The Art of Questioning….

{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

Watch this video from  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 for a computer version. Your students will be amazed!

Also for celebrities and famous people – see

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!

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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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24 Responses

  1. Sarah Maher says:

    I was glad to see that establishing an appropriate environment was a big part of the effective questioning process. I can remember from school when teachers would ask a question in front of the whole class and I would feel embarrassed and humiliated for not knowing the answer. When this happens students just shut down and do not want to participate the rest of the class. The suggestion of addressing the question to the group, rather than an individual, would certainly help this from happening. I also found it helpful to see how to prepare students for questioning. Often students do not answer questions because they don’t understand what exactly the teacher is looking for. The article really addressed this y focusing on emerging questions and how to phrase questions.

  2. ddeubel says:


    Great point about addressing the group first, with a question. That was my weakness (one of many) when first teaching. Always choosing and challenging students inappropriately and without any kind of planning or method…….

    It isn’t as easy as it looks/seems to ask questions without demotivating students…. I guess another tip would be to keep it simple and give them success and then build from there to more challenging and open ended questions.

    thanks for the comments.

  3. Samantha Bowes says:

    Like Sarah, I was also pleased to see the establishment of appropriate environment. I too hated it when the question was asked in front of everyone with all eyes on me and I hadn’t a clue what the answer might be.
    I am as well pleased with the concept of adapting questions to the needs of the learners. Not all students are at the same level. Some com into the class knowing some of the material to a basic understanding and catch on fast while others do not. It is important to try to keep every student near the same level as all but to keep them interested and to make sure they fully understand the concept.

  4. Abebe Mammo says:

    I have got the whole issue about “The Art of Questioning” crucially important because I have gain several lessons from it. I am now keen to conduct my dissertation on this topic, particularly on an EFL classroom at tertiary education level. Therefore, I kindly request you to email me other similiar readings and resarch pieces on questioning in an EFL classroom situation, especifically at universty level. Many thanks.

    Respectfully yours,

    Abebe Mammo

  5. ddeubel says:


    Look on my teacher training site or EFL Classroom 2.0 and you’ll find this as a workshop page somewhere and related articles etc…

  6. Andr3w says:

    nice post, learning to switch from questions that give single word answers to questions that prompt discussion is tough. It takes a lot more planning, but seems to pay off in a big way. We use a customer service tool at work called “listen first” and it encourages the staff to ask open ended questions to get customers talking. The more they talk and open up, the more you learn about their needs which makes it’s easier to help them get what a want/need.

  7. Meghan Boutwell says:

    These techniques make a lot of sense and are easy to understand. I will definitely incorporate pre-planned questions into my lesson plans when I teach. Also remembering to choose students who volunteer and non volunteers is important as well. This could make students upset but let them know that participation is important. I also never realized that a simple response to students answer can have a large effect on conversation. This gives an opportunity to give positive reinforcement and show students the respect you wish to receive as well.

  8. Jennifer Davis says:

    I like all of the suggestions regarding questioning students. I especially like the suggestion to get students talking early in the academic year. The sooner they must talk to and discuss amongst themselves, the less likely they are to be nervous and embarrassed when called on in class. I think the fill in the blank questions are good ideas for the new teacher. I’m sure my first year (or five) I will learn a lot about questioning by finding out what doesn’t work. The fill in the blank questions gives me some general questions to get me started. I also like the idea that was given to me in my PSYCH318 class for questioning. We were told we could give out playing cards as students walk in and then call on the Ace of Spades or 5 of Hearts. That way no one feels put on the spot, because the teacher can’t be “picking” on anyone.

  9. ddeubel says:


    Just writing down a few questions before, really helps a teacher gain focus in the lesson – even if the questions aren’t used…

    I agree – it is an art when calling on students. You just have to err on the safe side – most importantly, give Ss lots of time to process the question. That’s why first ask the whole class…. especially with a second language.


    Yes, this motivates students, the chance thing. Also, too often students don’t work with everyone in the class. That’s a pity. I like inside/outside technique for this and getting everyone comfortable and knowing everyone. Too often our classes are very cliquish. but totally agree with the importance of early on setting the right environment and spending lots of time on icebreakers and collaborative type activities.

