Making Questioning Count


crane2The 15 minute forum tonight was led by PE NQT James Crane.  James started the session by telling us that since he had been teaching, he had quickly come to the conclusion that questioning was one of the most important aspects of pedagogy, and was essential to develop good learning.  It should be a  key feature of every lesson and is essential for judging how well students are understanding the work.  As such, it is a key planning tool – by asking good questions, you find out what they are struggling with and so which direction you need to take the lesson.  He also reflected on when it doesn’t go so well:


A scenario we will all be familiar with!

At DHS, questioning sits as one of our 6 key pedagogical principles:


The ‘so that…’ of questioning is key.  If done well, it makes sure that students are made to think hard, with breadth, depth and accuracy.

Why ask questions?

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

What are the barriers to effective questioning?

  • Wait time – we often don’t give students enough time to think about their answer, before they respond to a question.  On average it’s about 0.9 seconds.
  • Subject/content knowledge needs to be strong if you’re going to ask probing questions.
  • Often there are only a few students involved.
  • We often accept poor answers – due to a lack of time, or wanting to make students ‘feel good’.  This doesn’t help them in the long run as it compounds misconceptions.
  • Ineffective questions i.e. they don’t suitably challenge the students.
  • Getting the answers wrong can throw inexperienced teachers.  With time, you learn to use this as a learning opportunity – reframe the question and go again.
  • Unexpected responses – as above!  Try to anticipate these and how you will respond.  This is a good way of getting a handle on common misconceptions.
  • “Ping-pong” between the teacher and one student – whilst this can be useful in terms of probing the understanding of that one student, if it goes on for too long, other students in the room can switch off.  So, bring other students in – “What’s your view on what John has just said?”

So, what does effective questioning look like?

  • Involve a wide range of students with your questioning.  Be aware of who has and who hasn’t taken part – and bring them in.
  • The questions should be sufficiently challenging to deepen and develop thinking (and to address misconceptions)
  • Responses should be developed by more complex questions.
  • Mediocre responses should not be accepted, but developed by further questions.
  • Scaffolding for reluctant respondents.  This is a key skill to master.  If a student ‘doesn’t know’, the skilful teacher will break the question down to a simpler form, and then build the questions up, based on their responses.  This is essential for building student confidence.
  • Encourage students to evaluate peer responses e.g. What do you think of that response?  How would you develop that?
  • Students should be encouraged to ask questions.
  • Standard English should be expected for all answers – if they speak well, they will be better placed to write it well.
  • Supports metacognition, by getting students to think about their thought processes.

Some things to try

  • Atmosphere is VITAL – Know your students and make it a ‘safe’ environment to get the answers wrong.  This is an important part of learning – embrace failure!
  • Incorrect answers  can be addressed by other students
  • Prefect Plenary (generate own questions)
  • Hot seat – students ask one of their peers a series of questions on a topic.  It is then passed on to somebody else.
  • Pose, pause, pounce, bounce
  • Let a student know a question is coming – this gives them thinking time and so a better quality answer e.g. “I want you to be thinking about X, because in 5 minutes I’m going to ask…….”
  • Question first – name second.  This is a really important strategy.  If you say the student name you are going to direct the question at, before the question, the rest of the class know they are off the hook.  So, ask the question, then the student name.
  • ABC feedback.
  • Variety of strength – know your students and make sure your questions keep them in the challenge zone – not too easy or too difficult – but just enough to make them think.  Sounds simple – but this really is a skill of the expert teacher.
  • Link to specific assessment criteria.
  • Plan questions that will allow you to assess whether or not students have understood key ideas and concepts during the lesson, before you move on.  These are known as ‘Hinge Questions’
  • Be responsive with your questioning – probe and develop student responses by questioning them further.
  • Use WHAT? HOW? WHY?

Questioning – some reflective questions




This entry was posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Making Questioning Count

  1. dodiscimus says:

    I would just add the ‘No Opt Out’ idea that’s in Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion. Sometimes a student still won’t be able (or be inclined) to offer an answer even to a re-framed question. Under those circumstances, after another student answers, going back to the first one and asking the same question again, preferably slightly re-worded so it doesn’t sound too patronising, is a good way to support students that really didn’t know, and makes not bothering to answer, impossible.
    Best wishes

  2. Excellent work James. So great to see you leading the way with CPD at DHS.

  3. us122598 says:

    Excellent work 😀

  4. Reblogged this on David J Terrell and commented:
    The answer is in the question! So let’s ask the right question so we get, not the right answer, but the next right question!

  5. Pingback: Blog of the week | 17th May 2015 | Never Stop Learning

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