Lead Your Learners To Better Thinking

Throughout this month’s Ho’ohana emphasis on learning, I have been thinking about what and how I am learning.  But oftentimes, I am on the other side of the table, working with student leaders, trying to enhance and direct their learning. 

Sometimes the lines are often blurred between student and teacher.  It’s hard to tell who’s doing the learning and who’s doing the teaching.  The journey through the material together usually ends up showing all of us something that we hadn’t seen before.

But there are situations where I must stand in front of students with a message, a lesson, an exercise that will stimulate their learning.  It is during these times that I want to make the most of my opportunity to teach in such a way that the students will make the most of their opportunity to learn.

I’ve used many of the following tips as a way to engage students in the learning process.  Whether you teach college students, jr high students, or a board room full of executives, these are effective practices:

Call on students randomly, not just those who have raised hands.

Ask broad, open questions.  "Yes/No" questions are easy to answer without any real thought.

Utilize "think-pair-share." Give each individual two minutes to think, two minutes to discuss with a partner, then open up the class for discussion.  It is proven that if you can get a person to talk and dialogue in a small group setting, they’ll be more comfortable in expressing their ideas to the larger group.

Remember "wait time."  Use ten to twenty seconds following a question that requires students to think.  Become comfortable with the awkward silence that students need to process what you’re teaching.

Ask follow-up questions.  Questions like, "Why?", "Do you agree?", "Can you elaborate?", "Tell me more.", "Can you give me an example?"

Withhold judgement. Respond to student answers in a non-evaluative fashion.  At certain points in the dialogue it is appropriate to get students sharing and offering feedback, even if their answers are off-base.  If you immediately correct their responses, they will be less apt to participate.

Ask for summary statements.  This promotes active listening.  Asking students to summarize what someone else has just said or what you have just taught them.

Survey the class.  Ask your students something like, "How many people agree with Trish’s interpretation?" (thumbs up, thumbs down).

Allow for students to call on others.  This way, students can involve others without you being the one to invite students into the conversation all of the time ("Richard, would you please call on someone else to respond?")

Take issue with your students.  Require them to defend their reasoning against different points of view.  Some would call this the "devil’s advocate" position.  It may not be that you disagree with your student’s response, but you want them to consider their position against an opposing view.

Ask students to "unpack their thinking."  This asks to students to describe their thought processes involved in arriving at a certain conclusion.  You are asking them to "think out loud" for the rest of the class.

Have students ask questions of their own.  Questions will provide opportunites for clarification, as well as, a chance for you to discover how much of the material your students have internalized and understood.

Whether teacher or student, the important thing to remember is that we usually take away from an experience what we’re willing to put into it.  Involvement, engagement, and application are crucial characteristics of an effective learning experience.

Postcript by Rosa: You can always find Tim Milburn, our Guest Author today, within the right-column listing of our Ho’ohana Online Community. Tim is the author of studentl.inc. His ho’ohana is developing lifelong leaders, one student at a time.

Want more of Tim? Tim’s first post for our Ho‘ohana on Lifelong Learning this month was Are You A Learner?


  1. says

    Lead Your Learners To Better Thinking

    I’m enjoying the sharing of ideas and partnering together that is happening at the Talking Story blog. Rosa writes such insightful wisdom for those who lead and manage other people. Here’s my latest contribution to her emphasis on learning this

  2. says

    Outstanding post. I especially like the “think-pair-share” idea. I’ve never heard it described quite that way, and it’s never been clearer. Thank you for sharing!

  3. says

    Thanks Phil. I led large discussion groups for years. At the beginning, I could never get students to talk, but once I learned this principle, it was easy to get them to open up more and more throughout the discussion. The key is to start small and take them one step at a time.