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The top 3 conditions for Elaborative Interrogation

The top 3 conditions for Elaborative Interrogation

3 min read
  • Questioning, Cold-Calling & Wait Times
  • The science of learning

There isn’t a right way to learn. However, decades of research and classroom practice are helping us discover best bets for learning and hone our use of them.

Elaborative Interrogation is one such best bet and has been said to have revolutionised Teaching & Learning. This strategy is all about asking “why” questions, right after teaching students new information. It consists of follow-up questions that prompt students to think deeper – for example, “Why do you think this is?” and “Why does it make sense?”. This way of teaching provides students with richer knowledge and helps cement information into their long-term memory.

But even within strategies such as Elaborative Interrogation, there and more and less effective ways to use them. Researchers have discovered that Elaborative Interrogation can be enhanced in certain conditions. It is important to know and understand what these conditions are so you can create them in your classroom and put this technique to better use.

4 benefits of Elaborative Interrogation

First, let’s look at what makes Elaborative Interrogation such a great technique to use in the classroom. The short answer is that it makes students think hard about the content you are delivering. So, what is it about “why” questions that is advantageous? Well, there are many benefits to this practice, such as:

  1. Allowing students to think more deeply about the material
  2. Students gaining a greater understanding and increasing their knowledge on the topic
  3. Helping you assess students’ understanding
  4. Enhancing students’ ability to remember information in the long term

When is Elaborative Interrogation most effective?

Whilst performing Elaborative Interrogation at any time has been proven impactful, there are times when its effects are heightened. Researchers have identified the top three conditions to make the most out of Elaborative Interrogation.

These occur when:

1. Students have high prior knowledge

The level of prior knowledge your students have is an important factor to consider when using Elaborative Interrogation.

This fascinating study found that students who had higher prior knowledge of a topic benefited more from Elaborative Interrogation than those who didn’t. This is because a higher prior knowledge of the topic or concept you’re teaching can catalyse the production of more suitable explanations for why a fact is true. It provides a stronger foundation for your students to anchor new knowledge to, which makes learning material more memorable for them.

2. Students self-generate elaborations

When using Elaborative Interrogation, it is common for teachers to be the ones generating the elaborations. They will prompt students to think more deeply about a topic by using cues such as “why” questions.

However, researchers have discovered that Elaborative Interrogation is more beneficial when students generate their own elaborations. This suggests that practice in self-generated elaborations can improve students’ understanding of new information – but that you must first train students to use Elaborative Interrogation effectively.

3. Elaborations are precise

When the elaborations are precise rather than imprecise, Elaborative Interrogation tends to be more effective. In this interesting study, participants were given sentences, some imprecise (e.g., “the strong man carried a shovel”) and others precise (e.g., “the strong man carried a shovel to dig out the heavy rocks”).

Results showed that those with precise elaborations recalled more sentences in a memory test thanks to the elaborations becoming more understandable and therefore easier to remember. This makes it easier for students to learn new information and later answer more questions on the subject successfully.

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How to use Elaborative Interrogation in the classroom

Here are a few tips that you can use in the classroom to enhance the effects on Elaborative Interrogation.

  • Encourage your students to use self-generated elaborations by explaining the benefits
  • Give students generic questions starters such as “What are the strengths and weaknesses of…?” or “Explain why … is important” to help prompt self-generated elaborations
  • Increase levels of prior knowledge before moving on to a new concept
  • Add detail to your elaborations to make it more precise for students

Final thoughts

Implementing these conditions while using Elaborative Interrogation can improve your students’ learning and encourage them to engage more deeply with lessons.

Although these may not always be easy to include in your lesson plan, your students will really benefit from them – and it will show in their work. If students have prior knowledge of a topic, can self-generate elaborations or are given precise elaborations, they will be on the right track to perform better in the classroom.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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