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“Use Heads Up” Questions

Student Engagement Aids Text Comprehension. Try this “Heads-up Questions” Strategy.

Students working on a computer togetherHow many different ways have you tried to prepare students for the class activities?  How do you get students to participate in discussions and not always have the same students volunteering?  Here’s a strategy from Patricia Dunn called “Heads up Questions.”  Dunn sets the stage by introducing the idea that during class, active participation is expected and she gives students participation grades.  She designates a 20 minute section of class to explore questions that she has given the students before class to answer for homework.  All students know that during this segment of her class, they will be asked to discuss these questions and that volunteers are not allowed.  Students know she will call on them at random to discuss ONLY the questions she provided for the class.  Students are graded on participation as the discussion occurs with a check plus, check or check-minus.  The pressure of knowing you can be called on at random motivates many students to come prepared.  They know she will not ask any other questions than those she gave them to prepare.  This also instills confidence that they will know what is expected so no surprises.

What are the advantages of this method?  First of all, the instructor creates focus on the key concepts for the lesson.  Secondly, it is an opportunity to create a purpose for viewing which targets student’s attention on key material.  Thirdly, it creates accountability for the pre-class work while also adding a safety net for students who are less likely to respond.  This is one way of flipping the class and following up with higher level thinking during the class time. Advantages for the instructor is that one can ascertain whether the students understand the important concepts and clarify misinformation in real time.  This strategy can also be used online with discussion forum questions and answers.  

Here are a few question examples from Dunn.

  • “What are your reactions to Diederich’s and Dragga’s studies?
  • What are some connections between the practices mentioned in Fu’s chapters and some of the practices we’ve beeen discussing so far in class?
  • Daiker also cites Dragga’s study, which showed that … (finish this sentence in your own words, folowed by the page where Dragga is cited.)”


  • What is the evidence that proves X?
  • How can I relate the information in the text to my life?
  • What conclusions/theories/explanations does the author provide?
  • How can these scientific principles be demonstrated?
  • What happened to…?  Why did that happen?
  • How do I see the world differently now?


  • Can I explain how this concept makes sense?
  • How does this concept relate to other mathematics concepts that I have learned?
  • What do I understand now that I didn’t understand before about mathematics?
  • What kinds of problems can I solve now using my understanding of this concept?

In closing, think of creating a purpose for viewing or reading and have students respond accordingly whether it be in class discussions, taking notes, using graphic organizers or taking a quiz on Moodle.


Buehl, D. (2014). Classroom strategies for interactive learning (4th ed.). Newark, DE:  International Reading Association.

Dunn, P. (2018). How to Get Every Student Participating in Discussions:  Use “Heads-up Questions.” NCTE Newsletter.  www.

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