without a question or to end it with no interrogation marks, what would it look like? What would your students be doing? Yes. The key for the answer we´ve been seeking for is, in fact, making our students DO stuff, and not us doing the job for them. When we ask questions, we are generally working much harder than our students. So, what if, for the next lesson plan, you started using the revised Bloom´s taxonomy chart not to consider if this activity is higher or lower order thinking, but using some of its ACTION verbs to make your class come alive? What if you used those verbs to energize your students and to give them some boost of confidence and pride, as they would be really accomplishing things, performing tasks and seeing their outcomes? What if you used those action verbs to empathize, connect, and invite your student to collaborate? What if you couldn´t start your class or end it with a question, how would it change?

I´d like to challenge you to try to prepare your next lesson with  a verb in the wheel in mind, not an inquiry, and to observe if there is any change, if your students seem more engaged. Look for the signs in your learners and go for the little transformations we and they deserve to make the learning experience an exciting one for all.

By the way, I´ve also changed my approach with my kids. I don´t start with a question. I go with the music of their choice. It has made all the difference in our rides home and to school. And, in a way, it also reflected on my approach to my pedagogy.


“This post is inspired by a great planning project we have at the school I work for and to all the teachers who have been inspiring me to question my own practice and beliefs. Oh, and, of course, I can´t forget my kids who teach me everyday the danger of asking too many questions!”

UPDATE: I’ve written a followup post to this one with some practical ideas for a lesson plan:

Carla Arena

Carla Arena is a social entrepreneur, educator by choice. She left a promising career in the public service to become an English teacher and got the chance to take roles she could have never imagined, such as site content manager at the Binational Center she worked for, Casa Thomas Jefferson. There, she was also the Supervisor of Educational Technology, and more recently Coordinator of Innovation and Technologies. Carla is a Google Innovator and educational technology consultant. Currently she innovates in her own business, AMPLIFICA (

  • Karé Moura
    Posted at 14:25h, 31 agosto Responder

    Very insightful post! Thank you!
    I like the “think ACTION, forget QUESTIONS” part. I’ve never seen it put this way, and actually we do bombard students with questions to make them more THINK than actually USE the language in a meaningful way.

    • Carla Arena
      Carla Arena
      Posted at 19:32h, 31 agosto Responder


      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, we are hardly aware of so many questions we ask and sometimes this translates in our students’ boredom. We might be blame them for something that we have control over, changing our approach to our teaching by trying to add more action to the formula. I’ve just written another post, expanding this idea with a practical overview in a lesson plan:

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