Discussion questions are a great way to explore and apply concepts with critical thinking. Despite the different formulations, the questions are specifically crafted to tell you exactly how you should answer them. If you divide the questions into parts, creating a solid answer can be much easier than it sounds!
Part 1 of 3: Determine what is being asked
Step 1. Divide the question into smaller parts
Discussion questions can often be long and there may be multiple questions in one. When you answer, you will have to answer all parts of it.
- Look for conjunctions, such as the word "and," which could break the question down at various points.
- Sometimes it helps to rewrite the question, separating its components. Then you can focus on one part at a time.
- For example: "Using the information from Chapters 7 and 8 on emotional intelligence, give your own example illustrating at least three of the author's main concepts." Up to the first comma, they indicate the information of the chapters that you must include in the answer. “Give your own example” tells you to come up with an applicable response that has not yet been demonstrated in class. The last part mentions what the example should have; that is, 3 or more concepts from these chapters.
Step 2. Pay attention to the words of the task to know how to formulate the answer
Some words in tasks are clearer than others. For example, "compare" tells you that there will be several points between which you will have to find similarities. On the other hand, the word "analyze" may be more abstract.
- In the example above, “Give your own example” would be the task words that show that the question requires an answer.
- There are some wonderful resources that describe each of these task words when it comes to answering a question. If you know English, the page https://web.wpi.edu/Images/CMS/ARC/Answering_Essay_Questions_Made_Easier.pdf has 18 and includes descriptions of what each word tells you to do.
Step 3. Determine what the other keywords are
There are three types of keywords that can help you better target and understand the question: homework, content, and limiting. By identifying these words, you will be able to define what question they are asking you and how to answer it.
- Content words are usually the nouns that provide the most insight into what the ideas encompass. They will tell you the information (who, what, when and where) you need to know in order to respond.
- The content words in the example would be "Chapters 7 and 8 on Emotional Intelligence."
- Limiting words are usually phrases or adjectives that give you clues as to what the question might be looking for specifically. These might seem like filler words, but they are not. Each word in a discussion question is a clue to the answer.
- The limiting words for the example would be "your own", which indicates that the example must not have been mentioned in the class or in some text, and at least three of the concepts ", which indicates the number of concepts you must include in response.
Step 4. Ask for clarification on what to do if something doesn't make sense
If you don't understand what a question means, ask. Understanding what to answer is vital to doing it correctly.
- Talk to the teacher or whoever asked the question, if possible. This person will be the best resource to explain the reasoning behind the question.
- Talk to your classmates or other people trying to answer the question, if you have permission to do so. Sometimes a different perspective can help clarify what you might not notice in the question.
Part 2 of 3: Crafting a Thoughtful Response
Step 1. First restate what has been asked
If the question says “Mention how Leonardo da Vinci changed the art of today”, start the answer with something like “Leonardo da Vinci changed the art of today by doing…”. This will show that you are answering the question.
- You don't have to repeat the question word for word. However, including it in your answer will immediately signal that you are on the right track.
- If you can't, you will have to go back and start by identifying what the question asks for.
Step 2. Conclude the introductory paragraph with a thesis statement
A thesis statement will summarize the points you plan to make in the body of your answer, usually in the form of a list. Basically, it is an outline of the answer in one sentence.
For example: "The iconic works of Leonardo da Vinci remain some of the most widely taught works, and because PUNTO UNO, PUNTO DOS and PUNTO TRES changed modern art forever." This presents the points that you would divide in the answer and redraws the question at hand
Step 3. Answer as required by the task words
If you must "prove" something, respond with facts that connect to each other, which will lead to the conclusion. Do not include your opinions, unless you are asked to do so, as the evidence must be based on the facts presented in the material, not what you believe to be true. However, if you can support it with evidence from the text or the lectures, you will do better than you would if you did not answer that way.
- The word relates in a discussion question requires you to make chronological connections between two events.
