Questioning skills

Questioning skills

Questioning in teaching and learning is frequently taken for granted, but it is a skill which needs conscious development if we are to become effective teachers. As a follow-up to the article of 17th December 2018 here are some guidelines for using questions effectively in further education.

  • Create an appropriate climate in which learners will want to ask questions. Let learners know that their active participation is an essential part of the learning process. Effective questioning is key to developing enquiring learners with wider skills, including those related to employability.
  • Avoid too many closed questions or questions with an already known answer. Evidence suggests that teachers use too many lower-order questions
  • Express questions clearly and concisely and use examples to support them when appropriate. Avoid over-long and complex structures and try not to use two-part questions
  • Use appropriate volume and pace of speech to ensure that learners can hear and understand you
  • Make sure you know your learners’ names so that you can nominate questions and invite those who are reticent to contribute
  • Ensure that the content and language of questions are appropriate to the learners. This entails knowing your learners; one way we get to know them is by questioning them
  • Get to know your learners and be aware of their previous learning and abilities. Avoid questions which are too easy or too difficult for that group. Questions which are too simple or low level may lead to students becoming bored; questions which are too difficult can lead to anxiety. Be prepared to ask differentiated questions with learners of different abilities in the same group
  • Put questions into context and provide necessary background information and explain any unfamiliar terminology
  • Make sure you pause and allow learners thinking time – teachers can get nervous if answers don’t come immediately. You could consider using collaboration in which pairs of learners work together to provide an answer
  • Use prompts and provide clues to help learners get to the answers. Questions can be part of the ‘scaffolding’ process which provides initial support for learners to reach new heights in their learningInvolve the whole group not just a ‘favoured few’. Distribute questions around the group and use people’s names to invite them in. When a learner asks a question, ensure the whole group is listening
  • Acknowledge and give praise to learners’ answers, even if they are not what you were looking for or expected
  • Never make light of or disregard learners’ responses. Make them feel that their contributions are valued
  • Remember the importance of non-verbal communication –especially, smiles; eye-contact; tone of voice – in encouraging learners
  • Use follow-up questions to extend thinking and make greater cognitive demands on learners. Encourage thinking skills by using higher-order questions and developing linked questions. Robert Fisher1 provides some examples of question forms to encourage thinking and extending learning, for example:
  • ‘Can you explain that?’
  • ‘Can you give me an example of…?’
  • ‘How do we know that?’
  • ‘Do you have evidence for that?’
  • ‘Are there other points of view?’
  • ‘What follows from what you have said?’
  • ‘In what ways might people disagree with what you say?’

What might be wrong with these questions?

  • ‘Did everyone understand that?’
  • ‘Don’t you think you ought to know this?’
  • ‘Can you have this done before Easter?’
  • ‘Why is daytime television so bland?’
  • ‘In what ways was the EU referendum a catastrophe?’
  • ‘What dates did the First World War begin and end?’
  • 'What were the government’s reasons for the extension of free schools and how have people argued against them?’
  • ‘Any questions?’

1 Robert Fisher (2003) Teaching Thinking London : Continuum

Pete Scales, now retired, was a Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Derby and also delivered PGC HE programmes to teaching colleagues. His book An Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Supporting Fellowship’ was published by Open University Press in 2017. Prior to this he taught in further education for over twenty years and ran teacher education programmes. His book Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector (Open University Press) is now in its second edition. He still maintains his lifelong learning website at

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