Leading questions encourage and prompt students to provide an answer in a particular way; based on the way the question is framed.
Leading questions can be used intentionally or unintentionally.
Teachers should be careful not to use leading questions unintentionally in the classroom as they can influence student responses and create bias in questioning.
However, leading questions can be used intentionally in the classroom to support students in reaching a favourable response when they are not able to do so independently.
Leading questions can therefore be framed in a way which supports and guides students towards a desired response.
For example, a teacher could ask a student, “what’s wrong with this idea?” This type of question will lead the student to think that there is likely something wrong with the idea and it needs to be reconsidered (see more examples below).
Teachers should avoid using leading questions unintentionally as they can mislead students with bias and assumptions, however teachers can use leading questions intentionally to guide students in the right direction when they are unable to do so independently.
Leading questions can support the teacher in scaffolding learning as they offer guidance to student thinking and development of knowledge.
The answer is…yes and no.
Leading questions are normally referred to as being bad as they are centred around bias and assumptions which in turn can lead to inappropriate responses.
Leading questions should certainly not be used in exam questions or surveys as they are misleading for students.
Research by Ceci et al. (1994) found that children are particularly susceptible to leading questions as they are very attuned to taking cues from adults which results in them amending their answers based on the way the question has been worded.
However, leading questions are not always bad in the classroom as it ultimately depends on the intention behind asking the question and whether the outcome is beneficial to the student or not.
Let me explain further…
Teachers should avoid asking unintentional leading questions which impose a subjective assumption on a student, or which limits a student’s ability to respond in an authentic way.
For example, if a teacher asks a student how easy they found the test, this will lead the student to think they should have found the test easy.
If the student had actually found the test very hard they may feel embarrassed to admit so and this may affect their confidence.
This type of leading question is bad and should be avoided by teachers.
Whereas, if a teacher presents a new theory to the students and then asks a student if they can think of any limitations to the theory, this can be a good use of a leading question.
In this example, the teacher is intentionally leading the student to consider known limitations to the theory being presented.
If there are some well established limitations to the theory, and the teacher is planning to present a second theory which is more comprehensive, then by leading the students to think about the limitations of the first theory they will be encouraged to think more analytically and critically.
In summary, poorly worded leading questions which are unintentionally used should be avoided as they can mislead students, however teachers can use leading questions to intentionally support students by guiding them in the right direction when they are unable to do so independently. Leading questions can support the teacher in scaffolding learning as they offer guidance to student thinking and development of knowledge.
Leading questions can be used at any point in a lesson.
As discussed above in the ‘are leading questions good or bad in the classroom’ section, it is important that the teacher avoids using unintentional leading questions which misguide students with bias and assumptions.
Teachers should instead use leading questions intentionally to scaffold learning and guide students in their thinking.
Leading questions can be used following assessment for learning to guide the students to the right topics to revise and rethink.
Leading questions can be used when students are doing group work to support them in their thinking and progression in the task set.
Ultimately, whenever there is a need to intentionally direct students towards a desired mode of thinking or topic, leading questions can be one way to achieve this. Leading questions can therefore be used at any point in a lesson when this is required.
The main benefit of using leading questions in lessons is that they allow the teacher to influence how the lesson progresses and how students are engaging with the topic.
Leading questions enable the teacher to support students by guiding them in the right direction and scaffolding learning to enable students to reach a desired end-point.
the limitations of using leading questions are outlined above, but when asking leading questions in an intentional and meaningful way they can be a useful question type for teachers to use in lessons.
If you are interested in finding out what my favourite questioning techniques are you should check our the article above.