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Questioning Strategies for Classroom Use

ask questions

From the time we are born, questions dominate our existence. Why is the sky blue? How does boarding a plane take so long? What makes the least healthy foods also the tastiest? Can dogs really smell feelings? Many questions people ask have at least some sort of answer, but in a classroom, the goal of posing queries is not necessarily to resolve anything. To make matters more complicated, different types of questions serve a variety of purposes in learning, and some are more ideal for classroom use on a regular basis. To that end, it is important to be aware of the questions we ask, and to think about when some types of questions might be better than others to incorporate as part of the instructional repertoire. 

Closed Questions

When questions are closed, they have an expected and concrete response. Classic “yes/no” questions fall under this category, as does anything with a fact-based answer. With the highly denotative nature of this type of question, the idea is for teachers to be mindful of not asking too many. For example, the classic “Any questions?” that we may pose after presenting content tends to limit student response to a “yes” or “no” (if anything at all), even if the class is struggling with comprehension. It can be too intimidating for students to give that question an honest reply. Instead, consider reframing the same moment during instruction with a prompt such as: “Write a question about what we just learned on the paper in front of you and pass it to the front.” Then, the teacher can look over what students submit, see what is still unclear and address any lingering misconceptions. 

Rhetorical Questions

As most of us know, rhetorical questions are not meant to elicit answers. Rather, they are a way to stimulate thinking, particularly around a persuasive idea. Suppose a teacher shares a resource with kids and says, “Pretty great, huh?” The question is meant to convince the class to agree with that point of view by influencing their train of thought. Like closed questions, there is nothing inherently wrong with using rhetorical questions in class, but it’s important to be wary of overdoing it. Otherwise, the risk is that teachers will assume that students always feel the same way they do and neglect to make space for alternate points of view.

Leading Questions

Similar in some ways to rhetorical questions, leading questions are heavily laced with bias toward a specific perspective. We often think of lawyers in courtrooms when this type of question arises, since influencing a group through interrogation is a way to make a case for a certain line of thinking. In classrooms, teachers must be careful not to ask leading questions except in the very rarest of cases to make a point, and then it is advisable to let students know what our goals were in using this technique.

Probing Questions

While the name of this question type might not sound pleasant, teachers use this technique to pursue more information when students have expressed a thought without going into further detail. By asking for elaboration through probing ideas further, the richness of a response will typically improve. For example, if I ask a student to describe how a character feels and her answer is “sad,” I can push her a little further. In what way is the character sad, and why? Sometimes, all a teacher has to say is a simple phrase: “Tell me more about that.” With that prompting, students will usually share so much more to the benefit of both themselves and their peers. 

Open-Ended Questions

Considered the gold standard of questioning, open-ended questions require students to engage in language production. Whether these questions elicit a more complex spoken or written response, the idea behind teachers posing open-ended questions is to get more from their students. To be mindful of creating this type of opportunity, phrasing matters. Words like “how” or “in what way” help to create in-depth questions that elicit more profound responses. 

Reflective Questions

Sometimes, questions do not need an answer that is shared with anyone else. When teachers pose reflective questions, the goal is to get students thinking about their learning to make their own meaning of content. Most often, these kinds of questions are asked at the close of a lesson, often in the form of a summarizer or exit ticket. Teachers might opt to ask students to share their thoughts or turn them in for our review, or we might let them simply reflect for the sake of connecting more deeply to what they got out of a class on an internal level. However reflective questions are posed, they are an important facet of closing any loop at the end of working on a learning outcome. 

Inquiry-based learning, which is a highly effective strategy for facilitating a student-centered model, cannot happen without the right questions. When teachers place intention behind questioning, we not only get better answers, though that is a benefit. Students also have far more opportunity to express themselves and share their ideas with a greater complexity of thought. With added awareness of how to go about getting the best possible information from kids, teachers can recalibrate to get better answers the next time we catch ourselves asking, “Any questions?”

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS