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Questionable Thinking

Using effective questioning to develop thinking skills

When teachers use questions:

  • to test recall of knowledge

  • to revise learning

  • to check present understanding

  • to diagnose difficulties

they lead to students using lower order thinking skills.

When teachers use questions:

  • to focus attention

  • to arouse curiosity and interest

  • to stimulate consideration of new concepts

  • to elicit views and opinions

they can lead to students using higher order thinking skills.


All too often most classroom questioning is closed and “narrow”.  Such questions require only a single “right” answer or a very limited “quick fix” response.


The best questions

  • open up the topic (rather than close it down)

  • do not have easy answers

  • lead to further questions

  • require a considered response

  • are a challenge

Teachers should seek to promote a classroom where it is more important to “have a go” than it is to “get the right answer”.  Hence, all responses should be welcomed – even if students are then informed that their answer lacks detail or needs clarification.  When challenging, open questions are being used, there is no shame in not getting things right first time.  (It is only closed questions that require a “right” answer.)


Bloom's Taxonomy and Questioning



Who…?  What…?  Where…?  When…?


What do we mean by…?


What other examples can you think of?

How could we use that…?

What other examples can you think of?

How could we use that…?



What is the evidence for…?

How does that connect with…?

What if…?


What if…?

How could we improve…?

Can you think of a different way to…?


What do you think about…?

How could we improve…?

Teachers should allow “thinking time” before expecting answers.  Too many pupils raise their hands too quickly - and often say the first thing that comes into their head.  In-depth questions require a more considered response and teachers should utilise classroom strategies that allow students opportunity to reflect and consider.  I have found it useful for students to use “thumbs up” – where students make a thumbs-up sign against their chest – to indicate that they have a response to my more open questions; although I still use “hands up” for quick knowledge-based questions.  By using the two responses, it gives an indication to students whether I require a “quick” or a “considered” answer  - and serves as a reminder to me that I need to strike a balance between the kinds of questions I am asking.

Teachers should not be averse to giving clues and prompts where necessary, to elicit “broader” and “deeper” responses.  Asking supplementary questions is often more productive than giving answers.


Teachers should encourage students to ask their own questions.  Not closed questions based on what the students already know – but open-ended enquiries that highlight what they would like to find out.  Students who are allowed to decide the direction of their research usually work with greater enthusiasm.  Teachers can model this approach by admitting that there is plenty that they do not know but would like to find out about.


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