People have so many ways of gathering information, whether it is collected from a social media platform, through scholarly articles and research, simple search engine results, or traditional library card catalogues – okay, maybe those are gone and replaced by the digital systems, but the point is made.

But when it comes to processing that information and placing it all into coherent structures, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out the best strategy to implement when it comes to students and education. Multiple choice and essays show the range but short answer can be one of the more effective tools teachers can apply to their classrooms pedagogy.

Keep It Short

It’s easy to select an answer when it is provided in an assessment, often showing a low level of evaluation in comprehension. On the other end of the pendulum, assigning an essay can truly be difficult for others to piece together in a sensible way. So “short” answers can win in this situation. These types of responses are not taxing but require thought and calculated answers that prove their knowledge. By design, they require a form of communication in sentence structure and thought, thus highlighting the processing of information. And educators can manipulate the designs. Requiring an answer in just one sentence can force students to process all of their content before selecting the most effective way to convey it. There is no guessing to this form. They must know their content.

As well, a short paragraph of 4-5 sentences doesn’t bog a teacher down in reading the fluff: wordy, space-filling introductions and conclusions (not that there isn’t a place for those parts of the writing formula; they just need to be employed at the appropriate time for that assessment). A shorter requirement in writing allows room for adding in details. And as a bonus, grading these answers can be quite quick.

Use Questioning

When an educator is designing short answer questions, he or she must have their objectives and unit goals in mind. An appropriate assessment of the learning goal, standard, or skill is required in order to make the question effective. Language must be clear and concise. Teachers don’t want their students to spend too much time trying to dissect a multi-layered question that can too often be confusing.

Be brief in design but provide specificity so those answering know exactly how they need to approach and focus an answer. Design them according to a rubric that allows for diversity and open-mindedness in perspectives. These shouldn’t be created in order to get an answer that only the instructor considers as correct. As part of the professionalism of teaching, educators should challenge their own notions of thought through reflection and practices.

Ignite Creativity

Again, teachers shouldn’t get stuck trying to fill time or provide some assessment because it is a requirement for a grade. There are so many varying elements to make students think. When it comes to creativity, educators should focus on the demographics of their students. Whether they admit it or not, kids love solving problems. Questions can be designed so that they attempt to solve issues in which students are interested, especially when it pertains to technology and social media.

  • What are the Snapchat handles of a novel’s characters? Explain why those characters would use that particular handle, citing details.
  • In 40 words, how can math save the world? What lesson particularly stands out to you as examples?
  • If science and history were people, explain how they might collaborate to help eliminate one problem in the world.

Content and Form

While creativity can be a fun way to engage students, the serious element is just as important, especially when focusing on structural forms, grammatical components, and stylistic aspects. As previously mentioned, the short answer question can allow instructors a swift opportunity to review strengths and weaknesses and then adjust instruction to correct and compound.

Journaling as bellringers or even homework can be a good opportunity to evaluate and digest observations. Grammar can be easily adjusted through the short answer process in a quick and impactful lesson, which stems from well-designed questions.

Get Collaborative

Nothing gets students moving faster or with more apprehension than when the word “partner” is spoken aloud. But this can be an excellent opportunity to pair students in order to require them to think. Collaboration and short answer provides the chance to bounce ideas off one another without being thrown into the spotlight. A properly designed question can get students processing information and focusing on others’ viewpoints in order to create the appropriate answer. It can further build social relationships that acknowledge others’ points of view.

This also may allow for inter-department curriculum planning and design. Social students and English language arts teachers could combine unlimited content for short answer questions, meshing the worlds of history and literature. Creativity can abound in these questions and projects. As well, science and math often can be found holding hands when it comes to ideas and philosophies. Hands-on projects can apply formulas, collaborative measuring tasks, and life-like experiments, all while engaging students.

In order to lead a fulfilling career, educators must move beyond the “have-to” thinking of simply completing each task and toward an efficient instructional model that emphasizes effective assessment procedures. Short answer questions don’t have to be drudgery; creativity, style, structure and collaboration have an integral role when considering this form of assessment. Focus on pulling out those thoughts from each and every student so they can see their individual successes in a strong, communicative style.