Good Questions for Math Teaching: Why Ask Them and What to Ask, K–6


Open-ended questions can transform classrooms into dynamic learning environments and prompt children to think creatively and critically.

This book is part of the Good Questions, Complete Series.

Peter Sullivan and Pat Lilburn
112 Pages

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What Could Be the Sum?
by Marilyn Burns

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Review by Bill Nutting, Staff Development Director, Mount Vernon School District, Mount Vernon, Washington, from the Summer 2003 issue of Intersection. Reprinted with permission from Intersection, © 2003, by ExxonMobil Corporation.

Powerful instruction involves high quality questioning to make student learning public and to inform teachers’ decision making. As math educators strive to better understand student thinking and support diverse paths to solutions, good questions inform this work. Students can learn by answering good questions and teachers can learn about each student from his or her answers.

Good Questions for Math Teaching is a useful resource book for elementary teachers of mathematics. The book is divided into two parts. Part One provides straightforward background information on the importance of questioning. Characteristics of good questions are provided. A method for creating good questions is outlined, and strategies for utilizing questions in the classroom are listed. For teachers seeking to improve their questioning skills, this section offers practical advice for formulating and utilizing questions in the classroom.

Part Two puts this background information into practice through dozens of sample questions to use during math lessons. These questions are organized by mathematical topics and sorted into three grade bands, K–2, 3–4, and 5–6. This part of the book includes good questions to use in math lessons on the topics of money, decimals, number operations, place value, weight, time, shapes, data and more.

This organization may assist teachers to consider questions as they teach various concepts. If any materials are necessary to process the questions, they are listed in the book. In addition, possible solutions, strategies to reach solutions, or notes related to each question are provided.

Good Questions for Math Teaching helps teachers define and use good questions and provides a wide variety of sample questions that are efficiently organized. High quality questions are a critical component of powerful instruction, and this resource book may help elementary teachers improve this aspect of their instructional practice.

Review by Christina Myren, Editorial Panel for The California Mathematics Council ComMuniCator. From the December 2006 issue of The CMC ComMuniCator. Reproduced with permission, © 2006.

Peter Sullivan and Pat Lilburn collaborated to write the book Good Questions for Math Teaching: Why Ask Them and What to Ask, Grades K–6. The book begins by defining the authors’ idea of what makes a good question:

There are three main features of good questions:

  • They require more than remembering a fact or reproducing a skill.
  • Students can learn by answering questions, and the teacher learns about each student from the attempt.
  • There may be several acceptable answers. (p. 3)

These three features are explained more fully with classroom examples in the first chapter, “What Are Good Questions?”

In the second chapter, “How to Create Good Questions,” the authors explain clearly two methods for creating open questions in mathematics. One method, working backward, involves identifying the topic first. The other method, adapting a standard question, shows the reader how to adapt a question from a textbook to make it an open question. In either case, the emphasis is on planning “the questions in advance, as creating them is not something that can be done on your feet.”

The third chapter, “Using Good Questions in Your Classroom,” talks about the importance of discussion and summarizing the work the students do. This chapter also gives a classroom vignette of how this should look.

The bulk of the book is devoted to examples of open questions to use in your classroom. In this part of the book, questions are grouped by mathematical strand: Number, Measurement, Space, or Chance and Data. These strands are further separated into topics. Number topics, for example, include Money, Fractions, Decimals, Place Value, Operations, Counting, and Ordering.

The questions are further grouped by grade level: K–2, 3–4, and 5–6. After each question is posed, there are hints about how to look at student responses.

Good Questions for Math Teaching: Why Ask Them and What to Ask, Grades K–6 is a book that needs to be in every K–6 teacher’s professional library. At the very least, there should be a copy of this book in every elementary school.

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This useful book helps teachers define “good questions,” offers teachers tips on how to create their own good questions, and presents a wide variety of examples of questions that span 16 mathematical topics, including number, measurement, geometry, probability, and data.

What Could Be the Sum?
by Marilyn Burns

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