Question Parking Space/alx

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

Question Parking Space
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

You’re presenting content in a lecture and made clear that you Honor Questions (Honor Questions).


Students often have questions that do not directly relate to the content or require a longer or very specific answer. Answering such a question immediately might disturb the flow of the lecture, but not answering them at all might result in an unsatisfied student.

Not answering the questions asked is an indirect way of not honoring questions. This increases the chance of discouraging the students to go on with answering questions.

Answering all questions immediately might require more time than you have for the overall lecture, even with sufficient Buffers (Buffers). As result there is a chance that you are running out of time at the end and won’t be able to finish the lecture as planned.

If a question is asked where the answer is mainly of individual interest for the student asking the question, but not the whole group, then answering this question might bore most of the group and lead their attention towards non-lecture activities.


Therefore: If a question comes up during a lecture that cannot be answered directly —either because you don’t know the answer or because you don’t have the time or possibilities to answer it— put it in a parking space and provide an answer at a more suitable time or in a more suitable way.

The best is to write the question down. If you can answer it later in the lecture, then it could be sufficient to remember the question yourself (make sure that you really remember it!) or to ask the student to remember it for later. However, the most important aspect is that the question will be remembered and answered at a later moment.

By making sure that all questions are answered, even though not immediately, you still show that you Honor Questions (Honor Questions). The question parking space can also be used if you don’t know the answer. In that case you should be honest and show the students that Nobody Is Perfect (Nobody Is Perfect) or use Question Boomerang (Question Boomerang) as alternative.

If you decide to write the questions down, then of course you need some place for this like a whiteboard or a flipchart. However, this also means that this place might become occupied by these questions and is not available for other activities during the lecture. It is therefore recommendable to use a place that is not required during the lecture. Examples are a special sheet on the flipchart you can flip to if necessary or a simple text editor you keep open in minimized mode during the lecture.

Some answers are only of interest to the student who has asked the question, e.g. if it’s related to his or her work or to a personal project. Answering such questions during the lecture exposes the other students to information that is probably irrelevant for them. In that case it is better to give the answer during Breaks (Breaks) —if applied— or right after the lecture.

Be aware that writing down questions takes time. The longer it takes, the higher the chance that the students draw their attention to other things which means that you have to put some extra effort into getting them back on track. You should therefore try to write down the question as fast and non-interruptive as possible. It hereby is helpful to either find one or two remarkable words that help you (and/or the students) to remember the question (e.g. the words “nested loops" in the example below). An alternative is to use a symbol (e.g. a metaphor) or a piece of an example that represents the question (e.g. the lollypop-notation for UML interfaces).

Remembering the questions without writing them down has the risk that you forget some of them. This might give the students the picture that their questions are factually not answered or valued.

In a course on introductory programming, one lecture introduces the concept of loops. After having explained that all loops need a stop-condition, otherwise they will become infinite loops, one student asked if one also can define a loop inside of another loop. Most students just had heard for the first time about loops, so I decided that this question might be hard to grasp at this moment for most students and to answer it later during the lecture. I valued the question and told this the student (“Good question!"), then wrote down the words “nested loops" on the upper left corner of the whiteboard and told the student that it will be answered later. I then continued with my explanation of loops until we had covered all important parts and did some exercises using Remote Hand (Remote Hand). I then came back to the question and introduced nested loops and thus answered the student’s question.


  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.