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Classroom Management


The Art of Questioning

Purposes of Questioning
  • To keep students actively participating
  • To arouse and maintain interest
  • To focus attention
  • To stimulate thinking
  • To diagnose specific learning challenges
  • To stimulate students to ask questions
  • To clarify students’ understanding
  • To review content already learned and recall specific information
  • To relate current concepts with previously learned concepts
  • To reinforce recently learned material
  • To remind students of a procedure
  • To teach through student answers
  • To guide thoughts and provoke thinking
  • To redirect or structure the flow of ideas
  • To allow expressions of feelings, values, opinions
  • To evaluate learning
  • To guide discussion
    - Start a discussion
    - Elicit facts/data
    - Move the discussion along
    - Bring in other aspects/depth
    - Change the direction
    - Draw conclusions
  • Do not use questions to deal with inattention.
Attributes of Good Questions
  • Avoid questions with yes/no answers.
  • Question is clearly stated to avoid misunderstanding.
  • Question does not contain the answer.
  • Level of difficulty is appropriate for the student to whom it is directed (but this level is not indicated to the students).
  • Personalize questions by relating to the students’ personal experiences.
Planning Questions

Carefully plan a sequence of questions. A series of questions prepared in advance is more likely to focus on the lesson’s objective than questions produced on the spot.

Consider the order in which the questions will be asked. Sometimes it is best to begin with an open-ended focusing question and narrow the topic down. Other times, it is best to proceed from lower-level to higher-level questions and then alternate higher- and lower-order questions so as to differentiate for the various students in the classroom. Select the sequence that best corresponds to the lesson objective and the students.

Effective Techniques

  • Indicate type of response wanted by giving the appropriate cue:
    - Hands up
    - Choral
    - Hands down—“I’ll select”
    - Callouts
  • Ask question first, direct it later.
  • Allow sufficient wait time before directing the question to a specific student to allow all students to construct a possible answer.
  • While the 3-second rule may be sufficient wait time for recall questions, questions requiring higher-level thinking may need at least 10 seconds to allow students sufficient time to formulate answers.
  • When listening to student answers, display effective active listening behaviours—attending (verbal and nonverbal responses), active (detect emotional attitude) and reflective (paraphrase).
  • Pause after a student has answered, giving everyone time to consider the answer.
  • If no response, repeat or rephrase the question.
  • Use probes/prompts to encourage the students and provide further clues.
  • Redirect the student’s thinking if the answer is inaccurate or incomplete.
  • Help students to understand which part of the answer was correct and which was incorrect.
  • Involve others by asking for their reaction to the answer (for example, “Do you agree with ...?).
  • Redirect question if necessary to another student (while students need to know if an answer is correct or not, avoid blatant rejection of wrong answers).
  • Redirecting the same open-ended question to several students allows for student-to-student interaction and elicits more ideas.
  • Come back to the student.
  • Acknowledge responses with a nod, brief comments (for example, “I understand” or “That's one possibility”) and honest praise.
  • Dignify the student’s incorrect response by giving a question for which the response would have been correct.
  • Think of distribution so that all students get equal opportunity to answer over time (that is, watch for favouring of one particular student gender, higher-achieving students vs lower achievers, or a particular side or section of the classroom).
Types of Questions
Type 1
  • Lead-off
    - To start a discussion
    - To start students thinking about a topic
  • Follow-up
    - To continue to stimulate students about the topic being studied
  • Overhead
    - Addressed to the entire group
  • Direct
    - To a specific individual
    - To get an individual involved
    - To a student who can help bring the discussion back on track
  • Reverse and relay
    - Turns questions students ask the teacher back to the students
    - Keeps the discussion in the hands of the students
Type 2
  • Focusing
    - To help students find out more about the content being studied
  • Layering
    - Ask students to go past the content being studied, thinking of other circumstances that are similar to those in the lesson.
  • Extending
    - Push past situations in the content right into the students’ own lives, bringing the personal into questioning strategies.
  • Deciding
    - Ask students to make decisions, evaluate and make commitments to act on things they’ve learned.

Beauchamp L, and J Parsons. 2000. Teaching From the Inside Out. 3rd ed. Edmonton: Duval.

Type 3

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and his collaborators published a framework for categorizing educational goals called the taxonomy of educational objectives. Familiarly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, this framework has been applied by generations of K–12 teachers and college instructors in their teaching.

This illustration is based on a graphic from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching (accessed April 14, 2021).

Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy

  • Knowledge (the student is asked to recall factual content)
    - Define, describe, identify
  • Comprehension (to show understanding of the material, the student is asked to put information into another form)
    - Summarize, paraphrase, explain, rewrite, give examples
  • Application (the student is asked to use knowledge in a new situation or to make use of new knowledge to solve a problem)
    - Apply, use, employ, infer, discover, solve, manipulate, change
  • Analysis (the student is required to take ideas apart to seek relationships or unique characteristics)
    - Relate, distinguish, order, contrast, categorize, subdivide, outline
  • Synthesis (the student is required to combine information into a whole)
    - Formulate, compose, produce, compare, predict, devise, compile
  • Evaluation (the student is asked to make a judgment or decision based on criteria, standard, or conditions)
    - Weigh, decide, give reasons for, judge, determine, evaluate, justify
Type 4
  • Cognitive-memory questions (answer is directly available in some form)
    - Recall
    - Identify, name, observe
  • Convergent thinking questions (answer is directly available but not in the form asked for)
    - Associate, discriminate, classify
    - Reformulate into own words
    - Apply previously acquired knowledge to solving or explaining a similar but unfamiliar problem or situation
    - Synthesize pieces of information to make a generalization
    - Closed prediction, using data that limits the answer
    - Make critical judgment about the correctness, using criteria commonly known by the class
  • Divergent thinking questions (higher-order thinking in which evidence for the response is not directly available)
    - Give opinion
    - Open prediction, to speculate
    - Infer or imply
  • Evaluative thinking questions (able to defend response)

Orlich, D C, A H Brown, R C Callahan, M S Trevisan and R J Harder. 2009. Teaching Strategies: A Guide to Effective Instruction. 9th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning.