Research School Network: Research Bites – Elaborative Interrogation

Research Bites – Elaborative Interrogation

by Durrington Research School
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What is it?

  • This is the process of prompting students to generate an explanation for an explicitly stated fact. This usually involves an explanatory prompt (from the teacher, peer or self) in the form of a question e.g. Why does it make sense that….?”, Why is this true…?”, Why is [X] true and not [Y]?”, or just very simply Why?”.

What does the evidence tell us?

  • The evidence suggests that elaborative interrogation works because it enhances learning by supporting the integration of new information with existing prior knowledge. During elaborative interrogation, learners presumably activate schemata“. These schemata, in turn, help to organize new information which facilitates retrieval. Although the integration of new facts with prior knowledge may facilitate the organization of that information, organization alone is not sufficient — students must also be able to discriminate among related facts to be accurate when identifying or using the new learning information.

How can teachers mobilise this evidence?

  • When questioning students in class, once they give you the answer that suggests they have the core knowledge, ask them a Why question’ to get them to explain this idea further. For example:

T: What two substances are required for aerobic respiration?

S: Glucose and oxygen.

T: Correct. Why are the processes of digestion and inhalation important to respiration?

  • Give students a list of key words/​ideas that have been studied in a topic. Ask them to do two things with this list (a) questions themselves about how these ideas work and why, and write this down (b) explain how these ideas link together.

Further information

The Learning Scientists on Elaboration and Elaborative Interrogation

Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques – Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan & Willingham

Learning with analogy and elaborative interrogation – McDaniel & Donnelly

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