  10. Christina Manee says:

    I am excited to learn how to employ effective questioning techniques in my classroom. I have a new found appreciation for the caring, experienced and prepared teachers I had over the years. One question: You recommend calling on both voluteers and nonvolunteers to answer questions in the classroom. How would you recommend doing that so no one feels put on the spot? It seems that even if you had a method (like the Ace of Spades example above) so as to randomly call on students, some students are still going to feel nervous and flustered.

  11. ddeubel says:


    You have to know your students! But beyond that, (and not mentioned above), every student should have the right to “pass”. This is the most important word in a classroom IMHO. A student can always pass without embarrassment and trust me, when you have this rule, you’ll get more input rather than less! Truly.

    I learned a lot about questioning through Rick Lavoie – have you seen his by now iconic, F.A.T. (frustration /anxiety / tension) workshop video? He’s a special educator but all his techniques and principles can be applied in any classroom. Get a hold of that video and watch it with colleagues. You’ll learn more there than any year old course in whatever….

  12. Heather Sain says:

    I loved the different questioning activities and I cannot wait to implement them into my classroom and tutoring opportunities! As an AVID tutor, questioning and forming questions is the base of the program. Students bring in questions to each tutor sessions and it is my job to really push the question to a higher level. Since all of the questions that I receive and give are emerging according to the students needs on a given day, do you have any recommendations as to how to “change up” the process? The focus of the sessions is math so I find it hard to vary my questioning sometimes. Thanks!

  13. Rachel Cook says:

    I think that one of the most important points that you made, was to create a climate conducive to learning. If students feel threatened or self conscious, then the class discussion will unsuccessful. In order to help the students feel comfortable, I liked your idea to prepare them before the discussion. Tell them the guidelines so that they know what to expect. Also, the most important element to a class discussion, is to listen to what the students have to say. Play off of their ideas, rather than having a script of what must be said.

  14. ddeubel says:


    Not so much to recommend other than stick to the basics and start from closed to open ended questions as they gain confidence. However, one BIG thing to mention , especially in regards to Math is the use of metaphor. Math is really poetry, it is all about like to like, metaphor and symbolic. I had success elicting response from students in math when I framed it in a narrative or by example. So they could compare with what they do know. From that understanding, you can build. Math is less fact and more symbolic than most people care to ever think!

    Rachel – point take about playing off their ideas! good teacher feed on the “teachable moment”. I have a post about this, manufacturing teaching moments and good teachers do it all the time. But you are so correct, it IS about listening. No good questions can be given without that happening on the part of the teacher. Sincerity as Lionel Trilling might have said. I call it “slowing down”. What I mean is that I’ve noticed real competent teachers always have a “slow” way about them. The students have time to relax amid all the stuff coming at them, they also believe that when teachers pause they are listening (maybe they sometimes aren’t!). To be a great teacher – we got to slow down…

  15. Dustin Williams says:

    I, too, am glad to see that creating a good “questioning environment” is on the list here. Just today I was in a classroom where a teacher wanted discussions and questions, but no one gave him any, and I believe this is because the environment didn’t call for it.

    I suppose it depends on the age group, but some of the older children won’t take some “question” activities seriously, and that won’t enable them to ask or answer questions any easier. This isn’t really a critique, just a comment.

  16. Jessica Reid says:

    I am very big on creating the right environment. I went through too many classrooms where no one in the class wanted to ask or answer a question without feeling embarressed, myself included. I also agree with creating a climate conducive to learning. Teachers should be positive and present students with positive verbal and facial expressions as well with positive attitudes. This allows students to feel more comfortable when asking a question. I hope to use a mixture of questions in my classroom and not use the same style over and over again. I believe its important to select both volunteer and non-volunteer students. I’ve been in classes before where the teacher only called on the same student making it feel like the conversation was between that one student and the teacher, leaving everyone else out.

  17. ddeubel says:

    Dustin, Jessica,

    Thanks for the comments.

    So important – the environment. A teacher can do a lot to create that. Even just sitting down while asking questions or being “among” students and not at the front of the class, can help immensely. I also think that we should note that it isn’t the teacher that has to ask questions. Flip it. Students can ask you. Or peer groups work well with teenagers.

    And yes, be fair! No quicker way to lose students than a teacher that is seen as “unfair” and not playing to and for everyone.

  18. Jim Giordano says:

    As others have stated I too enjoy the idea of planning questions and going with emerging questions that may arise during discussion. Class discussion is a great way to learn because it is active participation on the part of the student. It lets the teacher know that the student is paying attention and allows the teacher to asses what the student has learned. It also presents a challenge to the teacher as it forces them to think on their feet and be prepared for all questions that may arise. This in turn will help the teacher gain respect from their students, and manage the class. The ability to answer questions or lead the class in a discussion in which other students answer questions that arise in discussion shows students that their views are important encouraging participation and learning.

  19. Kristen Vann says:

    I think all of these suggestions are really helpful in adapting questions into the learning environment. I liked the fun activities suggested to aid in creating this open space in the classroom. Students should feel comfortable asking questions and learning new things from one another, as well as learning from the teacher. The interview and the photo and word prompts were the most appealing to me.

    I also find it significant that we should adapt out questions to the level that each individual student is at. Determining this level is the difficult part, but teachers with a genuine concern for student success will engage the student to find out their particular strengths/weaknesses. That way, problems or issues related to questioning can be avoided from the get go.

  20. Sarah Vintin says:

    First off, thanks for the post! Questioning is very important in the classroom and is essential for the growth of students. I feel as though it is specifically important in math classes. As I prepare to be a future middle school math teacher, it is important for me to remember the art of questioning. Understanding why we are doing a problem and how we are going to figure it is crucial in understanding the basics in mathematics. Also, thanks for the activities. They all seem fun and interesting, and kids will be learning even though they may not realize it!

  21. Josh Pegram says:

    The resources on this website are amazing. It really makes you realize how important and complex questioning can be in the classroom. With that in mind, how do you help your students to further develop their abilities in questioning? With the type of tutoring we are doing, we want our students to lead the discussion and fuel the process. Should we restructure their questions for them when they ask them?

  22. ddeubel says:


    thanks – I’ve been “hoarding” many years. On EFL Classroom, much more. I was digging up links for my forthcoming textbook today and shaking my head at the content.

    but about questions. I think that is great – get the students asking the questions. I’m all for a great “teacher questioner” a la Socrates but I’m even more for a student gaining valuable mental processing experience and critically thinking / questioning. That’s what it is all about.

    I wouldn’t break it down too much for the students. If you deconstruct it, it will take a focus away from the content. You want to let them gain experience without explicitly focusing on questions (see my recent post about tacit knowledge). However – you can echo and restate. that’s the perfect way to help the student. They become self correcting, and participate in their own learning process.. Hope you follow what I’m saying!

    I wouldn’t though, hesitate in making students “question queen” or “question king” for a day. Handing out this task will help but make sure that all have to be on their toes also…

  23. Peter says:

    I think differentiating the questions according to ability level is vital. In other words, don’t expect all the students to be able to answer the same questions. In a mixed ability class, you may ask a lower level student a simple closed ended question and a higher ability student a more open ended question. And of course, as they improve we can alter the questions to match their abilities. Like you said, questioning involves a lot of pre planning.
    One other thing…I know you said that a teacher should only repeat a student’s answer aloud if other students couldn’t hear it. However, I think we should also do it to A) model correct pronunciation if necessary or B) reiterate/emphasize important information.

    Thanks so much for your amazing website and information!!

  24. ddeubel says:


    Point taken about repeating the answer. It is the classroom teacher insitu that knows best about their student’s needs and what can help.

    And that goes for your first point – a question, if directed at a particular student (though the first time, it quite often is best given to the whole class, to think about and then redirect). We can adjust / diffentiate for the individual student but have to do so “artfully”.

    thanks for the great additional advice.


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