- The word define It not only seeks that you create a clear description of a topic or an idea, but that you support it with the context and the material that will lead you to that conclusion.
- The word points out gives you the opportunity to divide the question into its main components. Then add the details of each of these events or main points from the classes.
- In the da Vinci example, the task word "mentions" is an open opportunity to create an argument for (or against) the notion that art changed even in today's world.
- You could mention that the "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper" are still two of the most iconic works, and that they are still taught even to elementary school children.
- As an example, he continues to expand the perspective and depth embodied in the two-dimensional world of “The Last Supper” and the way it has influenced the perspective techniques of modern art.
Step 4. Mention topics and ideas covered in class
Support the points you provide in the answer with the material that you have been taught. This shows that you have learned and can apply these topics.
- You can still have your opinions on the topics, but it is best to use the material to even support the opinions.
- For example, "Why is the author introducing this character?" It could be answered by covering the topic of the omen, if the character hints at a similar one later in the book.
Step 5. Use concrete evidence to support claims
Regardless of the type of question you are answering, you will need to support your claims with evidence from the material. Direct attention to it with a phrase like "An example of this is …" or "We can see it clearly in …". Summarize the material, analyze it to show how it reinforces your point, and remember to quote appropriately. Here are some examples of evidence:
- quotes from literary work for language class
- a primary source document or a quote from one, for history class
- lab results or textbook evidence for science class
Step 6. Address all parts of the question
Just as you have previously divided the question into its components, now you will have to reconstruct it in the answer. If the answer only addresses part of the question, you will have work to do.
- If you have rewritten the question in smaller questions, go back to each one and cross out the ones that you have completely covered with the answer.
- Recheck the limiting words and make sure to cross them all out as well. If you have missed a clue, the answer might be insufficient.
- In the example of da Vinci, you will have to mention his art and the way in which modern art has “changed”. While da Vinci has influenced many fields, you must respond specifically by thinking about "art today," for which you must show that there is a shift in techniques or styles from 1500 (when da Vinci was alive) compared to today.
Step 7. Conclude your answer with a summary
The answer conclusion should recap the main points of the body and indicate how they answer the question. This helps the reader to review the answer in its entirety in a short and compact way.
Part 3 of 3: Refine the answer
Step 1. Take some time to edit
As you learn to divide questions more effectively, you will start to have more time to spend on editing. You can create a good response on the first try, but it is very beneficial if you do at least one more edit.
- Read the answer to verify that it is consistent. Things like the order of sentences or paragraphs can be annoying to modify, but this can be a great tool to further synthesize the idea.
- Cross out all parts of the question that you have answered, considering each keyword. If you have omitted a keyword in the answer, you will have removed part of the entire answer.
Step 2. Verify that you have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion
The introduction will establish the answer and outline the steps in the thesis statement. The body should respond to the task words in a clear but concise manner. The conclusion will re-state how you have answered the question, thus completing the idea.
- Remember to have a thesis statement that points out the points that the body expresses in the answer.
- The body is usually divided into at least three main parts that answer the question. Questions that ask for comparison may only need two broad parts.
- The conclusion should summarize your thoughts from the body of the answer in a way that returns it to the question. For example, you can say "These milestones show why the author thought …" based on the question.
Step 3. Keep in mind that there is usually more than one correct answer
It is common to doubt whether you have the correct answer or not, but most discussion questions will have more than a single correct answer. Rest assured if you have followed these steps, and rest assured that you will get at least a partial score!
- Practice over and over again. You will better answer discussion questions if you practice answering a few.
- Support opinions with facts. If the question asks for your opinion, you must have at least one sentence per idea supporting that opinion.
- Details are the best sign that you know the material. However, make sure they are true and correct details.
- Writing in the first person is frowned upon, unless otherwise noted. It is best to avoid saying something like "I think …" or "For me …".
- Avoid filler sentences that don't add new information. This is a sign that you may not know what you are talking about.