Tool ID-1: Classroom questioning discussion

For this tool you will need the following resources:

  • ID-1 PowerPoint
  • Handout: Thinking about the questions teachers ask

The aim of this tool is for teachers to understand the types of questions that they might use in the download_powerpointclassroom and the purpose that they serve. The group will consider the sorts of questions they ask, the function these questions perform and the possible impact on student learning.


Ask the teachers to work in small groups at first to discuss the following question:

  • What different types of questions do teachers ask in the classroom?

Provide each small group with a set of blank cards or ‘post-it’ notes and ask them to write down as many different types of question as they can, one on each card or ‘post-it’ note.

(If teachers ask for clarification about what you mean by ‘type’ of question you might ask them what type of question would they use to check knowledge recall? (e.g. closed question, assessment question) or what type of question would they use to develop a sense of order in classroom work? (e.g. open question about ‘What do we do when we want to answer a question?’ or ‘How do we get started?’).

Now ask the groups to think about the different functions or purposes these questions serve. They should write each of these functions on a separate card or ‘post-it’ and then try and match the functions to their types of question. The groups should be encouraged to discuss and move the cards around to form categories. Note that the aim here is to stimulate thinking about the purpose of using different types of question rather than to arrive at a neat categorisation.

classBring the whole group together and share ideas about the types of questions teachers use, the different functions of these questions and what types of questions are used most frequently. Encourage them to reflect on their own classroom practice and consider the effect of their questions on students.

Ask the following questions:

  • Which types of questions do you use most frequently?
  • What are their effects?


Use the think-pair-share strategy (thinking through individually before moving to sharing in pairs and then in a wider group) so the group experiences inquiry practices. Groups should record their joint responses on the Handout: Thinking about the questions we ask.

teamworkBring the group together again and ask them to share their thoughts. The possible functions and purposes of asking questions might include:

  • to interest, engage and challenge;
  • to assess prior knowledge and understanding;
  • to stimulate recall, in order to create new understanding and meaning;
  • to focus thinking on the most important concepts and issues;
  • to help students extend their thinking from the factual to the analytical;
  • to promote reasoning, problem solving, evaluation and the formation of hypotheses;
  • to promote students’ thinking about the way they have learned;
  • to help students to see connections.

The following is a list of some of the more common habits that have been found to be less helpful:

  • Asking too many trivial or irrelevant questions.
  • Asking a question and answering it yourself.
  • Simplifying the question when students don’t immediately respond.
  • Asking questions of only the most able or likeable students.
  • Asking several questions at once.
  • Asking only closed questions that allow one right/wrong possible answer.
  • Asking ‘guess what is in my head’ questions, where you know the answer you want to hear and you ignore or reject answers that are different.
  • Judging every student response with ‘well done’, ‘nearly there’ ‘not quite’. ‘Well done’ can discourage alternative ideas being offered.
  • Not giving students time to think or discuss before responding.
  • Ignoring incorrect answers and moving on.

Before next time, the group should try to observe a lesson, watch a video or make an audio-recording of themselves in a lesson and use this to think about how different types of questions have an effect on students. The group should be ready to share their thoughts at the next session. Tool ID-2: Classroom questioning role play will then provide an opportunity for the group to develop questions that will promote inquiry.