Question marksQuestioning

Should be embedded in lesson/unit planning. Asking better questions allows an opportunity for deeper thinking and provides teachers with significant insight into the degree and depth of understanding.


  • After asking a question, wait for a response. With a wait-time of three to five seconds, students respond more, use complex cognitive processes, and begin to ask more questions.
  • Ask only one question at a time. Do not ask a string of questions one after the other in the same utterance.
  • Collect several answers to your question, even if the first student to answer gives a perfect response. Not all students think at the same speed, and you want to encourage those who were not first to continue reflecting. Often, the third or fourth answers will add dimensions that the first answer missed.
  • When student questions are desired, request them explicitly, wait, and then acknowledge student contributions. For example,  “Please ask questions about the main characters or the minor characters, whichever you wish at this point,” Avoid soliciting questions without a context, as in the classic, “Any questions?”
  • Indicate to students that questions are not a sign of stupidity  Be very careful not to subtly or even jokingly convey the message that a student is stupid for asking for a clarification or restatement of an idea already raised in class or in the text.
  • Let students try out their answers by quickly discussing them in pairs or by writing for a minute or two. They are much more willing to share their answers with the class when they have had this opportunity.
  • Use a variety of probing and explaining questions. Ask questions that require different approaches to the topic, such as causal, teleological, functional, or chronological explanations. Avoid beginning your question with the words “why” and “explain,” and instead phrase your questions with words which give stronger clues about the type of explanation sought. Thus, for a chronological explanation, instead of asking, “Why did we have a depression in the 1930s?” try “What series of events led up to the stock market crash of 1929 and the high unemployment in the 1930s?” (Indiana University Teaching Handbook)

Open-ended Comprehension Questions

  • Amplify: “Tell me more about that.”
  • Clarify: “What do you mean when you say such and such? Explain that a bit more.”
  • Paraphrase/Summarize: “Tell me what happened in your own words.”
  • Cause/Effect: “Which happened first? Did that lead to something? Why? What were the causes?”
  • Compare Contrast: “What do these two have in common? How are they different? Have you learned anything like this before? What does this information remind you of?”
  • Example: “Can you give an example of this?”
  • Definition: “How would you define this?”
  • Characteristic: “What’s a characteristic of this?”
  • Qualification: “When is this not true? Are there any exceptions to this?”

(Source: Meyer, E., & Smith L.Z. (1987). The practical tutor. New York: Oxford University Press. p.34.)

Questioning Links

A Guide to Questioning in the Classroom by te@chthought

The Six Types of Socratic Questions

Tips for Teachers - Asking Good Questions

National School Reform Faculty - Microlabs:  to address a specific sequence of questions in a structured format with small groups, using active listening skills.  Download Microlabs here.