Student-Defined Questions

Facilitate Student-Defined Questions active learning activities in a physically-distanced learning space.

Time and Effort

Instructor Prep TimeMedium
Student Activity TimeMedium
Instructor Response TimeLow
Complexity of ActivityMedium


Student-Defined Questions have students individually reflect on a reading assignment, lectures, 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 important features of course content,
  • To formulate questions and answers, and 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


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate Student-Defined Questions learning activity within a classroom with a physical distancing layout.


  • Formulating a good question is a difficult task and one 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 and model response to the question, and submit it to the instructor.


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


  • Review the outcomes of the activity.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • Classroom furniture is not to be rearranged to facilitate activities. If you need a different general assignment classroom to meet your instructional needs, contact your curricular representative.
  • If students are to move around the room during an activity, consider the mobility, location, equipment, and furniture needs of all students.
  • The physical distance between students (particularly in large lecture halls) may make it difficult for students to hear one another when they are asked to speak.
  • This same physical distance may increase the noise level in the room as students try to speak to one another. This noise level may cause issues for some students. To this end, it is recommended that group size be limited to pairs (ideally) or triads at most. Activities requiring larger group sizes should utilize text-based chat solutions like those found in Zoom.
  • The technologies recommended here should meet most campus accessibility requirements. However, you should check with the McBurney Disability Resources Center for guidance on any specific accommodations for your students.

Technical Documents


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

See Also: