Effective Questioning Techniques

(Refer to PHY 310's Discussion as a Pedagogical Technique for additional insights.)

  1. Prepare your students for extensive questioning. Teachers who use lots of questions in a classroom might have to justify their use of questioning to students. Some students conclude that questions imply evaluation, monitoring, and efforts to control students. Students need to know that questions seek clarification and elaboration of students' ideas in order to make their thinking visible, and to help the teacher address misconceptions.
  2. Use both pre-planned and emerging questions. Prepare your discussion by identifying the goal and pre-plan a number of questions that will help achieve the goal. Recall that there are a number of discussion types designed to introduce new concepts, focus the discussion on certain items, steer the discussion in specific directions, or identify student knowledge level on the topic. Questions derived from the discussion itself can help guide the discussion.
  3. Use a wide variety of questions. It is best to begin a discussion by asking divergent questions, and moving to convergent questions as the goal is approached. Questions should be asked that require a broad range of intellectual (higher and lower order) thinking skills. Use Bloom's Taxonomy or Rhodes Typology for a guide to the type of questions you can ask. Avoid using simple YES or NO type questions as they encourage students to respond without fully thinking through an idea.
  4. Avoid the use of rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions are those to which answers are already known, or merely seek affirmation of something stated previously such as the following: Right?, Don't you?, Correct?, Okay?, and Yes? More often than not, rhetorical questions are unintentional, and are suggestive of habit or nervousness.
  5. State questions with precision. Poor wording and the use of rapid-fire, multiple questions related to the same topic can result in confusion. Easy does it. Repeat the question, and explain it in other words if students don't seem to understand. One question at a time or else students won't know how to respond.
  6. Pose whole-group questions unless seeking clarification. Direct questions to the entire class. Handle incomplete or unclear responses by reinforcing what is correct and then asking follow-up questions.Ask for additional details, seek clarification of the answer, or ask the student to justify a response. Redirect the question to the whole group of the desired response is not obtained.
  7. Use appropriate wait time. 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.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.
  8. Select both volunteers and non-volunteers to answer questions. Female students frequently take longer to respond; give them adequate time to do so. Picking on the student who is first to raise his or her hand will often leave many students uninvolved in the discussion. Some teachers use a randomized approach where they pick student names from a hat, so to speak. This ensures equitable participation, and keeps students intellectually engaged.
  9. Respond to answers provided by students. Listen carefully to your students as they respond; let them finish their responses unless they are completely missing the point. "Echo" their responses in your own words. Acknowledge correct answers and provide positive reinforcement. Identify incorrect responses and ask for alternative explanations from other students. Repeat student answers when the other students have not heard the answers.
  10. Maintain a positive class atmosphere. Not all students will be completely clear in their thinking or enunciation and, invariably, some won't be paying attention. Nevertheless, avoid the use of sarcasm, unreasonable reprimands, accusations, and personal attacks.
  11. Throw back student questions. Sometimes student will restate the teachers questions in their own words and ask the teacher for a response -- getting the teacher to do the intellectual work. When such an event occurs, restate the question, and pose it to the class.
  12. Interrelate previous comments. As the discussion moves along, be certain to interrelate previous student comments in an effort to draw a conclusion. Avoid doing the work of arriving at a conclusion for your student.
  13. Restate discussion goal periodically. Sometimes the purpose of a discussion will become clouded, and even go off topic. Periodically restate the goal of the discussion so that it is clearly before the students. It is particularly important to ask questions near the end of your discussion that help make it clear whether or not the goal has been achieved. Identify areas in need of clarification.
  14. Take your time. Hard intellectual work takes considerable effort, and students might not be terribly familiar with the thought processes required to draw conclusions. Much of there education might have required them merely to parrot back things previously told them. Don't give up on students. If a discussion is worth doing at all, it is worth doing correctly.
  15. Equitably select students. Remember that males have a tendency to "jump up and shout out" responses whereas females tend to be more circumspect and, therefore, delayed in responding. Control situations where inequitable responding is likely to occur.