Promoting Thinking, Problem-Solving and Reasoning during Small Group Discussions

Feb. 01, 2011

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 17, No. 1, February 2011, 73–89.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study had two purposes.
First, it aimed to provide an analysis of the types of questions teachers use to promote thinking, problem-solving and reasoning in their students.
Second, it aimed to provide an analysis of the types of discourse the students used to problem-solve and reason during their small group discussions.

Three teachers participated in the current study; one teacher taught Year 5 and the others taught Year 6.
Two of the teachers were female and one was male.
All teachers were regarded by their principals and peers as competent teachers who had good content knowledge and good pedagogical practices (Ball, 2008), enabling them to work effectively with students in their classes.

An audiotape of one class lesson from the three teachers included in the study and a sample of a small group discussion from each classroom were collected and fully transcribed.


The results showed that the teachers used a range of questioning strategies from those that probed for information and challenged children’s perspectives to those higher-level questions that required children to provide reasons, make connections or think meta-cognitively.

The study has also provided information on how students appropriate different questioning strategies and use them during small group discussions.
It appears that when teachers explicitly guide and scaffold children’s thinking, children, in turn, use many of these dialogic exchanges in their interactions with each other to problem-solve and reason together.

Contributions to research and conclusion

This study contributes to previous research in two important ways.
First, it provides an analysis of the types of questions teachers ask during small group learning that help students to make their thoughts, problem-solving and reasoning explicit.
Second, the study demonstrates how students appropriate many of these questioning strategies and use them in their small groups to challenge each other’s understanding, build connections and develop new learning (Galton, Hargreaves, & Pell, 2009).

Ball, D.L. (2008). Content knowledge for teaching: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education, 59, 389–407.

Galton, M., Hargreves, L., & Pell, T. (2009). Group work and whole-class teaching with 11-to 14-year-olds compared. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39, 119–140.

Updated: Aug. 01, 2012