{this is part of the “Captive Mind” series of blog posts – publishing online and de-commercializing thought.]

Teaching and the Art of  Questioning

[Also see this post .   Download:   Teaching and the Art of questioning handouts]

Developing the art of questioning can be as simple as practicing. It is with practice that we gain competence and “pattern” the process

Look at the question types below (from low to high order}. Choose one question, ask it and then give two follow up questions.

Recalling -
Who, what, when, where, how _______?

Identifying Errors -
What is wrong with _______?

Comparing -
How is similar to/different from_______?

Inferring -
What might we infer from _______?
What conclusions might be drawn from _______?

Identifying Attributes and Components -
What are the characteristics/parts of _______?
Predicting -
What might happen if _______?

Classifying -
How might we organize into categories_______?

Elaborating -

What ideas/details can you add to _______?

Give an example of _______.
Ordering -
Arrange into sequence according to _______?

Summarizing -
Can you summarize _______?

Establishing Criteria -
What criteria would you use to judge/evaluate _______?

Identifying Relationships and Patterns -
Develop an outline/diagram/web of _______?

Identifying Main Ideas -
What is wrong with _______?
What conclusions might be drawn from_______?
Verifying -
What evidence supports _______?
How might we prove/confirm _______?
Representing -
In what other ways might we show/illustrate _______?

Techniques of Effective Questioning
1. Establish an appropriate environment. Only certain questions should be posed in front of students; “bedside” (beginning) questions should focus principally on knowledge and recall and to a lesser extent on comprehension.
2. Create a climate conducive to learning. A happy facial expression, nod, or verbal acknowledgement of a correct response encourages other students to participate in the discussion. Pose questions in a non-threatening way and receive answers in a supportive fashion. A harsh tone, especially when used to interrupt a response from the student, can be devastating for both the student and his or her peers.
3. Prepare the students for the questioning session and discussion. Explain to students the format, expectations, and how this knowledge will help them.
4. Use both pre-planned and emerging questions. Pre-planned questions are those incorporated into the teaching plan that are asked during the teaching session to introduce new concepts, focus the discussion on certain items, steer the discussion in specific directions, or identify student knowledge / level on the topic. Emerging questions derive from the discussion itself and the specific answers given to previous questions. Think quickly and act decisively to phrase these questions accurately and pose them at appropriate times in the discussion.
5. Use an appropriate variety and mix of questions. One good strategy is to start with convergent questions and then continue with divergent questions, perhaps asking questions in hierarchical sequence and building from the recall of facts to higher levels of thinking and problem-solving. If a question requiring a higher level thinking skill blocks the student, go down to a question requiring lower-level thinking skills and then work up the hierarchy.
6. Avoid trick questions and those that require only a YES or NO response. Trick questions should be avoided, as they frustrate students and tend to encourage frivolous responses. YES or NO questions encourage students to respond without fully understanding or thinking through the issue. When used, such questions should be followed by other questions to determine the thinking process of the student. **** However in English Language teaching, closed questions are encouraged at the beginning stages of language development.
7. Phrase the questions carefully, concisely, and clearly. Improper phrasing and the use of multiple questions related to the same topic may result in unintentional cueing (guessing) and inability to accurately assess student understanding.
8. Address questions to the group, versus the individual. Pose the question to the entire group and wait before identifying a student to respond. The wait time encourages all students to think about the response, as they do not know who is going to be called upon to answer the question. Select students at random to answer questions, as it tends to keep everyone attentive and involved.

9. Select both volunteers and non-volunteers to answer questions.

10. Adapt questions to the needs of the learners.
Assess the students’ needs and tailor questions to maximize the number of correct answers while moving toward more and more difficult questions. Remember, no two groups of students will be alike or at the same level.
11. Use sufficient wait time. The teacher can significantly enhance the analytic and problem-solving skills of students by allowing sufficient wait times before responding, both after posing a question and after the answer is given. This allows everyone to think about not only the question but also the response provided by the student. Three to five seconds in most cases; longer in some, maybe up to 10 seconds for higher-order questions.
12. Respond to answers given by students. Listen carefully to the answers given by students; do not interrupt students while they are responding to questions unless they are straying far off course, are totally unfocused, or are being disruptive. Acknowledge correct answers and provide positive reinforcement. Do not use sarcasm, reprimands, accusations, and personal attacks. Repeat answers only when the other students have not heard the answers; other repeats waste time. Keep questioning until the learning objectives for the session have been achieved; this may be the best opportunity to teach a particular concept. Handle incomplete answers by reinforcing what is correct and then asking probing questions.
13. Use questions to identify learning objectives for follow-up self-study. Pose questions towards the end of the teaching session to identify specific areas for additional learning opportunities that students can pursue on their own time.
Adapted from: The office of curriculum development, University of Alberta http://www.uab.edu/uasomume/cdm/

Watch this video from Teacher.tv  What do the experts say about questioning?  Complete the statements below.

