The Professional’s Toolkit

He was lying to my face about his involvement in the conflict.

The digging discovered yesterday posed no threat to the venue.

And one more,

The company was told to pay $500 million in patent trial.

At the risk of oversimplification, these media one-liners speak volumes about the journalist’s tool kit. The statements stem from six interrogative words used by writers—Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? (W5+H).

Who? (he), What? (digging), When? (yesterday), Where? (trial), How? (pay $500 million).

While you will not find the complete subject exposed in any one statement, you typically learn all the pertinent details as the written story unfolds in compliance with these questions. The why question tends to be reserved for investigative journalism and commentary—the grist of many TV talk shows, serious and comedic.

The plain fact is that an analytical tool kit exists that can be used by any professional (e.g., lawyer, real estate professional, or instructor). But, there’s a lot more to asking a question than simply placing a question mark at the end of a sentence.

Effective questioning techniques in the classroom promote understanding and develop analytical skills. The W5+H is the simple inquiry process to successful learning. The depth of the learning is determined by drilling down through further application of the W5+H. In sum, if you want more, ask more questions. Everything else (audio, graphics, PowerPoint presentations, overheads, flipcharts) is strictly supportive of the experience.

Instructor competency stems from his/her knowledge of how to ask questions—not just by deploying the six interrogative words but also on proper selection and manner of implementation. So often, the quality of the answer is directly proportional to the quality of the question. Excellent instructors are cognizant of what to ask. They use different questions for different purposes. Excellent instructors know how to ask. They follow basic rules to ensure that the focus on the learning objectives are maintained and that the climate for learning remains positive.

It bears repeating that the type of answer solicited arises from the type of question asked. Closed-ended questions (who, where, when) ask for answers that focus on knowledge and comprehension. Open-ended questions (what, why, how) drive answers that revolve around application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Keep in mind that questioning, however persistent, will not succeed if it’s irrelevant to the lesson content and desired objectives. Here you risk becoming an interrogator.

Questions need to be brief. They should be expressed in simple sentence structure. Plain language should always be used. Remember, as well, that there is little value in asking questions if simultaneously you don’t use active listening skills.

The instructor’s first question should be: What are the right questions to ask for this specific content.

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The Professional’s Toolkit