Resource 4: Questioning

Teacher resource to support teaching approaches

Questioning

Good questioning is really important and is not as simple as it first may seem. It can help you develop good relationships with your students, it can help your students to organise their thoughts and therefore help them to learn, and it can provide you with valuable insights into their thinking. Good questions can promote thought, encourage enquiry and help with assessment.

By thinking carefully about the sorts of questions that you can ask, you will improve your teaching.

It is helpful to think of questions as being ‘open’ or ‘closed’ and ‘person’ or ‘subject-centred’.

Closed questions have a single correct answer. They can reassure students and help you to find out what they remember. But too many closed questions can limit the opportunities to explore thinking and develop understanding. They are often undemanding and can be quite threatening if the student lacks confidence.

Open questions have no right answer, or several right answers. They give you opportunity to find out what your students are thinking, and can be less threatening for some students.

Subject-centred questions ask things like ‘what goes into a plant?’ and ‘what sort of rock is this?’

Person-centred questions focus on the student and are less threatening and more learner-friendly: ‘What do you think goes into the plant?’ ‘What do you notice about the rock?’

A committee of educators chaired by Benjamin Bloom devised a taxonomy of types of questions in which they identified ‘lower order questions’ and ‘higher order questions’. Research shows that lower order, recall-type questions tend to dominate classrooms. This leads to an emphasis on remembering facts and reduces the opportunities for creativity, thinking and developing understanding (see table).

It is important that you plan your questions appropriately. When you are doing a practical demonstration, for example, or introducing a new topic, write out a list that includes some lower order and some higher order questions. This way, you will be using questions to help your students to learn. Just like every aspect of teaching, you need to practise! You also need to think about how you respond to your students’ answers. Try and give them time to think, ask several students the same question or let them discuss the answer before they respond.

Conventionally, students are asked to put their hands up when they answer a question. You probably find that the same students frequently put their hands up and some do so very rarely. It can be very effective to ask specific students to answer your questions and not to ask them to put their hands up. Everyone will have to listen as they know that they might get asked. When you first start doing this, make sure that you direct easy questions at students who you know will find the work difficult. If they can successfully answer some of your questions, they will become more confident.

Bloom’s taxonomy of questions

Type of questionsPurposeExamples
Lower order questions
RecallTo see what your students remember

Who is?

What are?

Where are?

When did?

ComprehensionTo see if your students understand what they can remember

Explain why?

What are the differences between?

What is meant by?

ApplicationTo see if your students can use their knowledge

How would you classify these invertebrates?

What is the evidence that this is a metal?

Higher order questions
Analysis

To help your students think critically

To see if they can make deductions and draw conclusions

Why?

What do you think will happen if?

What do your results show?

What would be the effect on?

SynthesisTo help your students create new ideas from existing information

What would happen if there was no friction?

Suppose the Earth rotated at half the speed?

EvaluationTo encourage your students to form opinions and make judgments

How effective is?

Which is best and why?

What do you think?

Adapted from Amos, S. (2002) ‘Teachers’ questions in the classroom’ in Amos, S., Boohan, R. (eds) Aspects of Teaching Secondary Science, London, RoutledgeFalmer.

Resource 3: Peer Assessment

Resource 5: Working with insects