Student Questions Matrix, Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about student questions lately. How do we balance questions with the syllabus? One student’s needs with the rest of the class’s? And once we figure all of that out, what are some great ways to use student questions?

It turned into an infographic and a four-part series. Welcome to Part 1!

My Old De-Facto Mental Model

I vividly remember several instances of student questions hugely derailing my class sessions when I was first teaching.

Questions during class used to feel a bit like being in a batting cage. Questions were fired at me and I remember feeling like was my job to swing at each one and hit as many as I could. A good teacher would be able to answer all of those questions, right? So I should try to do that, right?

Would a good teacher answer all those questions right there on the spot regardless of what they were, what unit the class was in, and who was in her class?

Probably not.

I think that a big part of my mental model was unconsciously seeing questions on a spectrum between “I cannot even begin to answer this” and “I can easily answer this.” Notice how each side started with “I.” In the name of helping my students, I was pretty preoccupied with myself.

A New Mental Model

Thanks to a lot of great teacher education and lots more opportunities to teach, I’ve been using a more intentional and constructive way to view questions as they come at me.

The x-axis is relevancy: how relevant is this question to the current lesson?

My y-axis is importance: how important is this to how many of the students in the room?

(See Part 2 for more details on the axes)

Also, having a Parking Lot in place that is part of my lesson planning and in-class routine is essential.

Without further ado, here’s my little graphic laying out the matrix and three action steps:


The setting where I use this has been in my English for Academic Purposes classes. It helps me navigate my two-fold responsibilities: I’m beholden to a syllabus and to my students. But I think that in a less academic or even a much more student-led context, the same basics can be used. The two axes are fairly subjective and adaptable.

More in this Series, Coming Up!

See Part 2 (the axes), Part 3 (action steps), and Part 4 (metacognition and activities) here in the next few weeks. [I will update these links when I post the new articles.]

Also, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear in the comments how you handle student questions in your own classrooms. I’m especially curious how it goes in classrooms that are more student-led than my academic classes have been.

You’re reading Student Questions, Part 1, originally posted at

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