Question Boomerang/alx

From Open Pattern Repository for Online Learning Systems
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Question Boomerang
Contributors Christian Köppe, Joost Schalken-Pinkster
Last modification June 6, 2017
Source Köppe and Schalken-Pinkster (2013)[1][2]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

A question is asked during a lecture.


If all answers are given by you, the students start to rely on you only. They don’t recognize that they sometimes already know the answer to the question and stay more passive.

A teacher who procides all the answers herself increases the chance that the students see the teacher as the only source of information. All new questions that arrise will be asked to her, and only her, instead of stimulating the students to look for other sources as well.

Answering all questions by yourself also disengages the students who know the answer and encourages them to withdraw.

From the students’ perspective, directly asking questions that come up, instead of thinking first about the answer for themselves, increases a certain thinking laziness, which in consequence leads to less active students.


Therefore: Send a question back to the students like a boomerang. Let them try to answer it themselves as group or to think of possible answers. Do this repeatedly until they found the answer themselves or the question requires the introduction of new material.

You should always Honor Questions (Honor Questions), because when students are asking questions it is most often an indication that they are actively engaged in the lecture and with the content. However, in many cases some or most students already know the answer or can deduce it from their existing knowledge. Throwing the question back to the students helps them to activate that knowledge or to think about new ways of applying their existing knowledge. This is an implicit application of Linking Old to New (Linking Old to New) and Expand the Known World (Expand the Known World).

Encouraging the students to answer helps to develop the class into a community of learners who are learning together, instead of merely a group of individuals learning from another individual (the teacher). It also shows them that they as a class already possess some knowledge which they can share. The class no longer has to rely on the teacher as the sole source of information anymore and might in some cases even lead to short-term Invisible Teacher (Invisible Teacher).

The simplest way of implementing the solution of this pattern is to ask “What do you think yourself?" . This mainly applies if you want the student who asked the question to answer it by herself. If you want the whole group to think about the answer, then one possible way of bringing the question back to the group is “Does someone else know the answer?" or — in a somewhat less strong way — “Who has an idea on how to approach this question?". You should stimulate the students to provide an answer in their Own Words (Own Words) instead of just repeating definitions or terms, so that you can also judge if they really understood what they are talking about.

When applying this pattern it helps to repeat the question if you’re not sure that all students heard and understood the question. A simple application would be stating “So the question (asked by x) is . . . ”. Mentioning the student again who has asked the question is not necessary, but might sometimes be a good way to Honor Questions (Honor Questions) and make it more personal. Sometimes the question asked is somewhat vague. If you think you’ve got the intention of the question, then try to rephrase it first and let the student confirm that this indeed was his or her question. If the question doesn’t make sense at all, ask the student to rephrase it or to give a possible example of what he or she is thinking about.

Following is a summary of common strategies for applying this pattern:

—Simply return the question by asking: “What do you (the other students) think?". This is the most common strategy.

—In case of questions that can simply be answered by “yes" or “no", but where this answer is related to other important implications, then it is helpful to send the question back in a different way, namely by asking: “What would happen if you do x?" or “What would the consequences be if y would be possible to do?". This kind of question triggers a deeper thought process than just having a “yes" or “no" answer.

Even though one might have taken into account that applying this pattern might take more time (as it is sometimes hard to predict how the students will answer and where some follow-up discussions will lead), it is generally a good idea to include sufficient {[Patternlink|Buffers}} in the lecture. If you have a plan for your lecture and the discussion is still ongoing, but you feel that the discussion is valuable, then think about to Let the Plan Go (Let the Plan Go). If the question requires an answer that you cannot give at this moment (for whatever reason), then make use of a Question Parking Space (Question Parking Space) to ensure that it will not be forgotten and answered later.

Over-applying this pattern can have some negative consequences. If all questions are sent back to the students they might start to miss the value of asking questions (if they always have to answer them by themselves). So one needs to find a good mix between Question Boomerang (Question Boomerang) and answering questions directly. The main criterion for applying Question Boomerang (Question Boomerang) is probably if a discussion about possible answers is pedagogically useful. On the other hand, if the question is very specific, then it’s probably better to answer it shortly and to continue with the lecture.

In the case of really simple (closed) questions, applying Question Boomerang (Question Boomerang) might be an overkill. Such simple questions often just should be answered directly.

In a lecture on Introductory Programming the concept of loops as programming construct was introduced. During the discussion on the for-loop, one student asked what happens if one uses the decrement operator “–" for the loop-variable instead of the usual increment operator “++". The question was sent back to the whole class, they were asked: “What do you think will happen when we change the operator? Who has an idea?". This way the students were triggered to think about the consequences of using the (in that case) wrong operator (leading to an infinite loop, as the guarding-condition will never become false) and encouraged to discuss the possible results.


  1. Köppe, C., & Schalken-Pinkster, J. (2013). Lecture design patterns: improving interactivity. In Proceedings of the 20th Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP 2013) (p. 23). The Hillside Group.
  2. Also mentioned in Köppe, C., Portier, M., Bakker, R., & Hoppenbrouwers, S. (in press 2015). Lecture Design Patterns: More Interactivity Improvement Patterns. In Proceedings of the 22nd Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP 2015). New York:ACM.