What I do… Questioning

In this series of blog posts I will write about the Way I Do things in my classroom. The topics will cover a broad range of areas such as planning/preparation, marking/feedback, writing notes, questioning, setting homework and managing behaviour.

In Part 1 I wrote about how I do recall. This was followed by part 2, which was about how my students take notes. This blog, part 3, will be a short post about how I question students in my classroom.

The more I have been teaching and the more time I spend getting to know students and their behaviours, I am beginning to find myself believing that questioning is the best skill that we can equip ourselves with as educators.

(I think humour and presence are extremely important too.)

So, please reflect:

  • Do we prepare and practice enough our questioning techniques,
  • Do we plan our questions?
  • Do we study different ways to question at all?
  • Do we continually learn? Adapt? Change our questioning styles?
  • Are there questioning styles?

I visit a lot of classrooms and see many differing ways that educators engage their students. They quiz, the prod, they probe, they expose, they pick, they challenge they tease out answers from a variety of students in a variety of methods.

But, do we consider what to do with who? Meaning, are we clear we are questioning in the right method to the right student?

We have all had lessons like this!

We have also all had feedback where we are told/asked to consider the no hands rule? Or, asked not to focus questions on the same students? Or to try to involve all students in questions. I once was told that I did not question the ‘girls’ enough in a classroom where there were only 4 girls, and I posed questions to them all!

What I do in my classroom depends on who I have in my classroom.

I expect some basics however:

  • When ANYBODY or I in the class asks a question, everybody must listen.
  • When ANYBODY or I in the class answers a question, everybody must listen.
  • I do not allow ‘I do not know.’
  • When addressing a point made by a classmate/teacher the student must refer to them by their name

I have also been using A, B, C a LOT!




I ask students to start/respond to their answers with I would like to add to the point being made by suggesting… Or, I would like to build on what X has said, as… And, I would like to challenge what Y and Z feel, as I think…

I want/expect them to ABC to either factual, clarification, broadening, justification or hypothetical responses.

I am trying to eradicate the most common response from students… Trying to get them to understand that getting it wrong is OK…

I don’t know if this is right, but…

However, garnering enough confidence to publicly make a mistake is a highly difficult emotion to acquire. I have noticed this is more strenuous on adults than young people to be honest. We, as educators, do not want to appear as if we do not know. We also do not want to confirm that we do not know more!post-9685-Better-to-remain-silent-and-be-rebI

The amount of INSETs and CPD sessions that I deliver where the educators in front of me are extremely reluctant to offer a response amongst their peers, just on the off chance they may be wrong is startling!

More specifically, what do I do about those students who every parents evening, or every report home we say/write; needs to get more involved in classroom discussions, needs to offer his/her views more. Or, is too quiet in class. Well, simply, I speak to them, ask them what they are worried about and inform them that I will be questioning them, sometimes I give them advance warning, sometimes I question, leave them to think and come back. BUT, I COME BACK. Do not forget about them.

It is not a bad thing to be an introvert. It is not a bad thing to sit back and listen to and from others. I have other methods of knowing if my students understand the information I am parting their way.

Here are some crucial factors you must consider when questioning your students:

  • Think time– how long do you give? Do you give enough? Too much?
  • What is the emotional buy in to the question? Do students think it is important to respond? Do they want a view? An opinion on the question?
  • Do not isolate students who want to answer, have an adequate mix of volunteers and conscripts
  • Allow for support/help- do not vindicate and demonise for not knowing
  • Word counts- students can’t answer a question without a certain number of words/time
  • Are your questions mostly about recall or requiring higher level thoughts? Are you mixing up closed questions with divergent thinking questions? Blooms Taxonomy? Are you questions rising in cognitive demand?
  • Ask your question, pause, then pick a student to answer. If you say the name first of the person who you wish to answer the question, it may result in others switching off?
Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 11.00.26
Image references – Maria Martha Manette Madrid.
  • What are the big questions (underlying concepts) for the topics you are studying?
  • What are the important questions, that need answering
  • Do not repeat the answer the way you want them to have answered the question

Questioning is the best tool to differentiate, wait, talking is the best way to differentiate, actually, hold on, effective communication depending on our audience is the best way to teach/educate.

With effective questioning we can do the following…

  • Stimulates thoughts
  • Motivates, encourages, enthuses
  • Focusses students attention
  • Discovery
  • Build relationships
  • Organises
  • Assesses prior/current/future learning

It is a vital cog in the teacher toolkit. We need to make sure we have the biggest tools for it!

Please note:

If a student gets something wrong, do not respond with,

  • Well Done!
  • Excellent!
  • Brilliant!
  • Faboulous

Or whatever your stock answer to question is. Ask them to consider whether they understood the question clearly, ask for them to repeat their answer, ask for them to ask for support if they need it. If after all this, it is OK to say, No, you are wrong, but well done for trying. Or, great effort. Over praise for incorrect responses can be dangerous. However, you do not want to damage confidence.

Here are some methods/tools/resources I also use to question my students… Try, refine then if they don’t work for you ditch.

However you do it, pay it attention, plan for your questioning as much as your resources?

The way you question is your direct route to the hearts and minds of your students.

For further reading see here:


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