T & L

Remixing great lessons: Probing

By January 7, 2015 4 Comments

Great lessons have key characteristics. Many edu-bloggers have discussed this but for me, the one person that nails it is as discussed in my introductory post to this series is Tom Sherrington. In his series he discusses the topic in some detail across ten posts. In my series I will be looking at how we can take these ideas and remix them while integrating technology in to the mix; not to take away the classic teaching methods he discusses but to augment them to help bring about new learning opportunities. In this post I’ll be looking at probing.

For me, probing is questioning. In Tom’s post he references some great articles on the topic from Alex Quigley and John Sayers. There are classic methods here such as socratic questioning and some more contemporary ones such as ‘pause, pause, bounce, pounce’ or ‘if this is the answer, what is the question’ among many others. For me, using technology gives us the opportunity to question students to give greater learning opportunities. Note, I am not advocating using technology instead of these traditional methods, but merely adding to our repertoire of tools. Questioning and using assessment for learning in our classrooms gives us a really good way of intervening with students before their misconceptions set in. It truly is easier to be able to guide a tree growing than try and correct it after it is fully grown. Learning is just the same.

That said, one of the pitfalls of open classroom discussion is that you cannot canvas the opinions or thoughts of every student. Technology can help with this. Here are a things you might like to try with technology to help with questioning in your lessons.


PingPong – SPOT networking is a free app that allows you to ask questions of the class and get immediate responses back. You can ask different types of questions, not pre-loaded in to the app but simply spoken to the class, who give their quick fire responses. You can ask a variety of question types choosing from 4 or 5 multiple choice options, true or false, a text response or a drawn response. All of which are sent back to the host’s iPad where they can then gauge student understanding from looking at their iPad. The multiple choice answer options give a really quick gauge of where students are at with their knowledge or understanding of topics and enables you to canvas the entire class quickly.


You could argue that you could do some of these with mini-whiteboards and certainly that is an option. If you’re looking to be able to see some of the handwritten responses for your entire class however, it’s a much more efficient way to do this, if you do have access to technology in your classroom. PingPong is a free app.

For another view on PingPong, please visit this post from @matthewwatt.


Before I go any further I am not advocating teaching from PowerPoint. No. No. No. However, use of presentation tools such as PowerPoint, Keynote, Haiku Deck, etc, are great ways of presenting information to students as part of a learning sequence. They can form great references for revision and as a record of topics covered within a lesson.

Nearpod is a tool which has some similar features to that of PingPong mentioned previously but with some significant additional bells and whistles. Nearpod does require some front loading effort from you as teacher, unlike PingPong. Nearpod allows you to tie in your analogue classroom questioning so that you can then canvas whole class response within the Nearpod app on student devices.

How does it work?

  • Upload your presentation slides to Nearpod (you can make the entire presentation within Nearpod if you wish).
  • You interweave different questioning opportunities between the different slides choosing from open ended answer questions, to drawings (which can be annotations of images you upload), to multiple choice questions, polls, fill in the blanks and matching pairs.
  • Run the Nearpod on your device (Nearpod works either in browser on lap/desktops or on Android / iOS).
  • Give your students the room code and the Nearpod loads on their device.
  • Run through your lesson as you would normally.
  • Slide through the slides on your device and it does this on the student devices.
  • Students hit the activity slides and are presented with the activity – they complete the activity and submit the results back to you.
  • On your iPad you can see all the responses and at that time, can also see results of quizzes / polls (so if there are gaps in knowledge / understanding you can deal with them straight away) and with the drawn elements, if you find a particularly good response, you can send that image directly back to all of the devices currently taking part in your lesson.

At the end of the session, a full report can be viewed or downloaded as a PDF. You can also go back and download your lesson report at any time.


Image taken from a training session demonstrating Nearpod, hence incomplete responses


Again, this idea isn’t there as something to replace any other methods you may have for incorporating questioning and probing in your lessons – simply a tool which can augment what happens and in some cases make things more transparent for you as educator. You are able to keep a clear record of student knowledge / understanding and quickly respond in class to any misconceptions that may be occurring from every student – not just those responding to you.


I won’t talk too much about Socrative as I have done so previously here and here. This questioning and AFL tool is something that I have been using for a long time. It is simple to use and is a half-way house between PingPong and Nearpod. Essentially, you can ask either multiple choice (closed) questions, open ended answer questions or true/false questions. You can set these questions in a variety of ways which can be assessed within the app and then downloaded / viewed for quick analysis of understanding.



It works on every platform, either through a device specific app (Android or iOS) or within the browser of a lap/desktop device.

You can present the questions in different formats to check understanding. You can ask quick questions to gauge understanding, take exit tickets at the end of a lesson in order to benchmark progress in your session or you can have group quizzes with space races. Alternatively you can have a traditional quiz with every student completing the preprepared quiz.


That’s right. Post-its. They are probably my favourite piece of technology ever. They have so many uses, many of which tie in to recording student ideas, thoughts, responses – they are fabulous. With additional technology you can take their use further. The problem with Post-its is that they don’t last. From one lesson to the next, that record of things learned either ends up in a big pile of Post-its (they never go back in a stack quite the same, do they?) or are lost forever.

The highly practical ‘Post-it Plus‘ app (free on iOS) is a great tool that enables you to snapshot Post-its together to access again in the future. Rather than having to photograph each individual Post-it, the software recognises the edges of the Post-it so you can snapshot many of them together at the same time. The software then enables you to view them in lots of different ways. For great sharing opportunities with your class, it can convert them in a to a presentation where each Post-it is a slide, it can save them as images, it can also save them as a PDF. Alternatively, if you’re able to mirror your device via the projector in your room, you can easily swipe through the various Post-its to recap the thoughts from the previous lesson. You can create collections of boards too, edit notes, rotate them, add your own note from within the app too. You can also use the app to arrange the notes so that they are aligned tidily and more easily viewable. For free.

Post-it plus

As a tool for probing in the classroom, one way in which I have used it as a plenary tool. I have brought up the Post-its from a lesson where students have written one of their key learning points on a Post-it. I then ask other students to explain it. In this way, I’ve taken an analogue piece of technology, tied it to digital and used analogue questioning techniques within the class to reinforce and deepen the learning from within the lesson. As you might guess, I simply love this as a tool to support probing in lessons. It’s simple. It’s effective. It’s free.

Sans remix

As mentioned in the first post, sometimes the remix doesn’t add anything extra to the original. Let’s take John Sayer’s questioning grid:

Taken with kind consent from John Sayers >> http://sayersjohn.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/questioning.html

Or his more developed version here:


This is a great analogue tool to use in your lessons. Yes. If I wanted to, I could PDF this, add it and save it in to an annotation tool to use in the lesson, but does it actually bring anything extra to the learning? Not really. Here, the remix doesn’t equal something better and in my opinion, it doesn’t really augment it either.

Another example could be the pose, pause, pounce, bounce model – this, in my experience really does work best working with groups face to face. Going round the room. Working with the students. Developing the learning conversation. Of course, you could always use some tech to help with who gets to answer the question using a tool such as ‘Decide Now‘ or the ‘Random Name Picker‘ from ClassTools. That would be helpful, perhaps, but personally I’d rather be a bit more reactive to student expressions in the lesson and pick students based upon my experiences of previous answers or looking at work in their lessons.

The point I’m making is as I’ve tried to make clear in this post and many other times in my blog – tech isn’t always the answer – but sometimes it can bring about much clearer, more transparent, more developed learning outcomes for the students. Try when you think about using tech to bear that in mind. Also – don’t spend too much time making something whizz / bang to use in your lessons. Be mindful of the time it takes for you to create resources, electronic or otherwise, for your lessons. Does your time investment result in a learning investment that brings more than it would without the tech? If it doesn’t then question whether it is actually worth it. Often, it isn’t!

I hope you’ve found this post useful. If you have any thoughts, please pop them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Further thinking:

Memrise is a great tool for supporting learning through questioning outside of the classroom.

Why not try using Google Forms to make learning pathway journeys for students that, when faced with a question – they choose the answer and move forward to another question based upon their previous question. Mix the questions up with questions ranging in HOTS to LOTS to move students to a place where you can truly gauge their understanding and level of knowledge. This is a remix of an idea by @OhLottie here.

Consider using a Padlet wall (or you might like Corkulous as an alternative although I prefer Padlet) with a question in the middle of the page – this remix is based upon the ‘if this is the answer, what is the question’ idea. Write the answer in the middle of the page and see what questions students can come up with around the wall that you’ve made. Alternatively flip your electronic questioning tool, rather than give students answers to choose from – give them questions!

With Socrative – why not put things right in the seats of your students. Get them to create a teacher account and come up with the questions for the rest of the class themselves! Then share the quiz with you, chosen at random of course! An alternative to Socrative too is Kahoot which is a great tool and been discussed in some depth here by @gideonwilliams.

If you’re using question stems, then why not randomise them – you can do this with ball pits, fortune cookies and all sorts of analogue ideas but why not put them in to the random name generator and do it that way instead?

If you’ve read this far – phew! Thanks! Well over the recommended 1000-1500 word mark!

Over and out!

Ps, thanks to Lisa Ashes for being a sounding board for my ideas here and providing good balance!


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