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Enhance Student Discussion with Non-Questioning Techniques




The most challenging task in my work with the students is the development of discussion skills that lead to the deeper comprehension of a text.  Verbalizing their thoughts and building upon each other’s ideas through active engagement with the text is difficult for many students.  Realizing that the interpretation of a text is first based on the comprehension of the text, then on an exchange of ideas, and finally on new insights about the text, the question arises “How do I best promote discussion skills within the context of understanding and interpreting a text, specifically an informational text?”  I began researching in this area and found S. A. Mazzoni and L.B. Gambrell’s chapter “Text Talk:  Using Discussion to Promote Comprehension of Informational Text” in Lively Discussions!  Fostering Engaged Reading (Gambrell & Almasi, 1996) most enlightening. Below I’ve included some of the big ideas:tow kids talk

  • Informational text poses challenges for the reader.  Such challenges include the various text structures unique to expository texts and a high degree of content background knowledge.

  • Students need opportunities to read and gain information from informational texts to develop higher order thinking skills, language expression, and knowledge of content material.

  • The reader is viewed as an active participant using strategies to construct meaning.

  • Effective classroom discussion allows students to share information and points of view supported by textual evidence.

  • Readers share responses to informational texts in a social context and construct new meaning as a result of their interaction with their peers.

  • Non-questioning techniques promote discussion.  Based on research there is an overall conclusion that the asking of higher-level questions foster more elaborate student responses and has a positive effect on student achievement.  However, most teachers’ questions ask students to recall facts, some encourage the students to think, and the remaining questions are procedural.  Students respond to higher level questions on a significantly lower level than the question presented.  Therefore, Dillon (1992) argues that non-questioning techniques tend to enhance student discussion. Non-questioning techniques suggested by Dillon (1985, 1990) are:

    • Declarative Statements.  Students tend to provide longer and more elaborate responses to statements with cued wait time than to questions.   

    • Reflective Statements.  Teachers state their understanding of a student’s response. Students tend to elaborate and clarify their responses when teachers repeat/rephrase a student’s comment.

    • State of Mind.  After listening to a student’s response, teachers describe their thinking about the student’s response, encouraging students to elaborate upon their responses in clearly stated language.  

    • Student Questioning.  Students are prompted to formulate their own questions. Students respond more elaborately to student questions than to teacher questions.  

    • Deliberate Silence.  Teacher says nothing, maintains attentive silence for 3-5 seconds, nodding, murmuring, until the original student or another student enters conversation.

    • Perplexity Question.  A discussion leader asks a question when he/she is perplexed and needs to know the answer.

These non-questioning techniques change the role of the teacher in a discussion.  They invite the students to engage in discussion with each other and reflect upon the responses given.  The ultimate aim is to give the students control of the discussion and promote active engagement in the interpretation of the text.  By providing the students with a framework for discussion using the nonquestioning techniques I hope to push students’ thinking to create new understandings of a text.


Have you tried any of the non-questioning techniques? If so, please share your experiences in the comment section below or on our facebook page.  

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