Q is for Questions

On the way to school a few weeks ago, my sixteen-year-old daughter gave me a new insight into the life of students that, despite about 25 years in the classroom, had passed me by.

My daughter Sophie helps me to understand how teenagers feel, yet even with her aid, I sometimes fail dismally. That’s one of the hazards of growing old.

During the drive to school, she mentioned to me that she doesn’t always understand what her teachers have just explained. I asked her, perhaps a little impatiently: “Why on earth don’t you just ask the teacher to explain it again?”

My daughter replied: “I can’t do that. I don’t want everyone to think that I’m stupid.”

And there was the answer to the question that I’d always asked myself: why is it that the students who could really use advice shy away from asking for it? Conversely, why do the students who hardly require any help at all nevertheless request it?

My daughter is my advisor on all matters relating to the teenage sphere. Yet even with her input, at my advanced age I can be rather slow on the uptake.

Sophie had made the reasons clear with that simple statement. If a student already understands, there’s no shame involved in asking for clarification; those who are all at sea, however, would rather preserve the appearance of being on top of the subject.

I suggested that she couch her request in such a careful, precise way that everyone in the class, including the teacher, would be impressed by her probing questioning technique. There would then be no danger than anyone might find her foolish.

Here are a few ways of asking for help – or at least showing that you might need it. Can you classify them according to the options provided?




Rose’s solution to the question-asking, help-requesting conundrum… I have featured her question in my quiz above, because her idea has many merits: a precise, directed request; limited use of teacher time (so that other students can also gain help); and evidence that she had thought through her work and picked out the parts that she felt required development.

 No teacher, on hearing the most precise and probing questions presented in the quiz above, could doubt the power of your intellect or indeed your eagerness to learn, develop and improve.

Of course, some teachers are neither particularly patient nor sympathetic. They may even assume that if you question what they’ve said, you simply haven’t been listening. A precise question permits you to demonstrate that you have indeed been paying attention; the onus is then on the teacher to explain the topic more thoroughly.

Teachers are not mind-readers. With the years, we gain some insight into what students find difficult and we gradually learn to address some difficulties even before they become evident. All the same, we sometimes assume that students understand better than they do in reality.

That’s why you should try to ask precise and probing questions, even if this seems awkward and embarrassing at first.

Profit from your teachers’ expertise. Let us know when we need to explain something better. Put us to work for you.

Kind regards,

Ms Green



(a) Can you suggest another effective way of asking for help that might lead to precise and useful feedback? You need not only refer to the subject of English. How could you ask for help in your other subjects?

(b) How would you describe yourself in this regard? Do you ask for help easily or do you tend to go it alone? Do you think you are sometimes wary of asking for help or feedback? 

(c) Other students are often the best helpers, because they have already dealt with the same difficulties as you have and managed to work out solutions of their own. Can you recall a time when you have helped someone else or another student has helped you? Describe this experience.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

7 thoughts on “Q is for Questions

  1. I tend to forget set instructions and tasks easily, so I always end up asking the questions for myself and my friends. My friends come first; rather than bothering a teacher, I normally ask my friends for clarification. If we don’t know how to answer a question or do a task, one of us will ask the teacher, and that’s normally me.

  2. I like to try to figure things out by myself with help from the teacher as the last resort though, if my problem is slowing me down, I would most probably go to the teacher for help. I’m sometimes wary of asking questions, especially if everyone else gets the topic except me.

  3. This is what I would say for a question to a teacher: Excuse me, I’m having a little trouble with ………… Could you please clarify what I’m supposed to do …(here)….. and maybe show me a finished product and what you’re looking for in this task?

  4. My general ‘go-to’ phrase is “Ms/Mr Something, I am having some trouble understanding the concept you just explained. Is there any way you could simplify the explanation?”

    I am generally pretty good at asking for help but sometimes, if it is a concept that the majority of the class understands and I don’t, I struggle to ask. I am not normally wary of feedback because I like being given ways to challenge myself and improve.

    I can’t pin-point one single experience but on many occasions, I have asked the people around me to explain a concept the way they understand it, to give me another perspective. When they explain it to me and I understand, I feel extremely relieved and very grateful. This situation usually comes up in Maths, as I can sometimes find it hard to understand.

  5. I am positive that I am confident enough to ask questions about issues I have with the work that is assigned to me. I consider asking questions immensely important as without attempting to grasp a problem you come across when working through a task, you are likely to fall behind the herd and become frustrated.

  6. I am someone who likes clarification on tasks but who can find it hard sometimes to ask for the clarification. If I am to ask a question, I generally always check with my friends to see if they understand what I need clarification on, and if they do not understand it as well, then I ask the teacher. Sometimes when I need to ask a question that my friends and I all struggle with, I will generally ask one of my friends to ask the teacher. If I am asking for feedback, then I am usually good at asking for feedback for myself.

  7. I ask many questions. I find the more I ask the more I learn; in this way I gain knowledge so that I can become more confident in my work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *