top of page

Questioning Techniques

Why is questioning important?

  • Questions are the most common form of interaction between teacher and pupils in the whole-class lessons as well as in group and individual work.

  • Questioning is a key method of altering the level of challenge provided and determining the progress made in lessons.

  • It is the most immediate and accessible way of assessing learning.

What are the purposes of teachers' classroom questions?

A variety of purposes emerge from analysis of the literature, including:

  • To develop interest and motivate students to become actively involved in lessons

  • To evaluate students' preparation and check on homework

  • To develop critical thinking skills and inquiring attitudes

  • To review and summarize previous lessons

  • To nurture insights by exposing new relationships

  • To assess the achievement of instructional goals and objectives

  • To stimulate students to pursue knowledge on their own

Guidelines for Classroom Questioning

  • When teaching students factual material, keep up a brisk instructional pace, frequently posing lower cognitive questions.

  • With older and higher ability students, ask questions before (as well as after) material is read and studied.

  • Question younger and lower ability students only after material has been read and studied.

  • Ask a majority of lower cognitive questions when instructing younger and lower ability students. Structure these questions so that most of them will elicit correct responses.

  • Ask a majority of higher cognitive questions when instructing older and higher ability students.

  • Keep wait-time to about three seconds when conducting recitations involving a majority of lower cognitive questions.

  • Increase wait-time beyond three seconds when asking higher cognitive questions.

Questions to help pupils remember…

Recall questions are a teaching necessity. They’re a quick way of checking for misconceptions and they help to lock in key pieces of information. Using recall questioning strategies that involve all pupils can ensure pace and engagement and also help avoid a situation where only a few pupils (often the same ones) are involved. Here are a few ideas;

  • Mini whiteboards – pupils all show their answers at the same time.

  • Bingo – pupils select a number of keywords from the board and the teacher reads out definitions until someone gets a line or a full house.

  • What’s the question? – give pupils the answer and see how many questions they can come up with.

  • TV quiz shows – take your pick …Who wants to be a millionaire, Blockbusters etc. These work particularly well with an interactive whiteboard. Down the relevant music for extra impact.

  • Nomin8 – at the start of the lesson eight students are given a question each. The questions are typed and laminated leaving space for an answer – each student is given a non-permanent pen to record their ideas during the lesson. During the plenary, students present their answer. This also works well as a group activity.

  • Ask the panel – inform pupils that in groups of three or four they have four minutes to look through their books and identify what they think are the four main points so far in the topic they are doing at present. Ask the groups to convert the four main points they have identified into questions. Bring a group to the front to form a panel and the rest of the class then ask questions on the key points they have identified. Depending on the ability of the class you may wish to allow the panel to either confer, phone a friend (identify someone in the class for help) or have time out (look at their books for twenty seconds)

  • Killer – all students begin by standing up. One person is selected to start. You ask them a question, if they answer correctly they get to nominate the next person, if a question is incorrectly answered the player must sit down and the previous person who nominated them must nominate another pupil. Questions should be made up by the teacher on the spot; this will allow differentiation as required by the group.

The use of Edward de-Bono‟s Thinking Hats can be a useful resource for varying the type of question

Figure 2:

Bloom's Taxonomy

Figure 3:

Bloom identified six levels of questioning, from the simple recall or recognition of facts, as the lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order which is classified as evaluation.

Examples of this are:

  • Evaluation: appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose compare, defend estimate, judge, predict, rate, core, select, support, value, evaluate.

  • Synthesis: arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, manage, organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up, write.

  • Analysis: analyze, appraise, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test.

  • Application: apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, practice, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write.

  • Understanding: classify, describe, discuss, explain, express, identify, indicate, locate, recognize, report, restate, review, select, translate,

  • Knowledge: arrange, define, duplicate, label, list, memorize, name, order, recognize, relate, recall, repeat, and reproduce state.

How to…. get everyone involved.

  • Introduce no hands up questioning. Give plenty of thinking time and make it safe by matching the question to the pupil carefully and by allowing them to pass. Above all, praise!

  • Move around the room. Ask someone to do a diagram of where you direct your questions – most of us are surprised by the results. By moving around the classroom, you are more likely to ask a wider range of pupils.

  • Give everyone a card at the beginning of the lesson and only take it back as a pupil answer a question. It’s easy to see at a glance which pupils haven’t answered a question.

  • Ask other pupils to add to an answer. E.g. ‘John, do you agree’, ‘Claire, what evidence can you find’ etc.

  • Once a pupil has answered a question, ask he or she to nominate another pupil to add some additional information or answer the next question – in the style of ‘phone-a-friend’.

  • Allow thinking time – you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes. The recommended wait time for a closed question is three seconds and for an open question, twenty seconds.

  • Allow discussion time – but keep it short and focused. Listen in on the discussion and plan specific questions for specific groups.

  • Allow planning time – preview the question and give pupils time to plan an answer. Use prompts where appropriate.

  • Vary your questioning strategies so that over a course of lessons pupils will experience different approaches.

Questions and thinking skills activities

Thinking skills activities are often stuctured around higher order questions and so can be an effective way of planning questions into a lesson.

Diamond ranking

This sorting activity can be used to encourage pupil discussion about the relative importance of individuals, incidents and ideas. Typically nine cards are given to a group of pupils (it can be more or less) and the cards are prioritised by placing the most important at the top, the least at the bottom and the others in the middle in a diamond formation. Questioning can be used to challenge and explore pupil thinking further.

Enquiry drama

This term covers a range of drama-based activities used to explore the emotions behind a character’s actions. Hot-seating a character and teacher in role are particularly useful – the Five Ws can be used as a questioning approach. In forum theatre, the action can be stopped so that pupils can direct or reflect on responses. Freeze frames can be used to identify critical moments and thought bubbles added to explore these further.