10 Common Mistakes Teachers
Make When Asking Questions

10 Common Mistakes Teachers Make When Asking Questions

10 Common Mistakes Teachers Make When Asking Questions:

  1. Not asking the right type of question.
  2. Not asking questions at the right level/complexity. 
  3. Not providing enough ‘wait time’.
  4. Answering their own question. 
  5. Not asking questions that promote new thinking.
  6. Only asking students with their hands up.
  7. Not asking enough follow up questions.
  8. Restating the same question when students don’t answer.
  9. Not actually listening to student responses. 
  10. Not using a structured questioning strategy.

The list above of 10 common mistakes teachers make then asking questions is based on my own personal experience from observing teachers using questioning within their lessons. 

VIDEO: 10 Common Mistakes Teachers Make When Asking Questions

1. Not Asking The Right Type Of Question

The first common mistake teachers make when asking questions is asking the wrong type of question. 

There are so many different types of questions that teachers can ask, and selecting an appropriate type of question is essential for obtaining the specific response you are expecting the student to provide.

Do you want your students to recall previously learned information? Do you want your students to explore new ideas about a topic? Do you want them to think ethically, practically or hypothetically? Do you want them to apply their learning or think in an abstract way?

Well, the type of question you ask will largely determine the way your student will think and respond.  

Question types extends well beyond open/closed questions and high/low order questions, there are many more options to consider and if you have a good range of question types at your disposal you will be able to greatly enhance your Q&A sessions. 

You can explore the different types of questions available to teachers by reading this article:

18 Types of Questions Teachers Can Ask in Lessons

2. Not Asking Questions At The Right Level

It is important to ask questions which are appropriate to the level of students you are teaching. 

Questions which are too challenging will provide too much stretch for students and they will be unable to answer them adequately. 

Similarly, questions which are not challenging enough will not provide enough stretch to develop students knowledge and experiences. 

Asking questions which are challenging but achievable will ensure your students are able to meaningfully engage with the lesson and develop their learning.   

3. Not Providing Enough 'Wait Time'

The term ‘wait time’ was coined by Mary Budd Rowe back in 1972. It is the time given between the teacher asking a question and waiting for a response. 

Mary Budd Rowe conducted an observational study which found that the average wait time given by teachers was only 1.5 seconds. She even found an example of wait time being as short as 0.1 seconds.

Although this study was conducted in the 1970s, similar studies has replicated these findings over recent decades. Therefore, it remains the case that most teachers do not allow sufficient time for students to think and respond.

Wait time can potentially be shorter when students are required to recall information and facts they already know, but when asking questions which require students to generate new thinking and learning it is essential that an appropriate amount of wait time is provided. 

There is no precise amount of time that teachers should provide before asking a student for a response but it has been advised in more recent studies that 10-20 seconds would be a more appropriate wait time to allow more meaningful thinking to take place.

So, do not be afraid of the silence, we are taught to keep lessons flowing and to teaching with pace but sometimes stopping to allow time to think is crucial for learning to take place.

A good questioning technique which incorporates ‘wait time’ is Pose, Pause, Pounce and Bounce

4. Answering Their Own Question

This one is somewhat linked to the lack of wait time above. Teachers are sometimes too quick to answer their own question when students have not been able to respond. 

Perhaps it is a fear of silence or a desire to help the student by providing the correct answer, but this is clearly not a positive strategy to adopt. 

It is obvious that asking a question and then answering it yourself will not support student learning but you would be surprised just how many teachers do this, but when asked claim they never would.

It is important to allow additional time for students to respond and if they are still unable to do so, to ask an alternative question or to rephrase the question in a different way.  

5. Not Asking Questions That Promote New Thinking

This is a critical example of a common mistake teachers make asking questions in lessons as it has been proven to be the case in many studies over many years. 

Various studies have shown that teachers predominantly ask closed questions which require students to recall facts and information they have learned previously. 

Questions such as these do not promote new thinking and new learning, they only challenge students to recall things they already know. 

Closed, recall questions are important, but teachers typically ask very few open, exploratory questions which promote new thinking and learning.

It is highly important for teachers to shift the focus towards more open questioning strategies to ensure Q&A sessions in lesson move from being predominantly about checking learning to Q&A sessions which promote discussion and debate and provide new learning opportunities. 

6. Only Asking Students With Their Hands Up

If a student has their hand up it is highly likely they know the answer and they are confident to share their answer.

If the teacher only asks students with their hand up to answer questions, the teacher will mostly be asking students who already know the answer, and the students who do not know the answer will soon learn that if they keep their hand down they will not be asked to provide a response.

Adopting a ‘no hands up’ or ‘hands down’ policy will mean the teacher retains the control of who provides a response and this means that students will expect to be called upon at any time to provide an answer. 

However, if a ‘hands down’ policy is used it is important to have structured questioning strategies in use to support all students in their responses.

7. Not Asking Enough Follow Up Questions

It is very common for teachers to ask a question, get a response from a student, and then either return to lesson or ask another student a new unrelated question.

Follow up questions which ask students why, when, who, what, where and how will stretch and challenge students and it will help to progress more depth in discussion. 

Some excellent techniques to support type of questioning are:

ABC Questioning

Socratic Questioning

Pose, Pause Pounce and Bounce

8. Restating The Same Question When Students Don't Answer

It can be common for a teacher to ask a question, wait for an answer, and when one does not come, ask the same question again. 

On rare occasions this works, perhaps the students did not hear the question properly, but more often than not simply asking the same question that students couldn’t answer the firs time will not suddenly generate responses.

Instead, the teacher should think about either rephrasing the question or asking an alternative question. 

Either of these approaches will greatly improve the chances of students being able to engage with the question. 

9. Not Actually Listening To Student Responses

From my experience, this is an extremely common mistake teachers make when asking questions. 

The initial response from a student is important but this just the start. Their response could be built upon or challenged, or bounced to another student for an alternative perspective. 

Whether the teacher doesn’t listen to student responses, doesn’t have the questioning techniques at their disposal to ask meaningful follow up questions, or is too focused with their next question to listen actively to student responses, I am not sure. 

But I see this so often and it is something that can be corrected very easily.

10. Not Using A Structured Questioning Strategy

Questioning within lessons can often be given little thought by teachers prior to their lessons. Teachers tend to feel that they have the experience and skills to conduct a question and answer session without advanced planning. 

However, by utilising a structured questioning technique the teacher will have a simple framework from which they can structure and progress their question and answer session to generate more discussion and debate. 

If you would like to explore my preferred questioning techniques for teachers you should definitely check out this article:

My Top 5 Questioning Techniques For Teachers

Author: Jonathan Sandling

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