Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Role of Questioning in the Classroom

confused guy
I have answers to the question of questions in a classroom. Why is questioning important? What kinds of questions should be asked? How do you know if it is a good question? How do we use questions to benefit our students?

The use of questions in a classroom is important because it can help teachers check for understanding, promote active participation and challenge deeper understanding. Body language is a good indicator of knowing when a student is struggling, but what if you just can't tell? Asking the student to answer a question whether one-on-one or within a group setting can provide the teacher information to determine if the student understands the material.  But not just any kind of question will do.  What do you think will be the response will be when you ask your student in front of the class, "Susie, do you understand?" More likely than not, Susie will nod her head to say yes even when she doesn't have a clue about the lesson. Susie will not embarrass herself by offering "no". But if you ask a question that requires elaboration (open-ended), Susie doesn't have the option of giving you either a yes or no answer (closed-ended question).

Open ended questions provide much more information than closed questions, but in what way should I ask questions in my classroom to get the most participation?  Questions can be the difference between active participation and passive participation. The use of overhead, direct, and redirected questions are helpful.  Overhead questions are designed to stimulate group thought and can be posed to the entire group.  The teacher should wait for a volunteer (silence is not the enemy), rephrase the question if necessary, then call on a student if no one answers. Direct questions are designed to check individual learning.  They work best if you say the name of the student, pause, then ask.  The pause will gain their attention and allow them to focus. It will also give the instructor a way to involve all students (even the shy ones), not just the "smart" kids that tend to raise their hand at every turn. Relay questions are my favorite. When a student asks a question, the teacher relays the question back to the group, or to another individual student. If Susie asks a question, I would turn to the group and ask for a response.

students raising hands
Active participation will only happen when students feel safe answering questions and have positive experiences with questioning. Teachers should properly manage responses to encourage continued participation by providing positive feedback for correct answers, and addressing partially correct answers in the same manner, but being sure to let the student know gently, that there may be more, such as "that's really close, do you have something more you can add?".  Partially correct answers could be redirected to the class such as "that's a good point. Does anyone have another point to add?".
Incorrect answer should also be address carefully by acknowledging the effort first, then providing clarification. Another way to make students feel safe answering questions in class is to build their confidence, using small steps. If you know a student is shy about answering, ask them a question that you know they will give the correct answer. Little by little, as their confidence builds, step up to the next level on Bloom's taxonomy. Their progress may surprise you!

Increasing the level of difficulty of question as it reals to Bloom's taxonomy will probe for deeper understanding of the material.  Questions that begin with how and why or asking students to compare or contrast concepts or ideas or even further, evaluate what is given will force students to think critically. Use of questioning also promotes discussion which leads to an introduction of different ideas and viewpoints that students would otherwise not consider. 

Finally, you know you have mastered the use of questioning as a teaching tool when you can teach an entire days lesson by simply asking questions. Begin with the end in mind. Write down the questions  and answers you want the students to arrive at in the conversation and use your awesome facilitation skills to drive the group to where you want them to go!


  1. I love questions in a classroom! I mean, there is such a thing as a "stupid" question, but even a "stupid" question can be a learning experience.

    Also, I agree that you have to have good questions to have excellent classroom discussions. There is nothing worse than having worked hard to prepare a lesson and the entire classroom is silent. I mean - they act like you have been speaking a foreign language or something. It is so frustrating.

    I have also had to take an off topic answer and turn it into another question. It was hard to learn, but once I did no answer is bad. I always say, "I just want to know you CAN think and that you ARE thinking!"

    Love your blog and this post! Keep it up!

  2. "...you know you have mastered the use of questioning as a teaching tool when you can teach an entire days lesson by simply asking questions." Like Socrates. Questions are more important than the answers. Tools like Padlet make it possible for everyone to answer which is better that asking for volunteers. There are also polling programs that can capture answers from everyone. There are better for restricted choice answers, however.