Teaching and learning Gem #20 – Popcorn Questions

This Friday Gem comes from Priscilla Abeelack who shared this idea with the Geography and Economics department.

  • The teacher starts by posing a question. At the end the teacher says “Popcorn + student name”
  • That student then responds fully and then asks another related/development question to take the discussion further. The student says “Popcorn + student name”
  • Or the student asks another question that is unrelated, for a good bit of interleaving!
  • And so on…until the whole class has been ‘popcorned’.
  • The teacher could start with something very ‘small’ and see how ‘wide’ the discussion goes, or vice versa; or the teacher could start on one topic, and see whether students can move to another topic through their questioning.
  • This would also be relevant for languages and other subjects to consolidate new vocabulary or terminologies. For example, ‘define …’, ‘what is the formula for …?’, ‘Explain one effect of …’, ‘Explain one cause of …’.

Popcorn questions is effective because:

  • It helps students create networks of ideas, proven to strengthen storage in long-term memory.
  • It could be useful in revisiting past material (interleaving!).
  • It requires students to really listen to each other and to respond appropriately.
  • It encourages a questioning mindset for students, identifying ways to develop and deepen discussion through asking questions.
  • It puts the responsibility on the students to shape the discussion – they are not reliant on the teachers.
  • It encourages students to take ownership of their learning and classroom experience.