Hello and welcome to your “trail guide” for using question trails in the classroom! Today, I am answering all of your questions about this incredible, kinesthetic strategy that gets students up and moving around the classroom. Whether you’re here because you want in on all the magic and engagement a question trail has to offer or because you have no idea what a question trail even is, you’re in the right spot. You’re on the trail! 😉 But if you want to take a look at the beginner’s map, you can head back to my first post in this blog series: Why You Should Try a Question Trail in Your Classroom
I’ve been using question trails in both middle and high school for years now, and I’ve been shouting about how much I love them from the mountaintops for just as long. At this point, I could probably create and facilitate them in my sleep, but I know they can be a bit confusing and intimidating for beginners. Question trails are one of those lessons that make sense when you can see them in action, and I stand by that! I promise it will all “click” when you try it, but I understand if you need more reassurance than that. I want you to feel confident and excited when you finally try a question trail, so here’s everything you need to know for a successful first trail!
WHAT IS A QUESTION TRAIL?
A question trail is an engaging, kinesthetic activity that gets students up and moving around the room on a “trail” of multiple-choice questions. It’s a fabulous strategy that can make just about ANYTHING more engaging. At each station on the trail, students answer a multiple-choice question that sends them to the next station on the trail. If students answer each question correctly, they will travel to all stations and complete a full circuit with the correct sequence of stations. If students answer a question incorrectly, they will eventually end up at a station they’ve already completed, which signals that they need to backtrack to determine their mistake. This gives the students (and the teacher) clear, immediate feedback. You can quickly see the trailblazers (who are “getting it”) and the students who are lost in the woods (who are struggling).
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO CREATE A QUESTION TRAIL?
Admittedly, it takes a while if you’re creating a question trail from scratch! However, there are a few ways you can speed up that process:
- Use questions you already have! Maybe you have a worksheet, a question bank, or a book of test prep questions. Pull from content you already have so you’re not creating everything from scratch.
- Use a template! When you start from scratch, it can take a while to create questions, form a sequence, and double- & triple-check that everything is correct. When you have a template with a pre-made sequence, all you have to do is plug in your questions and answers, and the activity is student-ready.
You can check out my question trail templates HERE. Each template features a unique sequence and specific instructions so creation is seamless and foolproof! If you’re not up for the challenge of creating your own question trail, you can check out my student-ready trails HERE.
SHOULD YOU MIX UP YOUR TEMPLATES & SEQUENCES?
Yes, it’s ideal if you can cycle through a few different templates or change up the sequences. While many students probably won’t notice a thing if the trails are spaced out, some clever kiddos might catch on if the sequence is the same for every trail. That’s why I have 4 different templates–and more on the way!
WHERE DO STUDENTS START?
Each student (or pair/group) starts at a different question. It doesn’t matter where students start. What matters is the sequence. Trust me, it makes sense when you see it in action!
HOW DO STUDENTS KNOW IF THEY’VE MISSED A QUESTION?
Students know that they’ve missed a question when they end up at a question they’ve already been to. This is their cue that they’ve made a mistake and need to correct it. More on that in the next question!
WHAT DO STUDENTS DO WHEN THEY MISS A QUESTION?
When students miss a question, they have two options: a) backtrack and problem-solve or b) check in with you so you can pinpoint where they got off track. Option b is a bit easier because you can look at the student’s sequence and see where they deviated from the correct sequence (which functions as an answer key).
WHAT PREVENTS STUDENTS FROM FOLLOWING THEIR PEERS ON THE TRAIL?
You! Monitor students like you would with any other lesson, and everything should be fine. As long as you’re actively supervising, it’s pretty easy to prevent this or intervene as soon as you see it happen. Most students are so motivated and competitive that this is a non-issue, but it’s obviously possible. I wouldn’t let this stop you. Cheating is not any more of an issue with a question trail than it is with any other type of lesson or assignment. Students who are determined to cheat or copy will always find a way, but that shouldn’t prevent you from trying new, engaging lessons.
DOES THERE NEED TO BE A CERTAIN NUMBER OF QUESTIONS FOR IT TO WORK?
There is no magic number! However, it helps to have enough questions to prevent “traffic jams” along the trail. I usually let students work in pairs for question trails, so I try to make sure there’s a question for each pair to start at. For example, if you have 30 students in your class, make sure you have at least 15 questions.
FYI: My question trails included in this bundle have 13-15 questions, depending on the template. 🙂
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT STUDENTS FROM GETTING OVERWHELMED?
If the questions are too challenging, students can easily get overwhelmed when they miss a question and have to backtrack. To prevent this, I encourage students–especially those who are confused or not very confident about their answers–to frequently check in with me, the “trail guide,” so I can check their progress. I also sometimes just walk right up to students and check their answers for them to give both of us peace of mind. You’ll find that certain students may want to check in frequently to ease their mind, while others will have no problem zooming through the whole trail without any assistance.
HOW LONG DOES IT USUALLY TAKE FOR STUDENTS TO COMPLETE?
It totally depends on the content, complexity of the questions, and total number of questions! I usually do 13-15 questions and it takes students 25-30 minutes to complete, as long as the questions aren’t too challenging.
WON’T SOME STUDENTS FINISH EARLIER THAN OTHERS? ANY TIPS?
Yes! Because students are working at their own pace, some will finish much earlier than others. I highly recommend having an early finisher activity ready for those students.
Here are a few ideas:
- Let early finishers be fellow “trail guides” who can check their classmates’ answers and help them get back on track when they need it.
- Ask early finishers to go back to a specific question on the trail and complete an extension activity with it. For example, if you’re doing a trail where students identify figurative language, you could ask early finishers to find their favorite example and explain what it means or why the author used that example. If you’re doing a vocabulary question trail, you could ask early finishers to write a paragraph with 5 of the vocabulary words. You get the idea!
- Ask early finishers to write their own “question” that could be used in a future trail!
HOW DO YOU CREATE ONE?
The short answer: with a template so you’re not starting from scratch. The long answer: through a time-consuming and slightly tedious process of creating a sequence and adjusting each question’s answers to fit that sequence! I promise you it makes a whole lot more sense once you try it out first. Many teachers have created their own versions after trying one of mine out or using my templates that work for any content.
CAN YOU SET UP TWO TRAILS AT THE SAME TIME?
Sure! I haven’t done this, but I’ve heard from teachers who have. They recommend color-coding the question trails so students don’t get confused. Another option is making two sets of the same question trail and color-coding those as well. This is a great option if you have large class sizes and are afraid of “traffic jams” (aka too many students crowding at one question).
WHAT KIND OF CONTENT/SKILLS CAN YOU USE IT WITH?
Just about anything! As long as it can be turned into a multiple-choice question, you can use it to create a question trail! For specific ideas, head to this post full of 10 different ways to use question trails in your classroom.
I hope these answers give you the confidence you need to try your first-ever question trail! You can check out my student-ready question trails HERE or my create-your-own question trail templates HERE.
If you have any unanswered questions, drop them in the comments below, or find me on Instagram! I share lots of quick tips, examples, and ideas in action there. In fact, here are a few quick links to all of my reels on question trails:
- What a question trail looks like in action
- Why you should try question trails
- Reviewing figurative language with question trails
- Question trail pro tip
- What’s a question trail?