Questioning Skills

Effective Questioning

  • ​reinforces and revisits the learning objectives;

  • includes ‘staging’ questions to draw pupils towards key understanding or to increase the level of challenge in a lesson as it proceeds;

  • involves all pupils;

  • engages pupils in thinking for themselves;

  • promotes justification and reasoning;

  • creates an atmosphere of trust where pupils’ opinions and ideas are valued;

  • shows connections between previous and new learning;

  • encourages pupils to speculate and hypothesise;

  • encourages pupils to ask as well as to ‘receive’ questions;

  • encourages pupils to listen and respond to each other as well as to the teacher.

Questioning is most effective when it allows pupils to become fully involved in the learning process. While you are planning your lesson it is absolutely vital that you think about the types of questions you will be asking your pupils. You also need to be clear on what the intended outcomes of your questions/answer session should be. This advice on questioning techniques will help you plan your Q&A session effectively.

Provide visual stimuli to support your question/answer sessions

Use photographs, drawings, prints and video clips as the bases for ‘entry’ or ‘starter’ tasks. Make use of animated clipart as visual clues for some of your questions; for example, if you were attempting to get the pupils to show their understanding of the term ‘urbanization’ you could start by displaying walking cartoon figures. Hopefully the pupils would be able to deduce from this image that urbanization involves the movement of people. The next animation you could display would be of a city with factories belching out smoke. With a little teasing you would be able to get the pupils to understand that urbanization involves people moving to urban areas to work in factories. At this point you could display the definition of urbanization in textual form.

The point about this strategy is that pupils will have already arrived at the answer before any text has been displayed.

Make your question/answer sessions kinaesthetic by using a value continuum

Ask pupils to move to a specific corner of the room according to whether they ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ on a particular issue. Allow and encourage pupils to move positions as new material is presented and/or when further questions are asked. Adopt the same technique using a linear continuum.

Use the ‘mirroring’ technique

When your pupils ask you a question, simply ask the same question back. For example, Pupil: Why do some people eat so much? Teacher: Good question, why do you think some people eat so much? Doing this encourages pupils’ thinking skills and provides them with more ownership of the discussion.

Use the ‘hot air balloon’ technique

You need to get yourself a big sheet of paper and draw on it a hot air balloon tethered to the ground. On the balloon write the name of the project. Eg ‘Going Green’, then pose the following five questions to the class:

  1. Who needs to be on board? (Which people/things need to be on board for the idea to work?)

  2. What needs to be right for the project to take off? (What human and material resources will be required?)

  3. What is holding it back? (What social, economic, physical obstacles could stand in the way of the launch of this idea?)

  4. What will really make it fly? (Things like enthusiasm, incentives, etc.)

  5. What might blow the balloon off course? (What problems could cause the project to fail?)

Make full use of pupils’ contributions in question/answer sessions

Use the ‘bouncing’ technique: Josh … What do you think of Rachel’s idea? ‘Mary, how do you feel about what Josh has just said?

Use the ‘think, pair and share’ technique

Ask your pupils a question before pairing them up to discuss the issues. Having done this put the pupils into groups so that they can discuss the question further. When you are ready for pupils to give you their answers, seek group responses rather than responses from specific individuals. Many pupils feel safer making contributions when teachers use this questioning format.

Model the thinking process by ‘thinking aloud’ in front of your pupils

What am I going to say/write/do now? Why have I stopped? What is my problem? What sort of problem is this? Where have I seen this before? Who can help me? What do I need? What is the next step? Is there a better way? What alternatives are there?

Get pupils to ‘think aloud’ when they are preparing to offer their responses. Doing this raises the status of the ‘thinking process’ rather than just focusing pupils’ attention on their final answer.

Provide questions designed to explore pupils’ attitudes towards social and moral issues

Present pupils with moral dilemmas and produce a menu of questions to support the activity. For example, if you had been an adult in Hitler’s Germany would you have joined the Nazi Party? Be prepared to justify your answer.

Provide pupils with opportunities to ask questions

On occasions, allow pupils to determine the direction of a lesson by the questions that they ask. For example, display a photograph or show a video clip of the topic under study and get pupils to ask what they want to know about this issue. Plan a section of the lesson given over entirely to pupils asking questions.

Use the ‘hot-seating’ method

Hot-seating is where a pupil adopts the role of a character from a book or a play, from a period in history, from another country, etc, and where he or she is put under a spotlight and asked questions by the audience. Because he or she is required to ‘stay in character’, even the most reserved pupil will find this process more comfortable than you might expect.