1. The main purpose of asking questions is to find out


2. The teacher has to help the students _________________.

3. “What do you think?” is a kind of ____________________

4. What are the Teaching Strategies discussed.

A) ____________________________________________

B) _____________________________________________

C) _____________________________________________

D) _____________________________________________

E) _____________________________________________

F) ______________________________________________

Questions give students confidence and let them express their learning and communicate. Questions should be taught either explicitly or through practice at an early stage of student English acquisition. Classroom’s which are “quiet” and where there is little student interaction in English are often due to the students not being able to engage in “dialogue”. Why? Because they don’t know how to phrase the questions quickly and

Activity 1:


Interviews are a fundamental way of getting students to ask / make questions.
The simplest way is get them to write down the questions they’d like to ask a partner/friend. Role playing is even better. Give students a role play card and using the card, they ask each other questions about their “friend” to find out information. Start with a whole class interview and then have the students interview in pairs.

If you really want to get “digital”, have your students interview Dave the “bot” and then copy and paste/print the interview and bring to class. They can then practice the interview in class for others!

Activity 2:

What did you say?

In 3s, one student reads out a sentence, leaving out a word. The other students then ask the follow up question.

Example: A) I went to )*&)**_*( this weekend.
B) Excuse me but, where did he go this weekend?
C) He went to Jeju Island this weekend.

Activity 3:

Photo and word prompts?

In 3s, students are shown photos (either on a big screen or with flash cards). They make a question each about the photo. The Question Making Schematic (Appendix 5) can be used to help students. Alternately the “Who / What / Where game can be played.
Appendix 3 illustrates a great Korea oriented lesson using the same method.

Activity 4:

Class walkarounds – post it!

This activity is meant to get students on their feet and speaking. Give students some post it notes. On one Post it note, they write something about themselves. Example, “I love potato chips!” Students then “post it” on themselves and walk around the class. They ask each other questions about the post it. After one question, they change to another person.

Example: A) What kind of potato chips do you like?
B) I really like sour crème and onion!
(I hate mornings).
A) What time did you get up today?
B) I got up at 6:30 am ! [change partners]

This activity can even be “larger” by having students write questions on their post it notes. Students walk around the class asking other students and “posting” the note on them. After the walkaround, students return to their seat and with a partner, use the post its to interview a partner.

Activity 5:

Class walkarounds – Surveys / Find someone who!

Surveys and “find someone who” activities are excellent at getting students asking questions. Give each student an index card. Ask them to choose one question to ask the class on your given topic. Use “prompt” words on the board to help students. (see Appendix 2).

Students walk around the class asking students and compiling the results on their index card under YES Maybe No. Students after the activity, report back

Activity 6:

Listening – The 5 ws!

Play any short clip or news report. Even a short story. Ask the students to list the “reporters” 5ws on a piece of paper.

Who _______________________________________________

What _______________________________________________

Where ______________________________________________

When _______________________________________________

Why ________________________________________________

This activity can also be done for any reading/text in the textbook. It is invaluable to get the students themselves forming the comprehension questions for your class readings.
This should be your goal – get them to TEACH THEMSELVES!

Activity 7:

20 questions / what is it?!

(Appendix 4) These games are popular and any guessing game with objects is great.
See www.20q.net for a computer version. Your students will be amazed!

Also for celebrities and famous people – see http://en.akinator.com/#

Activity 8:

BAAM – Ask the Teacher!

Baam is a great game with lots of interaction. Students choose a number and try to avoid BAAM. The “Ask the Teacher” game gets the students asking the teacher (or another student) and helps them practice basic personal questions.

Activity 9:

Spin the Question!

Use the “Spin the Question” power point when you need a little “chance” in your activity. Students spin and then must make a question with the chosen question word. Lots of fun!