I have heard it said that there are no stupid questions, and while this may be true, I think it deserves some clarification. A well crafted question designed to invoke a particular response can never be stupid, and nor can the person asking it. The very fact that the question was raised implies that the student has identified a specific gap in knowledge and wishes that hole to be filled. A stupid person doesn't even know what they don't know. Even broad questions like "Can you explain that again?" or implied questions like "I don't understand" can be helpful in determining where the explanation ought to begin. As a teacher, I will strive to maintain patience, addressing all questions no matter how outlandish or repetitive.
There are certainly inappropriate questions. I believe that students ought to keep the following things in mind when asking a question in class.
1. Determine how specific your question needs to be. If you know the specific point that you need explained, feel free to cut to the chase. If you are completely baffled, just say so.
2. Remember that in most cases, you are not the only person in the class. If you feel that you are monopolizing the teachers class time, perhaps you should seek help outside of the regularly scheduled class.
3. Attempt to gauge your needs against those of your peers. If you feel that others are likely to have similar queries, then the question will benefit the whole class. If your are the only one who is confused, save the question for another time.
4. If you know for a fact that the question has been asked before, it should probably be held until after class.
5. Remember that good teachers have a prepared lesson plan that includes not only topics to be presented but the order in which they are to be presented. Do not ask questions about a topic that has not yet been covered. This disrupts the flow of the lesson and can negatively affect the ability of your peers to learn.
6. Remember when I said there were no stupid questions? Well I lied. There are. There are really, really stupid questions. You should desperately fear being the person who mistakenly asks one of these questions. Before you even think of raising your hand or uttering a single syllable, ask yourself what your classmates will think of you. Will they be grateful that you share their confusion and that you have bravely stuck your neck out to obtain clarification? Or will they scoff, roll their eyes, or berate you.
These simple guidelines ought to ensure that your questions improve the overall quality of the class, rather than detracting from it. Teachers desperately want participation, but there comes a point when enough is enough. And as a student, you ought to know where that point is.