About Asking Questions in Class

Asking questions, orally, in class and then expecting an oral response is a very common technique teachers use in classrooms across the world. In most classrooms, every day there will be a teacher asking and a child answering.

It is surprising how little some teachers have thought about the purposes of getting children to answer questions in this almost ubiquitous activity. Why do we ask questions? I had better ask, for what reasons do we ask questions as some of the teachers I have worked with will know my views on ‘why’ questions.

Here are some reasons for the activity labelled Q&A:

to see what children remember

to see what children can recall – recall and remember are NOT the same thing

to get children to repeat a fact so other children can hear the right answer

to see what they know – a common teacher response

to listen for any misconceptions

to see what they do not know

to see what they know but do not know how to phrase

and so on.

A strong focus on the children. Naturally, one might think. Questions are for teachers to check knowledge and understanding.

Other reasons, sometimes there are called higher order questions, are to see if students can reason, rather than to check recall. Too see if a student can put two known facts together to come to a conclusion. Or to see if a fact is understood in a different context. I am sure you can think of questions that would meet these needs.

It is generally harder to ask, orally, higher order questions than, supposedly, lower order questions. Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives provide such a low to high categorisation. In one version of Bloom’s recall, understanding and application are categorised as low order and analysis, synthesis and evaluation are high order. If I do not let you use a question stem, ‘why’, it is more challenging for you to think of how to ask a higher order question. I might deny you the use of ‘why’ questions so that you do have to think harder and, hopefully, more clearly about the purpose of your questions. I will define ‘why’ as a lazy teacher’s method of questioning, and I do not mean in the Jim Smith manner.

I want to ask the question, what is the fundamental reasons for asking children questions? There are two, I believe.

One is to get children to think. Recall is a form of thinking so Bloom’s lowest level is covered.

The second reason is so that teachers can get a view on how well they have taught the child. Making their thinking visible. These two fundamentals may require teachers to consider their question planning a little more. I say question planning as I do believe that, unless you are a very experienced teacher, you need to carefully plan question clusters. Sets of questions that explore in some depth what children know and can do with the knowledge they are meant to have. Questions that check how well you have taught them so you can, perhaps, teach them again, in a different way so that they do truly learn.

There is more. Children asking questions; cluster questions; hinge questions. But later for that. Time for tea, isn’t it?

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