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August 30, 2022

The 5 Best Questioning Techniques for Online Tutoring

What kind of questioning techniques are you using in your online tutoring sessions? Well-meaning tutors sometimes provide too much assistance instead of using proper questioning techniques to help their students learn on their own.

Using effective questioning techniques will stimulate your students' critical thinking, help keep them focused, and nurture their self-confidence, among other things. There’s substantial benefits for the tutor, too—you’ll be able to assess their current understanding of the material as well as where they may need additional support.

Here are five questioning techniques you can employ in your next tutoring session to encourage your students to learn more independently and effectively.

1. Probing questions

Probing questions help your students dig deeper into a particular subject. If you feel like your student is skimming at the surface of something important, you may want to ask one or more probing questions to encourage your student to think beyond the obvious.

Many probing questions are open-ended, which means there isn't one specific correct answer. You're challenging your student to engage with the topic at hand and express themselves in their own way.

Asking probing questions leads to critical thinking and a deeper understanding of the topic. How the student answers the question will help you better understand their thinking process.

Your probing questions can also help your student brainstorm if they need to devise new ideas for a project or paper. You may find it helpful to ask a probing question after you have given an explanation about something, allowing your student to demonstrate their understanding to you.

There are an infinite number of ways you can ask probing questions. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of how to ask them:

  • What do you think about this problem/question/assignment?
  • Why do you think this happened?
  • What do you predict will happen?
  • What questions do you have now that you know this new information?
  • How do these two things relate to one another?
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • How does this sound to you?

2. Redirecting questions

Redirecting questions are often used in classrooms or group discussions, but they can also be helpful in your online tutoring sessions. A redirecting question is a question that encourages participation if your student is not responding or allows your student to correct themselves if they said the incorrect answer.

If your conversation hits a dead end, you can use a redirecting question to get it on a better track. Not only does this relieve awkward moments, it also keeps your session moving in the right direction.

Some redirecting questioning examples include:

  • What do you think about that?
  • What are we trying to find out here?
  • If that is true, then what would happen if we did . . . ?
  • Can you say that in a different way?

3. Follow the socratic method

According to the Socratic Method, students and tutors should have a dialogue together. The tutor asks probing questions, digging deeper into a specific topic, and the student responds with their thought process to allow them to get the most out of the tutoring session.

When you follow the Socratic Method, you're making sure your student is an active participant in the learning process. Each question forces your student to think in a new or more nuanced way.

The Socratic Method is not a stern series of questions your student must know the correct answer to. Instead, it's a conversation between tutor and student.

As we discussed in the Probing Questions section, your questions will often be open-ended, which helps your students think more independently. There is not always a goal at the end of the discussion.

As often happens in conversations, you may find yourself talking about something different than you expected. This is not bad—it helps your students build relationships between topics and think outside the box.

It can be very beneficial when you're trying to learn more about your student's learning style and current knowledge of a particular subject.

If your student needs to write a paper, you may want to have a discussion to flesh out ideas that the student can later write down.

4. Use "wait time" after asking a question

One mistake many teachers and tutors make is not giving enough time for the student to answer a question. It can be hard to sit there and wait in silence while your student is thinking! However, studies show that waiting after you ask a question significantly enhances the student's learning experience.

Wait time is typically 3-5 seconds after you ask the question. You ask a question, pause, and let your student formulate an answer before you respond or continue speaking. It might take a little bit of time to get used to using wait time. That's okay! What matters is ensuring your students are learning and thinking for themselves.

Using wait time after questions improves the overall quality of your students' answers. When your students have time to think, their answers will likely be more thorough, creative, and logical. When you wait for their answer, you're letting them know it's time for them to talk, which reduces the times your student will be unresponsive.

Wait time also helps you. When you're consciously pausing after asking a question, you remember not to jump in and provide the answer to the question yourself.

5. Rephrasing questions

After employing wait time, your students should have an easier time explaining their thought processes, but there may be times when your student doesn't know how to respond to one of your questions. Instead of repeating the question, hoping that the third time will be the charm and the answer will magically pop into your student's head, you can use a rephrasing question.

A rephrasing question phrases the question in a different way that will help your student understand. You might break a complex question into more manageable parts or use simpler words that your student will understand better. Rephrasing questions could be longer, adding additional information to help your student remember something.

Using this type of questioning technique gives the student more chances to reach the answer on their own, which will help foster their self-confidence. Instead of saying, "No, you're wrong," you can reword the question to assist your student in arriving at the correct answer.

For example, say you are nearing the end of your tutoring session and ask, "What did you learn today?" Your student gives you a blank stare and a shrug. You can rephrase that question by asking, "Okay, what was one new thing we talked about today?" This question requires your student to give a more specific answer, and it will probably be easy to think of one new concept.

Effective questioning techniques help students learn

How are you going to improve your next tutoring session? Hopefully, these questioning techniques will help you think of new ways to encourage your students to engage with the subject and feel more confident as they learn and think.

Are you a seasoned subject matter expert looking for a rewarding opportunity to directly impact students' academic success? Apply now to join our extensive network of outstanding online tutors!


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Jimmy Brown

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