“It would be hard to name a more valuable pedagogical accomplishment than the mastery of questioning, listening, and response: three teaching skills as linked, though distinct, as the panels of a triptych.”
C. Roland Christensen

Education for Judgment, 1991

The three essential skills of questioning, listening and responding are the backbone of discussion-based teaching. While each is important in its own right, the skills are intricately interrelated: the potential effect of a good question is only fully realized if accompanied by active listening, which in turn is an essential prerequisite for the appropriate response, whether in the form of an acknowledgment or further questioning.


Experienced case instructors employ different types of questions at various points in the class to shape the arc of the discussion toward student discovery and learning. Questions for Class Discussions provides examples of questions found to be particularly effective in each of four major categories: starting a discussion segment, following-up during a discussion-in-progress, transitioning from one segment of the class to another, and handling challenging moments when the discussion is at risk of becoming bogged down or thrown substantially off-course. 

Instructors can prepare certain questions in advance of the class session-particularly questions designed to start each discussion segment and to probe for analysis specific to the assigned case. Other questions are formulated in the flow of discussion as instructors draw on a more standardized repertoire of questions in response to student contributions in real time.


The organic nature of a case method discussion requires instructors to listen carefully throughout the class session and encourage students to listen closely to each other. Effective listening goes beyond attention to the content of student contributions: it also includes:

  1. What is said and how it tracks with the class discussion and agenda
  2. How things are said (emotional under-currents: tentative, strong, or unenthusiastic)
  3. Contradictions (what is being unsaid, e.g. ethical issues)
  4. Disconnects (comment doesn’t align with the previous comment or general class understanding)

Listening at this deep level requires preparation and flexibility, which enables the instructor to adapt to student comments and advance the discussion.

Instructors should signal that they are listening by maintaining eye contact with each student who speaks and nodding as appropriate. Although the instructor may move to the board to record aspects of the comment during the contribution, avoid looking at notes or the clock, or scanning the room for new hands while the student is speaking.


Case discussions can be profoundly affected by the instructor's verbal and nonverbal responses to student contributions. Instructor responses can provide feedback and direction to student contributors in real time, shape the content and flow of the discussion, and influence the energy level of the class. Case instructors find it helpful to acknowledge each contribution in some way, whether through a simple nod or verbal affirmation, a restating ("echoing") of the essence of the contribution, and/or the recording of the comment on the board. Yet experienced instructors are typically reluctant to give direct feedback after a comment, such as "brilliant analysis!" or "you're wrong." Instead, they prefer an indirect approach, soliciting reactions from other students and using follow-up questions to probe for greater depth or clarity. In general, instructors should view responses as micro-level opportunities to guide the participant-centered learning process-typically through minimal means, but occasionally through more significant interventions designed to refocus, reenergize or otherwise redirect a meandering or confused discussion

Questioning, listening, and responding

Questioning, listening, and responding are the three basic skills required for leading a participant-centered class.

Three Important Characteristics of Questions

A question can be an effective tool for shaping a case discussion. Questions can help narrow or heat up the discussion.

Leading Questions

Ashish Nanda
Professor Nanda discourages the use of leading questions in a discussion-based environment.

Listening at Four Levels

Professor Garvin describes how a discussion leader can listen at multiple levels.

Teaching Students to Listen to One Another

Professor Garvin offers tips on getting a discussion back on track when students mishear.


Professor Garvin shows how echoing can be used to underscore an important idea.

Responding to Different Interpersonal Styles

Ashish Nanda
Professor Nanda talks about the art of responding in a way that energizes rather than silences the student.