Display and Referential
Questions for Teachers:
Examples, Explanations, Pros and Cons

Display and Referential Questions for Teachers

Display and referential questions are opposing question types. 

A display question is asked when the teacher already knows the answer the student will provide; commonly used to check learning. A referential question is asked when the teacher does not know the answer the students will provide; commonly used to seek greater understanding on a topic.

Display questions are typically associated with retrieval of information, facts and knowledge which the student already knows. 

Referential questions are typically associated with students providing personal reflection on their own feelings, attitudes and experiences which are only known by the student at the time of asking the question.

Continue reading below to find out more about display and referential questions and how teachers can use them in the classroom.  


18 Types of Questions 
Teachers Can Ask In Lessons

If you would like to explore other types of questions teachers can ask in lessons I recommend that you read the article above.


What Are DISPLAY Questions?

A display question is a type of rhetorical question which is asked by a teacher when they already know the answer.

Display questions are commonly used to check learning as they require students to recall information, facts and knowledge.

Sometimes this type of question is call an ‘information question’.

Display questions are opposite to referential questions (see below). 

Video: DISPLAY Quesitons

15 Examples of DISPLAY QUESTIONS For Teachers

  • What is the capital of Germany?
  • What year did the Second World War begin?
  • What is the square root of 36?
  • What is the smallest county in England?
  • What year was the first moon landing?
  • What are the five stages of grief?
  • How many players are in a cricket team
  • What type of animal is a gecko?
  • When did Alaska become a state of the USA?
  • When would you use a question mark?
  • Who was the second person to walk on the moon?
  • Who directed Independence Day? 
  • Who holds the current 100m world record?
  • Who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird?
  • What time does this lesson start?

Pros And Cons Of Using DISPLAY QUESTIONS In Lessons

Pros: Cons:
Easier for students to answer.
Students with no prior knowledge or opinion will not be able to answer.
Easy to analyse responses.
If a yes or no answer is required a student could guess correctly and the teacher would believe them to understand the topic.
Limit the use of irrelevant or ambiguous responses.
Do not allow students an opportunity to explain or elaborate on their answer.
Accessible for students as they require lower-order thinking skills.
Students are forced to respond in a pre-determined way and their preferred answer may not be an option.
Provide an opportunity for the teacher to check learning.
Student may provide simplistic responses to complex topics.
Quick and easy to administer for the teacher.
Do not provide students with opportunities for new learning, only opportunities to recall existing knowledge.

When Should DISPLAY QUESTIONS Be Used In Lessons?

Teachers can use display questions at any point in a lesson.

Commonly, display questions are used at the start of a lesson to assess student understanding of the topic to be taught in that lesson or to check what the students can remember from the previous lesson.

This may take the form of verbal questioning or by using quizzes and multiple choice tests.

Display questions are also commonly used at the end of the lesson as part of a plenary activity to check learning. 

But ultimately, display questions can be used at any point in a lesson where the teacher feels they will be beneficial to student progress.  

Typically, display questions are used when the teacher wants to check a student’s understanding on a topic. Specifically, when there is a clear right and wrong answer. 

Display questions do not usually generate discussion and debate and they are more of a transactional exchange between teacher and student.

Display questions are therefore used when factual information is being taught, such as, names of famous people from history, dates when historical events happened, when something has a specific name, the stages of a process, or any other factual topic which students need to learn.


What Are REFERENTIAL Questions?

A referential question is asked by a teacher when they do not already know the answer a student will provide.

Referential questions are commonly used to explore the personal views and experiences of students, such as asking a student how they feel or think about a particular topic or event. 

Referential questions are opposite to display questions (see above). 

Video: REFERENTIAL Questions

15 Examples of REFERENTIAL QUESTIONS For Teachers

  • What did you do at the weekend?
  • What was going through your mind when you completed that task?
  • How did you feel when you finished last in the race?
  • What is your favourite thing about school?
  • Do you agree with this?
  • Do you believe what that person said? 
  • Which do you think is most important?
  • Who do you think has the most influence over this decision?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • What did you gain from this experience?
  • Did you enjoy today’s lesson?
  • Why are you so sad?
  • What did you have for breakfast this morning?
  • What is the most important thing you have learned this year?
  • What stood out the most when you looked that that picture?

Pros And Cons Of Using REFERENTIAL QUESTIONS In Lessons

Pros: Cons:
They allow a potentially unlimited number of possible responses.
Students can fail to make a clear point as they offer too much detail and elaboration.
They allow complex topics to be explored in richer detail.
Variation in responses can potentially be difficult to analyse and summarise.
They promote higher-order thinking skills.
Questions are less accessible for students who find it difficult to use higher-order thinking skills.
They provide opportunities for new thinking and new learning.
More time needs to be allocated for thinking, responding and discussion.
As there is no single correct answer students are comfortable to provide a response.
Some students can find these questions intimidating, particularly if others disagree with their own perspective.
Allow students to explain, justify and elaborate on their answer.
More challenging for the teacher to check learning and understanding due to the variety and subjectivity of student responses.

When Should REFERENTIAL QUESTIONS Be Used In Lessons?

Teachers can use referential questions at any point in a lesson.

Ultimately, referential questions should be used whenever the teacher wants students to engage in discussion and debate and/or when they want students to reflect on their own views and experiences.

Referential questions allow students to express a range of views and thoughts on a specific topic allowing for agreement, disagreement and discussion.

Commonly, referential questions are used at the start of a lesson to provide students with an opportunity to express their personal views and experiences on the topic being taught. 

This is a great way to start a lesson as it immediately generates discussion and student engagement and all students can respond as they will typically have personal views and experiences to draw from.

Using referential questions at the start of a lesson provides the teacher with an opportunity to assess the views and understanding of the class. This will inform the lesson ahead. 

Referential questions are also commonly used at the end of the lesson as part of a plenary activity to explore some of the key themes discussed in the lesson. 

Referential questions can ultimately be used at any point in a lesson where the teacher feels the students would benefit from discussion and debate.

Therefore, referential questions obviously work best when teaching topics that are not easily defined and where there is room for differences in opinion and there is no single correct answer.

Lessons which require students to reflect on personal experiences or share their personal views on a topic are ideal for referential questioning.    

For example, if the student is learning about what makes a good leader, they could be asked to think of a time when they were led, and consider what qualities that leader had, how it made them feel and how it effected their performance. 

There are no single correct answers to these types of questions and discussions however there may be some responses which are more suitable than others and students will be required to explain and justify their answers. 

Referential questions will encourage higher order thinking skills in students such as analysis, evaluation and critical thinking. 

When conducting research, referential questions are used to obtain subjective information and support qualitative analysis


My Top 5 Questioning Techniques for Teachers: Generate More Discussion and Debate

If you are interested in finding out what my favourite questioning techniques are you should check our the article above.

My Top 5 Questioning Techniques for Teachers

I hope you enjoyed this article on display and referential questions, if so, I encourage you to view the accompanying videos and check out my YouTube channel for more content on questioning for teachers.