ABC questioning stands for:
The AGREE, BUILD and CHALLENGE (ABC) Questioning Method is a teaching technique used to encourage enhanced discussion and thinking when conducting question and answer sessions in the classroom.
When conducting a question and answer session in your lesson you can ask students if they ‘agree’ with each other’s answers, views and opinions.
If a student says they agree with another student they will need to explain or provide justification as to why they agree.
This enables students to develop a consensus around a particular topic or point of view.
During a question and answer session you could ask students if they would like to build upon another student’s answer.
This can be achieved in two ways:
You could also ask students if they would like to challenge each other’s responses and views.
This should be done in a positive and constructive way to make sure challenge produces a beneficial outcome.
Student should be asked to explain and justify why they disagree.
The ABC Questioning Technique can be used in three ways:
The teacher can use ABC questioning when they are conducting a question and answer sessions with their students, either as a whole class or when working with smaller groups of students. In this example, the teacher would determine which students are required to agree, build and challenge.
Alternatively, the teacher would encourage students to independently use ABC questioning when conducting discussions and debates with their peers. In this example, students would decide themselves if they wish to agree, build or challenge each other’s responses. It is recommended to use a student-led approach where appropriate as this will develop student ability to ask better questions and generate better debate and discussion.
Teacher Led – Student Led Combination
The two approaches outlined above can also be used in combination where students are encouraged to independently use ABC questions but the teacher also supports the discussion by asking their own ABC questions to facilitate when required.
It is important to note that ABC questioning can used in any order and repeated as deemed appropriate by the individual asking the question.
For example, if a student fails to provide a comprehensive response to the initial question the teacher might want to ask multiple students to ‘build’ upon the answer before asking students to ‘agree’ or ‘challenge’.
Similarly, if a student provides a highly opinionated initial response the teacher might want to ask students to ‘agree’ or ‘challenge’ before ‘building’.
In addition to varying the order of ABC questions, the teacher and students can also use this strategy in a cyclic manner, moving between A, B and C, back and forth, as many time as they require, and in response to the discussion.
Two practical examples of how ABC questioning can be used are provided below: one for teacher-led and one for student-led.
The teacher starts a whole class discussion with a broad open question, such as,
What qualities would you expect to find in a good citizen?
The teacher would ask a specific student to provide an initial response to the question, such as:
I think kindness is an important quality of a good citizen.
The teacher could then ask another student if they ‘agree’ with the previous student’s response. Another student may provide the following:
I agree that kindness is important as a good citizen is someone who looks out for other people.
The teacher may then wish to ask another student if they would like to ‘build’ upon the idea of a good citizen. The teacher may ask:
What other qualities would you expect to see in a good citizen?
The student would provide another quality that they believe makes a good citizen, such as:
I think ambition is another important quality of a good citizen.
The teacher may then wish to ask another student if they would like to ‘challenge’ this perspective on ambition:
Do you agree that ambition is an important quality of a good citizen, or would you like to challenge this idea?
The student will be able to share their view on whether ambition is an important quality or not:
I think ambition is important but I don’t think it is essential for being a good citizen. It is not something I typically associate with citizenship.
The teacher can continue this process, alternating between agree, build and challenge questions in response to student feedback to ensure the discussion progresses in a meaningful way.
The teacher asks students to work in groups of four. In their groups the students are given a problem to solve.
The students are instructed to conduct an initial exploration of the problem via a group discussion.
Each group is given a set of ABC cards which they can select and use during the discussion.
The teacher would circulate and support student groups as required but the students are expected to self-manage their discussions and group work.
The discussion would begin by one of the students in the group providing an initial view on how to solve the problem.
Another student would select one of the ABC cards and place it on the table. The student can select any of the cards they feel is appropriate.
If they select the ‘agree’ card they would be required to explain why they agree with the initial student’s input.
If they select the ‘build’ card they would be required to demonstrate how they can build and further develop the initial student’s input.
If they selected the ‘challenge’ card they would be required to critique the initial student’s input and provide an alternative view.
This process would continue throughout the discussion and as the teacher circulates to support each student group they can advise and prompt students in their use of cards.
Encouraging students to use ABC questioning independently is a very effective way to develop improved questioning skills in students.
To support your use of ABC Questioning you should consider exploring the different questions that teachers can ask in lessons. I have written an article on this topic which I recommend you check out called: 18 Types of Questions Teachers Can Ask In Lessons.
I have written an article outlining my personal top 5 questioning techniques to generate more discussion and debate in lessons. You can read this article here: My Top 5 Questioning Techniques for Teachers