Better Questions: Some Ideas

Every lesson, students embark on a journey.  The fact that they begin their journey from different places, travel at different speeds, in different directions and on different modes of transport presents a considerable challenge for their guide – not least because the system demands that they all arrive at the same destination at the appointed time.

A key tool for teachers to overcome this challenge can be the use of effective questioning. It isn’t realistic to demand that teachers differentiate resources and objectives 30 times to meet the individual needs of the pupils – as highlighted above. But effective questioning, use of partner talk… they can go a long way to helping every child reach their destination!

  1. Use open questions.(‘effective teaches have been found to ask more open questions than less effective teachers’ – Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds*).
  2. Provide wait time – pupils need time to think through their answers before replying. (According to Muijs and Reynolds, ‘For open-ended, higher-level questions a longer wait time [up to 15 seconds] is required’.*)
  3. Provide thinking time by giving an advance warning, such as ‘In two minutes I am going to ask you …’, or ‘At the end of the lesson I am going to ask you …’
  4. Allow pupils to explore and articulate their thinking by giving them two minutes to discuss their response in pairs or groups.  Group responses are reassuring – it is easier to say ‘Our group think …’ than it is to say ‘I think…’
  5. Ensure pupils fully understand the question by asking them to re-word it.
  6. Extend and deepen thinking by asking follow-up question(s) to the same pupil.
  7. Help pupils to think about their thinking by asking follow-up questions such as ‘What made you think that?’
  8. Pose, Pause, Pounce and Bounce… pupils can then build on each others responses and show that they are listening
  9. Pupils often give the first answer that comes into their heads without really thinking it through.  Ask pupils to identify three possible answers and then select the best one.
  10. Provide, or get the pupils to generate, ten possible answers by ‘snowballing’.  (Think of three reasons; now work in pairs to see if you can get five; now work as a group of six and get eight … now select the best answer.’)
  11. Scaffold thinking and answering – for example:
  • ‘In two minutes I’m going to ask you X, but before I do, I’d like you to think of (or talk about)A. Now I’d like you to think about B. Finally. I’d like you to think about C. Now, how do you respond to the original question (X)?’
  • In two minutes I’m going to ask you X.  Normally I would ask you to consider three things before answering.  Which three things do you think I’ll highlight on this occasion?’

How frequently do I/we use/observe each of the strategies above?

Are there teachers on your staff who could model these techniques for others to see?

How explicitly are these techniques shared with pupils – if they are used consistently as a whole school approach then they should become experts in them too.

Further reading:

Doug Lemov talks about ‘cold calling’. It is a technique that helps to ensure all pupils are involved. It contributes towards ensuring active listening.

@teacherhead also has a great blog with some different strategies to try

@teachertoolkit has a resource on the Pose Pause Pounce Bounce technique

Categories NQT, Professional Development, QuestioningTags

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