Questioning consumes a considerable proportion of time in classrooms. It occurs most often within recitations, characterized by the initiate-respond-evaluate (IRE) pattern of discourse, as well as in more open-ended discussions. Interest in questioning as an instructional tool can be traced back to the fourth century BCE as evidenced in the Socratic dialogues recorded by Plato (424/423–348/ 347 BCE). In the 21st century, teachers use questions to manage student behavior and classroom activities, to promote students' inquiry and thinking, and to assess students' knowledge or understanding. The focus of this entry is predominantly on teachers and students' use of questions as a tool to promote inquiry, thinking, and ultimately learning.


The research on questioning is considerable both in volume and topics investigated. Research on questioning has investigated the incidence and types of questions teachers ask (e.g., Guszak, 1967); the sources of teacher questions (e.g., Shake & Allington, 1985); the effect of teacher questions as compared to other instructional methods (e.g., Gall, Ward, Berliner, Cahen, Winne, Elashoff, & Stanton, 1978); the effects of different types of questions (e.g., Wright & Nuthall, 1970); the effects of waiting for students to respond after asking questions (e.g., Rowe, 1986; see also Tobin, 1987); training teachers to use certain types of questions (e.g., Galassi, Gall, Dunnng, & Banks, 1974); teaching students how to answer questions (e.g., Raphael & Wonnacott; 1985); teaching students to generate their own questions (e.g., Commeyras & Sumner, 1998), and the psychology of question asking and answering (e.g., Graesser & Black, 1985). Table 1 lists the major reviews of this research.

Two trends are apparent in the research. One is movement from a focus on questions as isolated events to a focus on questions embedded within larger spatial and temporal contexts, including the contexts created by the ongoing classroom discourse. Up until the early 1980s, researchers classified and counted teacher questions and attempted to relate the frequencies of different types of questions to student achievement. Researchers employed correlational studies that capitalized on existing variation in teacher questioning behavior or experimental studies in which they manipulated teachers' use of questions (see Brophy & Good, 1986). In the late 1980s and 1990s, researchers examined questions as “sites of interaction” (Nystrand, 1997) and their relationship to student learning. These sites of interaction included the question asked, students' responses to the question, the teacher's valuation or follow-up to students' responses, and even the genre of the entire classroom discourse. Researchers also developed questioning routines to help students talk and think together in cooperative or collaborative learning environments. These routines included Reciprocal Teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 1984), Questioning the Author (Beck, McKeown, Hamilton, & Kucan, 1997), and various methods of structuring discourse to promote learning among peers (King, 1999).

This trend was motivated by research in sociolin-guistics and language acquisition that highlighted the distinction between language form and communicative function, showing that the meaning of a question depended on its context of use. This context includes not only the situational context but also the contexts created by speakers in the give and take of discussion. From a sociolinguistic perspective, teacher questions are mutually constructed by teachers and students (Carlsen, 1991). Hence, the cognitive impact of questions depends on their placement within the larger discourse, the backgrounds of the students, relations among teachers and students, and other factors. (Cazden, 2001).

Another trend apparent in the research is movement from a focus on teacher-generated questions to a focus on student-generated questions. This trend is apparent in the research on questioning routines embedded in cooperative or collaborative learning environments mentioned earlier. It can also be seen in research on the K-W-L technique developed by Ogle (1986), a technique that requires students to ask themselves questions to promote comprehension of expository texts (“What do I Know about the text?” “What do I Want to learn from the text?” “What did I Learn from the text?”). It is also evident in research by Commeyras (1995; Commeyras & Sumner, 1998) on the benefits of giving students responsibility for posing their own questions for discussion in response to literature. Wong (1985) reviewed 27 studies of student question generating and found positive effects on students' reading comprehension in the majority of studies. Rosenshine, Meister, and Chapman (1996) conducted a meta-analysis of 26 studies of student questioning and also found positive effects on students' comprehension.



Questions are typically classified by the nature of the cognitive demand they are presumed to make on students. Most classifications define cognitive demand in terms of Bloom's 1956 taxonomy of learning or some variant of it. Bloom defined learning in terms of six levels of increasingly complex requirements: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Lower-order questions are presumed to elicit a student's knowledge and comprehension of a topic or text; higher-order questions are presumed to elicit a student's application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation of a topic or text.

