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The Fat and Skinny of It

The Fat and Skinny of It

written by on the topic of Education on August, 2008

Learn the importance of “fat” and “skinny” questions in the classroom.

At the end of the day, I always look forward to going home. My beautiful wife is normally preparing dinner and our two children are doing what typical toddlers do. When I come in the back door, my kids greet me in a way that is similar to how Mickey Mouse is greeted at Disneyland. They come running, shouting and jumping. This makes my day because I know that their excitement is real. Occasionally, I will walk in the door, they see me and go back to playing; then my wife cues them, and they come running. This is nice, but I know it is forced and it does not mean as much as when they do it on their own.

It is always more rewarding for a teacher to know that his student truly understands a concept. When a student requires in-depth prodding or simply memorizes a list of facts to pass an exam, it should cause us to question our teaching methods. Are we training our students for Jeopardy, or are we preparing them to serve God in whatever capacity He has for them?

What is the best way to see if your students truly understand? By asking your students good questions before, during and after the lesson, you can improve their understanding. Questions can be broken down into two very simple categories, Fat questions and Skinny questions.

A skinny question has a definite answer. For example:

  • Question: Who is the governor of California?
  • Answer: Arnold Schwarzenegger

A fat question can have many different answers. For example:

  • Question: How different would our nation be today if California were not a state?
  • Answer: Answers will vary

Opening your class with a fat question will get the attention of your students and put them in the right mindset. It will often lead to classroom discussion, which is a huge plus. Remember, there is not just one right answer for a fat question. This will also help your students develop critical thinking skills.

For the most part, quizzes and tests are filled with skinny questions. Fact after fact is given, memorized and forgotten. This is not teaching. Skinny questions should not be abolished; however, they should not be the only questions that are asked. A skinny education is not real education and will leave you guessing just how much of an impact you truly have on the lives of your students. We are not teaching for a test; we are teaching for life.

If my children had to be cued to greet me each time I walked in the door, I would wonder if they were excited to see me. Even if they say the right things, their actions speak louder than their words. In the same way, even when students can answer all the skinny questions correctly, their understanding of the answers to the fat questions is what really demonstrates the value of their education.

About the Author

Dan Azzarello is the principal of the North Valley Baptist Schools and hosts the Annual Christian Educators' Seminar held in January. He also has authored Exceeding Expectations.

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