Types Of Question

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The interaction between teacher and learners is the most important feature of the classroom. Whether helping learners to acquire basic skills or a better understanding to solve problems, or to engage in higher-order thinking such as evaluation, questions are crucial. Of course, questions may be asked by pupils as well as teachers: they are essential tools for both teaching and learning.

For teachers, questioning is a key skill that anyone can learn to use well. Similarly, ways of helping pupils develop their own ability to raise and formulate questions can also be learned. Raising questions and knowing the right question to ask is an important learning skill that pupils need to be taught.

Research into questioning has given some clear pointers as to what works. These can provide the basis of improving classroom practice. A very common problem identified by the research is that pupils are frequently not provided with enough ‘wait time’ to consider an answer; another is that teachers tend to ask too many of the same type of questions. There is a summary of research into questioning at the end of this unit.

The purposes of questioning

Teachers ask questions for a number of reasons, the most common of which are

  • to interest, engage and challenge pupils;
  • to check on prior knowledge and understanding;
  • to stimulate recall, mobilising existing knowledge and experience in order to create new understanding and meaning;
  • to focus pupils’ thinking on key concepts and issues;
  • to help pupils to extend their thinking from the concrete and factual to the analytical and evaluative;
  • to lead pupils through a planned sequence which progressively establishes key understandings;
  • to promote reasoning, problem solving, evaluation and the formulation of hypotheses;
  • to promote pupils’ thinking about the way they have learned.

The kind of question asked will depend on the reason for asking it. Questions are often referred to as ‘open’ or ‘closed’.

Closed questions, which have one clear answer, are useful to check understanding during explanations and in recap sessions. If you want to check recall, then you are likely to ask a fairly closed question, for example ‘What is the grid reference for Great Malvern?’ or ‘What do we call this type of text?’

On the other hand, if you want to help pupils develop higher-order thinking skills, you will need to ask more open questions that allow pupils to give a variety of acceptable responses. During class discussions and debriefings, it is useful to ask open questions, for example ‘Which of these four sources were most useful in helping with this enquiry?’, ‘Given all the conflicting arguments, where would you build the new superstore?’, ‘What do you think might affect the size of the current in this circuit?’

Questioning is sometimes used to bring a pupil’s attention back to the task in hand, for example ‘What do you think about that, Peter?’ or ‘Do you agree?’

The practice of questioning

Questioning is an area characterised by a good deal of instinctive practice. The first task will help you reflect on your use of questioning.

Task 1 Questioning: a self-review 20 minutes

For one lesson you teach, write down, as far as possible, all questions that you ask. To help capture them, you could make an audio recording of yourself or ask another teacher to observe you. (You could do the same for this colleague in return.)

Now analyse the questions you have asked, using a grid like the one below. Refer to the list of the purposes of questioning above to help you with the fourth column.

Question posed Open Closed Evaluation of pupils’ responses(impact on learning)
What do we call the process green plants use to make food? _______
Helped all pupils remember a key word
Explain the differences between the processes of photosynthesis and respiration
_______ Helped all pupils to process knowledge