Dot Physics

Teaching Tip: Blank Paper

This is one of my favorite things to do in class. I don’t do it too often, or it would lose its specialness. Probably the best time to do this is near the end of class.

I pass out half-sheets of blank scrap paper. Students are told to write a question on the paper and turn it in. The question can be about anything. Or maybe it could be a statement about something that was covered and is still confusing. I tell the students not to put their name on it.

I collect all the questions (or statements) and pick some to go over in class. Usually, I get some off the wall non-sensical type questions that really don’t have an answer. However, some of the questions are pretty good. Answering these good questions can be helpful to the whole class. Also, I find that giving students an outlet for their questions makes them feel better. Sometimes they have a question, but are afraid to ask because they think they will look silly. Typically, they think they are the only ones that don’t understand. We (as instructors) know this is not true.


  1. #1 Matthew Putman
    January 26, 2010

    Yes this is a good idea. I try to do this even on exams. Though I sometimes actually do think some questions are especially better than others. Though I would never deduct a student for not having a question, or not an interesting question, I do sometimes give credit for uniquely insightful questions, which require discussion or research to answer. It shows a true curiosity which is important for scientists.

  2. #2 Rosie Redfield
    January 26, 2010

    I do this every week in freshman biology. Part of the weekly on-line ‘reading quiz’ asks them to pose a question about the assigned readings. The ones they ask are wonderful; you can see the lot here:

  3. #3 josh g.
    January 26, 2010

    This is a great tip! I’ve heard many people suggest the opposite, the “exit slip” where students write down something they’ve learned in class or an answer to a quick question based on what was covered. But I think I like your version better.

  4. #4 dean
    January 26, 2010

    Similar approach – at the end of the week i distribute cards and ask each student to write down the one topic he or she is having the most trouble with.
    it’s especially eye-opening to read how they try to describe their problem area, and gives me feedback on which topics to revisit.

  5. #5 Alex
    January 26, 2010

    Great idea.

    Definitely encourage students to write questions about “anything” not just what they’re learning in class. My trigonometry teacher in high school had a question box and every Friday he would pull out questions to answer. He talked about everything from why the sky is blue to why the world won’t end if all the planets line up along a line (he taught trig and physics). This had a big impact on me seeing a teacher encourage all kinds of curiosity and learning even if it meant taking some time away from talking about conic sections.

  6. #6 John
    January 26, 2010

    I love the idea. When you have those days with 5 mins left this would be an amazingly useful task.

  7. #7 Fzzxtchr
    January 26, 2010

    Great idea! I’m in my 3rd year of teaching and find that some days I feel a bit stagnant. I’m always looking for ideas to incorporate into class. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. #8 CL417a
    February 4, 2010

    This would be an interesting idea to try on your blog. Every once in a while you could put up a “Blank Paper” post so that your readers could post questions about physics.

  9. #9 asia anderson
    October 11, 2011

    OCTOBER\30,1735 and died on july \4,1827,john adams was also

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