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Teaching Strategies: Stimulate Through Effective Questioning

Janelle Cox

If you’re looking to improve the effectiveness of your teaching strategies, it’s best to start by improving your questions.

Questioning students is the foundation of teaching, and when done effectively, it can transform a traditional teacher-led classroom into one where the students lead.

Oftentimes teachers ask questions in an attempt to “fish” for the right answer. When doing this, teachers are missing out on giving all students the opportunity to participate in the class discussion.

To help shyer students develop skills of inquiry that will extend learning beyond the classroom, consider the following teaching strategies.

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Teaching Strategies for Asking Questions

Plan and prepare ahead of time. When preparing questions, consider your end goal. Do you want your students to develop their critical thinking skills or master a concept? The questions that you prepare ahead of time should help students practice the skills or concepts of your end goal.

With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in full effect, consider using Bloom’s Taxonomy to prepare higher-order thinking skills. Scaffold questions from easy levels to hard to keep students engaged. Combine these questions with lower-order thinking skills or “closed questions” to assess students’ knowledge and comprehension.

Keep it simple and straightforward.  Aim to ask clear, specific questions that build depth and complexity. Consider asking multiple simple questions instead of complex ones. When responding to a student, ask “What do you think? Why do you think that? How do you know this?”

Avoid leading the witness or “fishing” for an answer. Leading students to an answer destroys the whole purpose for a classroom discussion. It discourages students from thinking on their own and discovering an answer through the discussion process. Instead, try putting forth a question, then putting students into small groups to discuss a logical answer.

Ask both open-ended and closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions can encourage classroom discussions, and close-ended questions often test students’ comprehension.

How to Respond Effectively

Give students time to think. After you ask a question, give students an ample amount of time (five to 10 seconds) to formulate a response. Also keep in mind the students’ age and depth of material. Try and refrain from answering your own question, instead think of another way that you can ask it.

Do not interrupt students when they are responding. Allow time to hear the students’ full response. Once they have responded, then give them credit for their ideas in an appropriate tone of voice.

Show interest in every answer, not just the right answer. Show students that you are listening and engaged while they speak. If a student gives a weak or incorrect answer, then follow up with another question that the whole class can help answer.

Why Open-Ended Questions are Essential

Open-ended questions are most effective because they encourage classroom discussion and keep students engaged in the learning process. They are also effective because they:

  • Prompt students to explore their feelings on a topic.
  • Allow students to see others perspectives.
  • Ask students to predict possible outcomes.
  • Prompt students to use their thought process and connect information.
  • Refine a statement or illustrate a concept with an example.

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy provides teachers with a useful way to think about when and how to develop questions. Its unique structure for developing questions encourages students to think on different levels. Each level allows for teachers to construct open or closed-ended questions that engage all students of all levels and abilities. The new, revised edition of the Bloom’s Taxonomy starts with lower-order thinking skills and moves up to higher-level thinking skills. Starting from the bottom, the level are:

  • Remember – recognizing, identifying.
  • Understand – interrupt, classify, summarize.
  • Apply – execute, implement.
  • Analyze – differentiate, organize, attribute.
  • Evaluate – check, critique.
  • Create – generate, plan, produce.

Effective teachers use a combination of lower-order questioning as well as higher-order questioning. To help you achieve your goals, be sure to keep notes on which questions were most effective. This way you can look back and fine tune any questions at a later date.

How do you ask questions in your classroom? Have you found any effective ways that work well for you? Please share your ideas in the comment section below. We would love to hear your ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators