Asking questions is a key part of the classroom experience. When we ask questions that can be simply answered "yes or no", then we are not allowing students to think creatively or voice their opinions. We can also fall into the trap of asking questions and only calling on the same few students who always raise their hands to answer these questions. As an educator we need to try and keep every student engaged and keep them aware that they could be called on to answer a question at any time.
In Ben Johnson's The Right Way to Ask Questions in the Classroom, he supports this by giving an example of how students respond when any student could be called on. The teacher asks a question, pauses, then calls on a student to answer the question. Johnson says that "by doing this,all the students will automatically be thinking about an answer and only after another child's name is said will they sigh in relief because they were not chosen." This keeps all the students focused and paying attention because they want to know what the question is, and they want to get the answer right if called on. We need to keep our students from trying to place themselves into categories of "who is smart, who is not, and who doesn't care" as Johnson says. We need to keep students away from these preconceived notions and call on every student equally.(Every student should be involved!) This will help build confidence in students as well as keep them engaged and listening.
It is also important that when we ask questions, that they are GOOD questions. In Asking Questions to Improve Learning on The Teaching Center, a few suggestions are given to help formulate and improve questions you ask in the classroom.
Here are some key examples to follow when asking questions:
Be sure to follow the rule that both The Teaching Center and Ben Johnson suggest using when asking your students questions. Allow your students to think about what they want to say before calling on anyone. If you ask a question first then pause, you have every students attention and have them thinking about how they are going to answer your question before you even call on anyone. By being prepared, asking well formulated questions, and asking your questions before calling on a student, you will keep students focused as well as help them get what they need out of your class.