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Writing Good Clicker Questions

November 8, 2011 by Karen Tusack


iClicker (, the recommended response system for UW-Madison, hosts frequent webinars to help instructors make the best use of clickers in the classroom. Last summer they hosted a series of 3 free, short (30 minute) webinars open to the public on writing good clicker questions using both the original iClicker and the new iClicker2. To view the webinars in their entirety, go to and click on Attend a Session (on the left), and then on Recorded Sessions (also on the left). I've picked out a few of the best suggestions from some of the topics covered in the webinars:

  • Use clickers every day (or at least consistently), because students can then see the value in them.
  • Never mention attendance! Participation questions can serve that purpose. Students resent having spent money on an"attendance taker".
  • One of the instructors reviews his lectures right afterward and takes notes on what questions worked and what didn't in order to change them next time the class is offered.
  • Good opening questions are based on what they should have read or participation questions to start the discussion going, with points for it.
  • Pick topics that are easy and directly related to the students, such as "in the past 30 days have you engaged in "binge drinking?" A=Yes, B=No.
  • Follow up the question with the national data on the same question. This gets students to relate to national data on a personal level.
  • Pick easy topics that stir emotion (Casey Anthony, Support Death Penalty?)
  • Another good strategy: give a case study and ask a question. Give more info on the case and then ask them the same question again.
  • For hard and quantitative sciences, iClicker2 allows text & numerical entry, which permits "utilization" questions, not memorization questions (questions that require the student to come up with their own answers). The results can show you (real time) where students are tripping up and what you need to do next.  Don't do more than 2 of these types of "utilization" questions per class (out of 5 maybe)
  • Follow up: take at least 30 seconds to visually show them the right answer and why. Having a slide for this is optimal.
  • Deep questions try to find the point at which "old intuition begins to fail and how the students can overcome that failing".
  • These kinds of questions are difficult to author, so search out other instructors' examples.  Some sources:

A few of the remarks of the presentors that I found interesting:

*"I never encourage student collaboration: it just happens"
*"Research has shown that even just pausing for a few seconds during a lecture increases a student's learning!"

If you are interested in getting started with iClickers, visit the UW-Madison website  Letters & Science instructors can contact LSS ( for help with iClickers in the classroom as well.


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