There are many questioning techniques available to teachers but in this article I will be sharing my personal top 5 questioning techniques that I like to use in lessons to generate more discussion and debate with my students.
There are four main reasons why these specific strategies have made my top five questioning techniques for teachers:
The first of my teaching techniques for teachers is Pose, Pause, Pounce and Bounce.
This is a teaching classic and every teacher should have this one in their questioning toolkit. Someone who promotes this technique is the fantastic Dylan Wiliam – what more justification do you need than this?
Start by posing a question for students to answer. The question you ask should be open-ended and allow students the opportunity to provide a range of opinions and perspectives.
Closed questions and lower order questions are not ideal for this technique as students can only respond with simple right or wrong answers which will not allow for discussion and debate.
By using open-ended questions there is often no ‘right’ answer but instead each student’s individual thoughts are valid and can contribute towards the discussion.
Examples of open-ended questions may include:
Once an appropriate question has been posed it is important to pause and allow sufficient time for students to think and provide a response.
This is known as ‘wait time’ – the time given between asking a question and expecting a response.
The term ‘wait time‘ was first coined in 1972 by Mary Budd Rowe. She conducted an observational research 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, a number of studies have been conducted over recent decades, all demonstrating similar findings.
It is therefore clear that when teachers ask a question they typically don’t 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 allow 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.
Don’t be scared of the silence. Teachers are taught to keep their lessons moving and to maintain active participation at all times, so silence can feel uncomfortable for teachers. But it is important to take a moment to slow the lesson down and allow time for students to think and provide a meaningful response.
You’ve posed an appropriate question and allowed sufficient time for students to think and provide a response. Now it’s time to pounce on a student for an answer.
The thought of pouncing on a student can be quite frightening for the student and the teacher. However, the word ‘pounce’ is probably only included in this technique because it rhymes with ‘bounce’.
Instead of pouncing on a student, you would select an appropriate student to provide you with an initial response to the question. As you have asked an open-ended question, with no right or wrong answer, most students will feel comfortable to provide a response.
This could be a full answer, a partial answer, some key words or a single fact; whatever the student is able and comfortable to provide. This initial response will allow you to begin a discussion with your students.
Once a student has provided an initial response to the question you will bounce the student’s response to another student.
In doing so you would ask the second student what they think about the first student’s response. Do they agree or disagree? Do they have something else to add? Do they want to provide a different answer?
But this questioning strategy doesn’t need to end here. You can reuse any stage of the process again to keep the discussion going.
For example, you could continue to pounce and bounce questions and responses around the group to generate a much broader discussion; obtaining multiple perspectives and opinions.
Alternatively, you could pose a new question, pause for thought and then pounce and bounce to take the discussion off in a new direction.
Ultimately, this is a flexible questioning technique which you can use as you feel is best to meet the needs of your students and the type of discussion they are having.
The teacher begins by posing the following (open-ended) question:
Why are the UK government more focusing in promoting STEM subjects compared to arts and humanities subjects?
The teacher would then pause, for at least 10 seconds, to allow students time to think about how they may respond to the question.
The teacher will then pounce on a student and ask them to provide an initial answer. The student may respond by saying:
I think the government are focusing on STEM subjects as they want more scientists and engineers for the future.
This response can then be bounced to another student to see if they agree or disagree, or to see if they have anything further to add.
The second student may say:
The government are focusing more on STEM subjects because they are more important than humanities and arts.
The teacher may wish to bounce the same question to another student to gain their response. This third student may say:
I disagree, arts and humanities are equally as important as STEM subjects.
The teacher can continue to bounce the question from student to student asking questions which facilitate discussion and debate. For example the teacher could ask:
Do you agree with this statement?
What evidence do you have to support that claim?
Why are arts and humanities not considered to be as important?
Alternatively, the teacher could pose a new question, pause to allow students time to think and then progress the discussion by taking it in a new direction.
When conducting a question and answer session in your lesson you can ask students if they ‘agree’ with each other’s answers, views and opinions.
If a student says they agree with another student they will need to explain or provide justification as to why they agree.
This enables students to develop a consensus around a particular topic or point of view.
During a question and answer session you could ask students if they would like to build upon another student’s answer.
This can be achieved in two ways:
You could also ask students if they would like to challenge each other’s responses and views.
This should be done in a positive and constructive way to make sure challenge produces a beneficial outcome.
Students should be asked to explain and justify why they disagree.
The teacher starts a group discussion with a broad open-ended question, such as:
What qualities would you expect to find in a good leader?
The teacher would ask a specific student to provide an initial response to the question, such as:
I think integrity is an important quality of a good leader.
The teacher could then ask another student if they agree with the previous student’s response, and also justify why they agree. Another student may say the following:
I agree that integrity is important as a good leader is someone who needs to lead by example and act as a role model for others.
The teacher may then wish to ask another student if they would like to build upon the idea of what makes a good leader. The teacher may ask:
What other qualities would you expect to see in a good leader?
The student would provide another quality that they believe makes a good leader, such as:
I think empathy is another important quality of a good leader.
The teacher may wish to continue to ask students to build upon this topic by adding more leadership qualities, such as: emotional intelligence, self-awareness and competence.
The teacher may then wish to ask another student if they would like to challenge any of the ideas that have been provided by other students. For example:
Do you agree that emotional intelligence is an important quality of a good leader, or would you like to challenge this idea?
The student will be able to share their view on whether emotional intelligence is an important quality or not:
I think emotional intelligence is relevant but I don’t think it is essential for being a good leader. It is not something I would typically associate with a leader.
The teacher can continue this process, alternating between agree, build and challenge questions in response to student feedback to ensure the discussion progresses in a meaningful way.
The example above demonstrates how ABC questioning can be used in a teacher-led way, but ABC questioning can also be used in a student-led way. If you would like to find out more about this I have another article dedicated to ABC questioning where I share both teacher-led and student-led examples. You can read this article here: ABC Questioning Technique Examples.
If a question and answer session in underway with a group of students the teacher can ask questions which encourage students to elaborate on their responses.
This promotes deeper thinking and requires students to explain and justify their points of view. Students can also be asked to elaborate on each other’s responses.
When a student makes a claim it is important to ask them to provide some evidence or an example to support it.
Using real world examples to demonstrate their point of view and using evidence, where possible, will enable students to greatly strengthen their responses.
If you wish to progress the discussion into a debate you can ask students to provide arguments for a particular perspective that has been raised.
This can be enhanced by returning back to questions which seek elaboration and evidence/examples to support arguments.
As with arguments for, arguments against can be encouraged by the teacher to obtain a difference in perspective.
Again, using elaboration and evidence/examples to support arguments against students help to develop meaningful perspectives on a given topic and challenge alternative perspectives in a constructive way.
Socratic questioning is a complex topic to cover and it is widely used across a range of disciplines, from education, psychology, counselling and more.
Ultimately, it is centred around probing students for more information. Socratic questioning seeks to delve deeper into the topic being discussed by encouraging students to think in a more critical and complex way.
In order to simplify Socratic questioning, and provide you with a practical framework to use in the classroom, four roles can be adopted by the teacher: gadfly, midwife, stingray and ignoramus.
Act like a gadfly by continuously probing students for more information.
The teacher nags and pokes students by asking why, when, what, who and how.
This challenges students to think more deeply about the topic being covered.
Act like a midwife by supporting students to give birth to new ideas and opinions.
As a teacher you ask questions which facilitate discussion and coach students to generate new ideas and build upon existing ideas.
Act like a stingray by introducing a shock into the discussion at relevant points. Asking questions which challenge students to think in a non-conventional way promotes critical thinking and abstract thinking.
Asking too many stingray questions can inhibit discussions but when asked in moderation, and at the correct time, they can greatly enhance conversations and modes of thinking.
Act like an ignoramus by pretending to understand nothing about the topic being discussed. This role, unfortunately, comes very easily to me.
This places the student in the position of teacher and by encouraging them to teach you and others about a topic will support their understanding.
The fifth of my questioning techniques for teachers is affective questioning.
Affective questions are considered within Bloom’s Affective Domain and they encourage students to think about their own behaviour, feelings, emotions, attitudes and values.
Students are asked to think about how the topics being discussed relate to them on a personal level and how their own emotions and behaviours may impact others?
The previous four questioning techniques I have covered are predominantly focused on students sharing facts, information, ideas and perspectives.
However, affective questions add a new dimension as they require students to engage with the topic on a more personal and emotional level.
Affective questioning is often overlooked in lessons as teachers typically tend to focus more on facts, information and ideas. However, asking affective questions enables the teacher to move the discussion to a more emotionally sensitive position.
By engaging with a topic in a more holistic way, students are able to fully immerse themselves in the subject and the learning has a more significant impact.
How do you feel about that?
How does that make you feel?
Is that important to you?
Why is that important to you?
Does this change your attitude towards this in any way?
How does your behaviour reflect your view on this?
Which of your emotions best aligns with this concept?
Do you empathise with the opposing perspective?
Does this make you feel happy?
Does this anger you?
How would you feel if I said you were wrong?
I have presented my top 5 questioning techniques for teachers as five separate techniques, however they can be used in combination.
You may wish to begin your lesson by using pose, pause, pounce and bounce.
Then once the discussion is underway you could use ABC questioning or EEAA questioning to enable you to ask more targeted questions when pouncing and bouncing responses between students.