Improving Questioning in the Classroom
Questioning is an integral part of teaching but how effective is yours?
Teachers are said to ask on average two questions every minute they are in the classroom with their pupils. According to TES, this equates to around 400 questions per day and 70,000 over the course of your average teaching career! Clearly, questioning is at the heart of what we do but how can we ensure that our questions are making the biggest impact on pupil learning?
Here are ten ways to make sure quality questioning is a feature of your teaching…
As learners we have all probably observed at some point the phenomenon where only a select few pupils answer the teacher’s questions. This could occur for a number of reasons but teachers must ensure that every aspect of their teaching is inclusive and invites all learners to participate. A good way to ensure inclusion where questioning is concerned is to employ a ‘no hands up’ strategy where pupils are not allowed to raise their hands in response to questions. Instead, give them a variety of ways to respond including mini whiteboards and number fans and frequently just call on different students at random to answer your question.
Give pupils time to think
A teacher’s question is only as good as the depth of response it brings from the learner and that is why it is crucial that we learn to pause for a longer than just a few seconds once a question has been asked. Give learners time to think about their answers and avoid poorly constructed responses.
Let pupils decide the questions you will be asking them
Sometimes it can be best to invite them to come up with the questions for the lesson. Present a stimulus, for example a text, and ask them to suggest what you might ask them about the text. This certainly encourages high order thinking.
Make it unpredictable
Make the way you ask as unpredictable as who you ask by presenting questions verbally and in written text or even via video or my favourite, through song! Another favourite of mine is to present students with an answer and then ask them ‘if that’s the answer, what is the question?’
Ask a range of question types
Quality questioning in the classroom means a range of question types must be posed to learners. Arguably the best way of ensuring range of questioning is to consider Bloom’s taxonomy or Debono’s ‘Thinking Hats’.
relate questions to learning outcomes
This usually happens automatically but it can be useful for teachers to think about their questions in relation to learning outcomes at the planning stages. For example, your learning outcomes for a literacy lesson about pronouns might look like this:
All children can recognise a range of pronouns…
Most children can state the function of a pronoun…
Some children can categorise pronouns as personal interrogative, etc
It stands to reason then that key questions in your lesson will be based around assessing whether or not these outcomes have been met:
Can you tell me which words are pronouns?
What does a pronoun do?
How might we sort these pronouns? How are these pronouns similar/different?
Go with the flow
Whilst it’s important to plan key questions, it’s equally important to be able to change the questions you’re asking to take the children’s learning where it needs to go or to assess their current levels of understanding. Don’t be afraid to change the direction of the lesson when it isn’t going well.
Ensure questions are differentiated
See the point about learning outcomes above. Further differentiation comes from targeting questions at particular pupils. For example, you may feel less able learners need to focus only on recall thus your questions for them might require them only to remember information to answer. Be careful to pigeon hole pupils too much though as you then run the risk of neglecting lower ability pupils by only asking closed or lower order questions.
Don’t ask too many
It goes without saying but lessons should include variety and avoid over reliance on anyone technique to get learners from point A to point B. Keep pupils engaged by reducing the volume of your questions but increasing their effectiveness.