A related framework often used in research in reading and the teaching of reading is Pearson and Johnson's 1978 taxonomy of questions or, more accurately, question-answer relations. This framework classifies questions according to source of information that must be used by the reader to generate a response: textually explicit, in which the information required for answering the question is stated explicitly in the text (“reading the lines”); textually implicit, in which the information required for answering the question is in the text but has to be inferred by integrating material from different parts of the text (“reading between the lines”); and scriptally implicit, in which the information required for answering the question involves the reader's store of prior knowledge (“reading beyond the lines”).

Research in the United States as well as in other English-speaking countries has documented a higher incidence of lower-order than higher-order questions in classrooms for much of the 20th century. Stevens' 1912 study was possibly the first systematic study of teacher questioning in the United States. He observed teachers in 100 high-school classrooms in six subject areas and found that at least two-thirds of the questions teachers asked focused on recitation and memory of facts. Studies in the 1970s and 1980s (e.g., Sirotnik, 1983) showed little change in the preponderance of lower-order over higherorder questions (see Klinzing & Klinzing-Eurich, 1988). Data collected by Nystrand in 1997 also suggest little change. Nystrand observed the instructional practices in 58 eighth-grade and 54 ninth-grade language arts and English classes in eight Midwestern communities in the United States. He reported that 64% of questions in the eighth-grade classes involved recitation and reporting of facts whereas only 36% involved high-level thinking (analysis, generalization, speculation). Results in the ninth-grade classes revealed a somewhat different picture with 54% of questions involving recitation and reporting.

Similar trends are evident in observational studies of reading instruction in elementary grades. Guszak's 1967 study examined the kinds of questions 12 teachers asked in selected second-, fourth-, and sixth-grade classrooms in Texas during reading group lessons. He found that 70% of questions were recognition or recall questions that focused on literal comprehension. O'Flahavan, Hartman, and Pearson (1988) conducted a replication and extension of Guszak's study, videotaping teacher-led reading groups and story discussions conducted by 15 teachers in grades 2, 4, and 6 in four schools in Illinois. Results showed a lower incidence of recognition and recall questions (43%). Overall, relative to Guszak's findings, they noted a shift from literal questions to more inferential questions. However, other studies conducted at the time continued to report a preponderance of lower-level, text-based questions in reading lessons (Gambrell, 1983; Shake & Allington, 1985; Weber & Shake, 1988). Observational studies by Taylor and Pearson (Taylor, Pearson, Clark, & Walpole, 1999, 2000; Taylor, Peterson, Pearson, & Rodriguez, 2002; Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, & Rodriguez, 2003, 2005) of reading instruction in grades 1 to 5 in a number of high-poverty schools in the United States have shown similar results. Across all grades, they observed a relatively small amount of higher-level questioning (e.g., only 16% of the teachers in grades 1 to 3 were frequently observed asking higher-level questions).

It is presumed that asking more higher-order questions contributes to greater gains in students' high-level thinking, learning, and achievement. This presumption has received only weak support. Rosenshine (1971, 1976) and Dunkin and Biddle (1974) conducted reviews of studies relating teacher questioning to student learning, many of which were correlational studies, and found that results were inconsistent (in some studies, even lower-order questions were found to be more effective). Winne (1979) reviewed 18 experimental and quasi-experimental studies on levels of teacher questioning and concluded that “whether teachers use predominantly higher cognitive questions or predominantly fact questions makes little difference in student achievement” (p. 43). Redfield and Rousseau (1981) conducted a meta-analysis of 14 experiments, 13 of which overlapped with those reviewed by Winne, and found that a predominant use of higher cognitive questions had an overall positive effect on student achievement (mean effect size = 0.73). Samson, Stry-kowski, Weinstein, and Walberg (1987) conducted another meta-analysis of 14 experiments, most of which overlapped with those of the previous reviews, and obtained results more in tune with the earlier findings by Winne and others. Samson and colleagues reported only a small positive effects of higher cognitive questions on student achievement (median effects size = 0.13). Gall and Artero-Boname (1995) attributed the inconsistency in results to a number of factors, not the least of which was that the individual studies failed to take account of the larger instructional context in which questions occurred.

