As educators, we teach students who possess a broad range of study skills. Some have developed excellent practices, but many struggle by unnecessarily employing ineffective and inefficient study methods. I believe that, among the many jobs we as educators are responsible for, teaching students how to study effectively is vital. While it can be easy to think that good study habits should have been learned earlier in a student’s academic career, taking the time to either teach or reinforce best practices can alleviate many of the issues we encounter in the classroom. One of the techniques I train students to use is question writing.
This study technique requires individual students, or study groups, to ask questions. Asking the right questions is not easy and it will take practice on the part of the student to master. I ask my students to attempt creating questions at multiple cognitive levels: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.
I begin by breaking the class into teams. Then, working as a group, they write questions that would fit in each column of the chart below. Students also must use each of the different rows for their questions, rather than just repeating the same question type. Then, students need to correctly answer the questions they have created. As they work, students check off the number used, so the grid looks a little like a bingo card when the group is done writing six questions.
Explanation of the Activity and Modifications to Use with Students:
- The question matrix is designed so that as students move down the rows and from left to right across the columns, they are moving through the different cognitive levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- The numbers of the matrix are there so students can keep track of and communicate which rows and columns they have already used. Typically, with a group of four students, I ask them to write six total questions on a unit or topic, so each row and column is completed.
- I will sometimes define a particular topic for the activity; other times I leave the topic open to anything we have already studied so far in the unit or semester.
- I will sometimes require students to write Multiple Choice questions with four or five possible answers rather than open-ended or short-answer type questions, thus helping students realize how hard it is to write good MC questions. It also prompts discussion of various test-taking strategies for MC tests.
- For some classes, one incentive for writing good questions during this activity is that I will use some of the better ones on their test. In that case, I will scan and post all the groups’ questions on our LMS for their studying. They appreciate when they see one of their questions on the test.
- If I am going to do this activity in class several times over the semester, I keep each group’s matrix, so when they work in the same team on the next unit/topic, they get the matrix back and can't reuse any of the question "numbers" they used before. But they still have to ask a question from each row/column intersection. Since we have four units in my Anatomy and Physiology class, that still leaves some "numbers" unused, but they have practiced writing questions at all cognitive levels, and there will be variation among the groups.
For my Anatomy and Physiology hybrid class (web-based and in-person format), I have used the question matrix as an individual online formative assignment instead of a group activity. Students write their questions across the row/column matrix and submit their numbered questions to me with correct answers, or post them as part of an online discussion. I can then convert their questions into an LMS quiz that the students can take for bonus points as they are studying before the unit test. In this case, since the students submit their questions with the matrix number, I can easily keep track and make sure they don’t use the row/column number more than once over the semester.
Terry Thomson is a Professor of Biological Sciences at Wor-Wic Community College.