Effective Questioning

Magnifying Glass - QuestionsQuestions are the fertilizer that a teacher uses to nurture the plant called learning.  There are many sound principles for effective questioning – I’ve outlined many below. In English language teaching, the one big difference is that a teacher should use more closed questions (Yes/No – simple answer) in order to solicit response and engagement. Once the student develops a higher level of fluency, more open ended and high order questions should be prominent.

Download my workshop materials for further reading. Teaching and the Art of questioning

This video from Teacher’s TV is a great overview on this topic. I subtitled it for NNESTs.

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.


  1. 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.


  1. Prepare the students for the questioning session and discussion. Explain to students the format, expectations, and how this knowledge will help them.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


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


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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/

Question Types and Examples.   Low to High order.

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 _______?

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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