Questioning in the Art Classroom

By The Arty Teacher - January 28, 2022

Some of my most rewarding lessons have been when students have really engaged with the discussion. Art teachers are exposed to many different methods of using questioning in the art classroom but what is right for you?

You will have learnt about it in your training, read about it in books and stumbled across it on the internet. Here are some strategies that I like and work well in the art classroom.

What does bad questioning look like? 

It’s a good idea to analyse what bad questioning looks like. Here’s what I think it looks like:

The teacher is engaging with a few pupils who are providing all the answers and the rest of the class has switched off as they know they won’t be asked. 

Does this sound familiar? It’s all too easy if you don’t plan for good questioning or get into good habits.

Thinking Time & No Hands-Up Questions

Providing ‘thinking time’ is a strategy where you tell the students what questions you will ask them in advance. You could do this verbally or have the questions on the board.

Don’t you hate being put on the spot? Some people rise to the challenge but many would freeze. If I asked you in a public forum to name as many constructivist artists as you can, your mind could go blank. So why do this to our students?

Once you’ve given the questions, explain that you will use ‘no hands-up questioning’. This is sometimes called ‘cold calling’. Create a column in your register to tick (or use Roman numerals) when you have chosen a student to answer a question. This way, you can work your way through the class over many lessons.

After doing several no hands up questions, ask if there is anyone who’d like to add anything. This way, you also cater for those students who are bursting to contribute.

Teasing Out More

It’s a great idea to have a bank of questions to tease out more. The questions below are helpful.

Who can add to that? Why do you think that? How do you know that? Who had a completely different answer? Does anyone disagree?

Pose Pause Pounce Bounce

I first read about this strategy on the @TeacherToolKit website. He credits someone else, who heard about it from someone else, who… and so on.

Pose. Pose the question or questions to your students, explaining that you don’t want an answer yet.

Pause. Give them thinking time.

Pounce. Select a student and ask for an answer. Be patient, see what they come up with. Encourage. If they really can’t answer, ask another student. Once you have your first answer…

Bounce. Ask the next student their opinion of the first students answer.

PPPB, like most strategies, works best if you explain the process to your students. Especially the bounce, or you will get the answer to the question again and not an opinion of the first students answer.

Think Pair Share

Think, pair, share almost explains itself. The teacher poses the questions and allows thinking time. Students discuss in pairs their answers, sharing with each other. The teacher then questions students and shares the answer with the class.

This can work really well in the art classroom. This could be used at the start of the lesson to review a process learnt last lesson. It could be used to introduce and artwork that you show they whole class, or for individual art analysis where you give each student an image of an artwork.

Speak Like an Expert

How do you help a student move from giving you replies full of ums and ahs, and incomplete sentences to someone who sounds articulate and fluent? I have had many answers from students, and I think I know what they mean but they are not very good at articulating it.

I’ve had great success with simply explaining that I want replies where they ‘speak like an expert’. I’ve added that I want them to give the sort of reply that I would give. I’ve been amazed by the difference this has made.

You can take this one step further by giving them keywords to include. These could be on the board or on paper, and you can run through their meaning first. This encourages the use of subject-specific language and turns’ passive language’ (the language they understand but don’t use) into active language. (language they use).

When an Answer is Wrong

Sometimes answers are going to be wrong. This may be our fault as we are not making it clearer, or the student may just not get it yet. Either way, it’s helpful to be armed with a response that doesn’t demotivate the student from participating. These phrases might be helpful:

“I like your creativity, but that’s not what I’m looking for this time.”

I Wonder…

‘I wonder…’ is a wonderful phrase to have up your sleeve. It stops the feeling that there is a right answer. It allows your students to use their imaginations and be curious. Have this phrase up your sleeve if you want a creative response.

Zoom and Assume

Zoom and Assume is an art questioning/discussion strategy that I read online in a Facebook group. Zoom in on an image that is appropriate for your topic. Question students about it. What do they think it is? Ask them to justify their answers. Zoom out a bit. Ask students what they now think? Has anyone changed their mind? Why? Do this several times until you see the whole image. It is a light-hearted way to get students to engage with art and, if you’re clever, use subject-specific language.

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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5 responses to “Questioning in the Art Classroom”

  1. Anan says:

    You presented the best ideas here. I like these. Thanks!


    Brilliant. Will be implementing these ideas in class Thanks very much

  3. Colleen says:

    Thank you for the great ideas! So true that students struggle to articulate their understanding when questioned, especially with a technical subject like photography. I push them to answer with correct vocabulary, to speak like a photographer. I’m going add the term “expert”.

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