What Matters: Prompts That Get Students to Analyze, Reflect, Relate and Question

You probably use these four techniques quite intuitively when you read a journal article. You analyze the main points, reflect on the findings and conclusions, relate the findings and conclusions to something you’re interested in or working on, and ask questions about the conclusions. microscopeWouldn’t it be great to help students develop these habits of thinking? Faculty Focus author Maryellen Weimer explains a technique that involves a four-prompt set that can be used with a reading assignment, case study, observation assignment, or any activity in which you want to promote critical thinking habits in your students. The prompts are:

  1. “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea that you learned while completing this activity”
  2. “Why do you believe that this concept research finding, theory, or idea is important?”
  3. “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life”
  4. “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?”

The prompts are versatile and adaptable.

  • Use just one or two of the prompts after introducing a new topic to determine what students learned and what they think about what they learned. Give students no more than 5 minutes to write their answers to your two prompts, collect their “papers” and quickly review, correct any misconceptions, emphasize important points, answer questions. This can easily become a small group in-class assignment.
  • Have students use the prompts to respond to a reading assignment or video viewing. Weimer recommends having students write a 100-word response to the first three prompts and share in small group discussions.
  • Once they are comfortable with the prompts, student can use them as a study strategy. If you offer review sessions, consider using the prompts as the session framework.
  • Use the prompts as a way to conclude a course and encourage students to reflect on their “big picture” learning. Weimer rewords the prompts to fit an end-of-class activity: (1) What’s one important idea you’ll take from this course? (2) Why do you believe it’s important? (3) How does it relate to your life? (4) What are the next questions you want to find answers to?

“Sometimes I think” writes Weimer, “we gravitate toward fancy techniques – the ones with lots of bells and whistles. . . . A technique like this showcases a simple but useful way students can interact with the content.”  By the way, these prompts work great in online discussion forums!

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