Write effective poll questions

Effective poll questions should address a specific learning goal, content goal, or skill. This could include presenting a new concept and linking it to prior learning, showing an example of a new concept, or applying a mastered concept to a new situation.

Questions should be designed based on the pedagogical purpose, which may include:

  • building class community through an icebreaker
  • assessing students' background, knowledge, or beliefs
  • making students aware of others' views or of their own
  • identifying misconceptions and confusion
  • distinguishing between related ideas
  • showing parallels or connections between ideas
  • exploring or applying ideas in a new context.

Qualitative questions that avoid calculations, memorization, or facts are recommended as these allow the student to focus on the concept without becoming distracted by details.

Designing questions that produce a wide set of responses, including incorrect answers or common misconceptions which can then be explored can also steer students toward deeper understanding of concepts. To construct such questions, it is helpful to:

  • identify student misconceptions and include them as answers, plausibly phrased
  • listen to students to find out how they think, and pay particular attention to wrong answers
  • include answers that contain common errors.

Design of questions

A variety of question styles is usually best. Here are some suggestions of question structure to apply to your polling questions.

  • give a term or concept, and have students identify the correct definition from a list, and vice versa
  • give a graph to match with the best description or interpretation, and vice versa
  • match a method of analysis with an appropriate data set, and vice versa
  • link the general to the specific
  • provide questions that students cannot answer, to motivate discussion and curiosity before introducing a new topic
  • require sequencing of ideas or steps
  • identify incorrect steps or statements
  • apply a familiar idea to a new context.

Other recommendations

  • limit the number of answers to five or less, so that question is easy to read and consider
  • assess knowledge of jargon separately from concepts to ensure that each is addressed clearly and effectively
  • create wrong answers (distractors) that seem logical or plausible to prevent “strategising” students from easily eliminating wrong answers
  • include “I don't know” as an answer choice to prevent guessing
  • plan to ask some questions twice to allow peer learning and build emotional investment. (Allow students to answer individually, but do not display the correct answer; then direct students to discuss the question with their peers and answer again.)

For additional tips on writing questions and question types, see How to write questions for assessment tasks.