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Lesson 8.5: Questioning

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    Faculty of Education and UQx LEARNx team of contributors, The Open Resource Bank for Interactive Teaching, and University of Cambridge



    Types Of Question, section Intro). (ORBIT)

    Questioning Techniques

    • For every student query, teachers asked approximately 11 questions
    • Students averaged less than one question each, while teachers averaged more than 200 questions each
    • Teachers often answered their own questions
    • Fewer teacher questions requires deep thinking by the learner

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    Summary of research

    Effective questioning

    Questioning is one of the most extensively researched areas of teaching and learning. This is because of its central importance in the teaching and learning process. The research falls into three broad categories

    • What is effective questioning?
    • How do questions engage students and promote responses?
    • How do questions develop students’ cognitive abilities?

    What is effective questioning?

    • Questions are planned and closely linked to the objectives of the lesson.
    • The learning of basic skills is enhanced by frequent questions following the exposition of new content that has been broken down into small steps. Each step should be followed by guided practice that provides opportunities for students to consolidate what they have learned and that allows teachers to check understanding.
    • Closed questions are used to check factual understanding and recall.
    • Open questions predominate.
    • Sequences of questions are planned so that the cognitive level increases as the questions go on. This ensures that students are led to answer questions which demand increasingly higher-order thinking skills, but are supported on the way by questions which require less sophisticated thinking skills.
    • Students have opportunities to ask their own questions and seek their own answers. They are encouraged to provide feedback to each other.
    • The classroom climate is one where students feel secure enough to take risks, be tentative and make mistakes.

    The research emphasizes the importance of using open, higher-level questions to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills.

    balance between open and closed questions, depending on the topic and objectives for the lesson. A closed question, such as ‘What is the next number in the sequence?’, can be extended by a follow-up question, such as ‘How did you work that out?’

    Overall, the research shows that effective teachers use a greater number of higher- order questions and open questions than less effective teachers.

    How do questions engage students and promote responses?

    • there is a classroom climate in which students feel safe and know they will not be criticized or ridiculed if they give a wrong answer
    • prompts are provided to give students confidence to try an answer
    • there is a ‘no-hands’ approach to answering, where you choose the respondent rather than have them volunteer
    • ‘wait time’ is provided before an answer is required. The research suggests that 3 seconds is about right for most questions, with the proviso that more complex questions may need a longer wait time. Research shows that the average wait time in classrooms is about 1 second (Rowe 1986; Borich 1996)

    How do questions develop students’ cognitive abilities?


    On this scale, recalling relevant knowledge is the lowest-order thinking skill and creating is the highest.

    Common Pitfalls of Questioning and possible solutions

    Not being clear about why you are asking the question: You will need to reflect on the kind of lesson you are planning. Is it one where you are mainly focusing on facts, rules and sequences of actions? If that is the case, you will be more likely to ask closed questions which relate to knowledge. Or is it a lesson where you are focusing mainly on comprehension, concepts and abstractions? In that case you will be more likely to use open questions which relate to analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

    Asking too many closed questions that need only a short answer: It helps if you plan open questions in advance. Another strategy is to establish an optimum length of response by saying something like ‘I don’t want an answer of less than 15 words.’

    Asking too many questions at once: Asking about a complex issue can often lead to complex questions. Since these questions are oral rather than written, students may find it difficult to understand what is required and they become confused. When you are dealing with a complex subject, you need to tease out the issues for yourself first and focus each question on one idea only. It also helps to use direct, concrete language and as few words as possible.

    Asking difficult questions without building up to them: This happens when there isn’t a planned sequence of questions of increasing difficulty. Sequencing questions is necessary to help students to move to the higher levels of thinking.

    Asking superficial questions: It is possible to ask lots of questions but not get to the center of the issue. You can avoid this problem by planning probing questions in advance. They can often be built in as follow-up questions to extend an answer.

    Asking a question then answering it yourself: What’s the point? This pitfall is often linked to another problem: not giving students time to think before they answer. Build in ‘wait time’ to give students a chance to respond. You could say ‘Think about your answer for 3 seconds, then I will ask.’ You could also provide prompts to help.

    Asking bogus ‘guess what’s in my head’ questions: Sometimes teachers ask an open question but expect a closed response. If you have a very clear idea of the response you want, it is probably better to tell students by explaining it to them rather than trying to get there through this kind of questioning. Remember, if you ask open questions you must expect to get a range of answers. Acknowledge all responses. This can easily be done by saying ‘thank you’.

    Focusing on a small number of students and not involving the whole class: One way of avoiding this is to get the whole class to write their answers to closed questions and then show them to you together. Some teachers use small whiteboards for this. Another possibility, which may be more effective for more open questions, is to use the ‘no-hands’ strategy, where you pick the respondent rather than having them volunteer. One advantage of this is that you can ask students questions of appropriate levels of difficulty. This is a good way of differentiating to ensure inclusion.

    Dealing ineffectively with wrong answers or misconceptions: Teachers sometimes worry that they risk damaging students’ self-esteem by correcting them. There are ways of handling this positively, such as providing prompts and scaffolds to help students correct their mistakes. It is important that you correct errors sensitively or, better still, get other students to correct them.

    Not treating students’ answers seriously: Sometimes teachers simply ignore answers that are a bit off-beam. They can also fail to see the implications of these answers and miss opportunities to build on them. You could ask students why they have given that answer or if there is anything they would like to add. You could also ask other students to extend the answer. It is important not to cut students off and move on too quickly if they have given a wrong answer.

    Practical tips

    • Be clear about why you are asking the questions. Make sure they will do what you want them to do.
    • Plan sequences of questions that make increasingly challenging cognitive demands on students.
    • Give students time to answer and provide prompts to help them if necessary. Ask conscripts rather than volunteers to answer questions


    • Look again at the list of pitfalls and think about your own teaching. Which of these traps have you fallen into during recent lessons?
    • How might you have avoided them?

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