Statements as an alternative to questioning

Questioning is an effective strategy to encourage and illuminate student thinking, but it does not necessarily need to take the form of a question. Statements can also be effective to promote elaboration and connected, flexible thinking in a classroom (Coe et al., 2020).

Using statements in the classroom is not intended to replace questioning; it can be used in addition to asking questions. Statements can check for understanding, elicit evidence of learning, or promote opportunities for discussion and peer collaboration. To respond to a statement, a student will be required to use their subject knowledge and understanding. It is a technique that can be used at nearly any level. In an early years classroom, students can discuss and share their thoughts and views. It can equally be used with older students to promote sophisticated debate about a topic.

Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy (2015) have written extensively about formative assessment strategies in the classroom. They write, “To teach well, we have to find out what students already know. But students do not always learn what we teach. That’s why finding out what students do know is essential to good teaching.” Statements can be used just for this very purpose. Wiliam and Leahy also explain a key benefit of using statements in the classroom, “Asking questions tends to close down discussion, because students usually just answer the question. More importantly, when you are asked a question, you can be wrong. You cannot be wrong responding to a statement.”

For example, imagine if a teacher presented the following statement to their primary class, “Roald Dahl often presents child characters as innocent and kind.” In their response, students would be required to use relevant examples. The teacher can instruct the class to recall or find relevant examples to support and challenge the statement. This task could be completed individually through a written response, or it could be carried out verbally by collaborating with peers.

In this illustration, students can provide examples, such as the titular character Matilda, to represent a child that demonstrates kindness and innocence—or Charlie (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as another example. Alternatively, learners could point to other characters, such as Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt (both from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is examples of greedy and selfishly demanding children, respectively. Being able to provide such examples, requires students to possess knowledge of a wide range of stories and characters. Responding to the original statement would be well suited as a task towards the end of a topic or when students have developed a strong knowledge base they can draw on.

Another example of statements in the classroom is with older learners. Using statement as a form of questioning can support a range of skills, such as the ability to analyse and provide supporting evidence. In a history lesson students could be provided with the statement, “The main reason for the Russian Revolution were the actions of Tsar Nicholas”. This statement will require students to draw on their historical knowledge of the different causes of the Russian Revolution, both long- and short-term. Students will need to compare and contrast the significance of the different causes. They could respond to this by agreeing it was the main reason and explaining their judgment, or they could choose to challenge the statement with supporting evidence.

Statements can be used alongside other classroom strategies and techniques, for example a think-pair-share. In this technique, students are be provided with ‘think time’ to write down their initial response; this is followed by an opportunity to discuss the statement and their views with their partner, prior to sharing with the class. In a similar approach, small groups could be tasked with finding information and examples relating to a statement, which is later shared with the class.

Statements can be used as a retrieval cue; students will have to individually retrieve knowledge from their long-term memory and apply that knowledge to their responses. To be properly considered a retrieval cue, students should not use class notes or confer with peers. However, there may be instances to allow it—for example, if the purpose of the statement is to support consolidation of knowledge and understanding rather than retrieval.

We know the power of questioning as a tool to activate our students’ hard thinking. While it’s easy to think of that taking the form of questions, it’s another instance of an effective strategy that can be faithfully adapted. Here’s one final example of statement that you can consider yourself: Using statements is a great way to promote student thinking that encourages conversation and invites elaboration.

You’ve seen that using statements can be very powerful in the classroom, but there are other techniques that encourage and illuminate student thinking which you can explore. You can learn more about the Questioning element of the Model for Great Teaching with the online course that’s part of the Great Teaching Toolkit.


Coe, R., Rauch, C. J., Kime, S., & Singleton, D. (2020). Great teaching toolkit: Evidence Review. Evidence Based Education.

Wiliam, Dylan., & Leahy, S. (2015). Embedding formative assessment: Practical techniques for K-12 classrooms. Learning Sciences International.

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