Asking and Answering Questions to Deepen Student Understanding

Simply because one student has offered a correct answer does not mean other students are on the same page. In this video, Richard Schwartzstein discusses how he responds to student questions and responses in a way that invites the whole class into the conversation. “Tell me more about that,” is one of his go-to responses to gently probe students’ understanding and demystify their thought process for other learners in the room. “If they tell me the right answer, I don’t always validate it,” Schwartzstein explains, “because I’ll still turn to someone else and say, ‘What’s your thought on that?” Ultimately, asking and answering questions in a way that prioritizes student understanding rather than “right answers” can yield deeper learning.


Richard Schwartzstein, Ellen and Melvin Gordon Professor of Medicine and Medical Education

Student Group



Harvard Medical School


Homeostasis I

Group Size

40 students

Additional Details

First-year prerequisite

  • Instead of simply validating students’ contributions, open up the floor for further discussion and debate. Ask other students to weigh in, offer alternatives, and expand on their classmates’ reasoning. 
  • Avoid quickly correcting students. Instead, lead students to deeper understanding by asking them more questions and gradually building consensus with the larger group. Even if students provide correct answers, you might consider not immediately approving them but rather deferring to the rest of class for confirmation and clarification.
  • Press students for expanded reasoning so that their classmates can follow along and so that you can gauge the depth of their understanding.
  • Peer discussion is linked to student learning gains (Smith et al., 2009). 
  • Class discussions and peer interactions tthat encourage students to recall information can engage students in elaborative interrogation (Dunlosky et al., 2013).