Questioning Strategies in the Classroom

Updated on Nov 18, 2011


Just as teachers are role models for learning, they are role models for asking questions. Think of it this way: Statements, with that period right at the end, bring thinking to a halt. Questions, on the other hand, are what initiate and encourage thinking. And that, of course, is what teachers are trying to do. Imagine how many questions a teacher asks in just one day. The questions range from “How are you?” or “How was the [game, performance, play, concert, etc.] last night?” to “Who will show us how to balance this equation?” At times you may hear questions related to safety and the learning environment, such as “Does everyone understand why you should wash your hands with soap?” or “Do you need to move so you can see the SMART Board?” Typically you hear lots of questions about the application of concepts that are the focus for the day’s lessons, such as “What is the answer to the third problem?” or “What is the next word in the sequence?” or “Which strategy did you use to solve the problem?” Occasionally there are reflective or philosophical questions, such as “What did you learn today that surprised you, or that interested you, that you want to talk about when you get home?” While these reflective questions are the least often asked, they may be the most important. What kind of questions do you frequently ask? As we have said, it is the asking of questions—of ourselves or as teachers—that initiates thinking.

Lower-Level and Higher-Level Questions

There are various ways of classifying questions, with the two most frequent ones being in terms of Bloom’s Taxonomy and convergent vs. divergent thinking. As we have seen, Bloom’s taxonomy has six distinct levels and questions can be made to match those levels quite easily. For example,

  1. Knowledge What is the word for a group of turkeys?
  2. Comprehension What is the purpose of a topic sentence when writing paragraphs?
  3. Application Using our numerical code rather than the alphabet, how would you write your name? 
  4. Analysis In what ways are deciduous trees and evergreen trees similar? 
  5. Synthesis How could you use a barometer to determine the height of a building?
  6. Evaluation What do you think will be the most significant change that individuals can make to offset global warming? Why?

Perhaps more frequently, questions are classified into two subdivisions of the taxonomy: higher-level thinking questions (often referred to as higher-order thinking, or H.O.T.) and lower-level thinking questions. Lower-level questions are those on the Knowledge level. Using this system it is easier because identifying questions for specific higher-level questions, especially application and analysis, sometimes depends on the context or setting. For example: What is the nutritional value of mushrooms? For this question the level of thinking depends on the situation. Did the lesson on nutrition state the value of mushrooms? If so, the answer would require recall. If the lesson provided a list of foods but did not include mushrooms, the thinking involved in answering the question would be more challenging. The following are other examples of low-level vs. high-level thinking questions:

Lower Level

  • What is photosynthesis?
  • What is the name of the main character in the story?
  • 9 × 3 = → ?

Higher Level

  • How is the formula for photosynthesis similar to respiration?
  • Who is your favorite character in the story? Why?
  • How could you simplify this equation: 9x + 27y = 153?
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