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Student-Defined Questions

Using Student-Defined Questions activities to facilitate critical thinking in a classroom
Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time Medium
Instructor Response Time Low
Complexity of Activity Medium


Student-defined questions have students individually reflect on a reading assignment, lecture, or presentation. Before class, students write a question based on that content and write a model answer for it. In class, student pairs exchange questions and write a response to the partner’s question. They trade, read, and compare answers.


Use It When You Want...

  • To have students practice identifying essential features of course content,
  • To formulate questions and answers, review responses given by others, or
  • To give students a chance to rehearse responses to questions and examine sample responses outside of a formal testing environment.

What Students Will Need

  • There are no special requirements for this approach.


The following workflow is meant to guide you on how you can facilitate a Student-Defined Questions learning activity within a classroom.


  • Formulating a good question is a difficult task with which students are often unfamiliar. This activity will work best when you have spent some time teaching students how to formulate valid questions and answers.
  • Prepare a handout with guidelines, sample questions, and responses that model the level of complexity and depth you expect.
  • Create an online assignment that asks students to reflect on a learning activity (e.g., reading an article, listening to a lecture, watching a film), formulate an essay question, model a response, and submit it to the instructor.
  • Have students prepare a model response to their question.


  • Students bring a copy of their questions and model answers to the next class session.
  • Students form pairs, exchange questions, and write responses.
  • Students trade model answers and compare and contrast their in-class responses and their partner’s model answers.
  • Partners discuss their responses to one question and then to the other, paying particular attention to similar and dissimilar ideas.
  • Optional: if you want to assess the quality and sample questions, students share their documents with the instructor.


  • Review the outcomes of the activity.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documents

  • None


Example 1

An African American Literature professor used the Student-Defined Questions technique after each major assignment. For example, after watching Maya Angelou read her work, "Why the Caged Bird Sings," each student formulated an essay question about the work and wrote a model response that evening for homework. In the next class period, students exchange questions and develop answers. Students then compared their responses, and each student submitted a question, model answer, and response to the question to the professor (Barkley 303).

Example 2

In General Biology, the professor wanted students to participate in her institution's Writing Across the Curriculum program. She believed if students were to write information in the form of essay questions and answers, it would help them to integrate better, synthesize, and remember key concepts. She decided to create a Student-Defined Questions assignment. She asked students to formulate and answer an appropriate essay question for each topic area in the unit. She gave them the following example of a good question: "Describe the structure of the two basic cell categories (prokaryotic or eukaryotic), and explain how the categories are similar and different." Students had thirty minutes in class each week to exchange questions, use their notes and text to answer the questions, and then compare responses. Students submitted their work to the professor for participation points. She told students she would select some of these questions to be included in the midterm (Barkley 304).


Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 302-306.

Keywordsactive learning, student-defined questions, classroom writingDoc ID104092
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-16 17:00:22Updated2024-04-16 12:50:47
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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