Other studies have attempted to examine the role of questions within the larger instructional context but have still not shown consistent results. Nystrand's 1997 large-scale correlational study showed no relationship between the cognitive level of questions and students' performance. Taylor and Pearson's series of correlational studies of reading instruction in high-poverty schools (Taylor et al., 1999, 2000; Taylor et al., 2002; Taylor et al., 2003, 2005) have shown more consistent relationships between higher-level questioning and students' growth in reading and writing. However, even in these studies, there were inconsistencies. In their 2005 study, they found that high-level questioning made a modest contribution to growth in students' reading fluency but had no relationship to growth in their comprehension or writing.


Another way of classifying questions is in terms of the epistemic role they afford students. Authenticity and “uptake” are key features in giving students a role in orchestrating their own learning. Questions that give students considerable control over their learning are “authentic questions”—questions that the teacher is genuinely interested in exploring and that evoke a variety of responses from students (in other words, the answer is not prespecified). By contrast, questions that give students little to no control are known-answer questions (sometimes called “test questions”) that allow only one possible right answer. Questions that incorporate responses from students, called uptake, offer another way of building on students' contributions and affording them a role in learning. This way of classifying questions is not independent of the level of cognitive demand described earlier. Authentic questions are more likely to elicit application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluations of information; whereas known-answer questions are more likely to elicit recall or literal understanding.

Nystrand (1997) and Applebee, Langer, Nystrand, & Gamoran (2003) documented the incidence of authentic questions and uptake in large numbers of language arts and English classes in middle and high schools in various states in the United States. Nystrand's data showed that, in the eighth-grade classes, only 10% of teacher questions were authentic and only 11% exhibited uptake. In the ninth-grade classes, 27% of teacher questions were authentic and 26% exhibited uptake (Nystrand noted that much of the increase in the incidence of authentic questions in the ninth grade was due to the use of authentic questions about nonacademic topics). Applebee and colleagues' data for grades 7, 8, 10, and 11 showed that 19% of teacher questions were authentic and 31% exhibited uptake.

Nystrand's 1997 correlational analyses showed that, in eighth-grade classes, authentic questions and those exhibiting uptake were significantly related to students' learning. However, in ninth-grade classes, results showed that authentic questions were not related or were even negatively related to learning. Questions exhibiting uptake still showed a significant and positive contribution. Further analyses showed that authentic questions had a positive relation in high-track classes but a negative relation in low-track classes. This was because most of the authentic questions in high-track classes pertained to literature, whereas most in low-track questions were about topics not related to literature. Nystrand concluded that authentic questions do not invariably produce learning but they at least signal to students “that their ideas … are important and can provide opportunities for learning” (p. 90). The 2003 study by Applebee and colleagues largely confirmed the role of authentic questions and uptake, in combination with other discussion-based approaches to developing understanding, as contributors to student learning.


The considerable volume of research on questioning has shed light on a number of issues regarding questions as a tool for learning. It is known that the incidence of higher-order and authentic questions is low relative to lower-order and known-answer questions. It is known that waiting for students to respond to questions leads to enhanced quality of responses and improved student achievement. It is known that teachers can be taught to ask certain types of question, and that students can be taught how to answer questions based on the relationship to the text. It is also known that promoting studentgenerated questions has positive effects on learning.

However, there are several enduring issues about which research is unclear. It is not known whether teacher questioning as an instructional tool is any better than other instructional methods. Indeed, there is research and argument that a number of alternatives to questioning (e.g., declarative statements) are associated with longer and more complex responses from students (Dillon, 1985; 1991). It is not known, with any reasonable surety, that asking higher-level questions contributes cognitive benefits for students. Asking higher-level questions seems to have at least a small positive effect on learning but the inconsistency in results on this issue remains an enigma. Asking authentic questions and questions that involve uptake has more reliable associations with student achievement, but only to the extent that they assign meaningful epistemic roles to students—and little is known about the context and classroom culture that shape such conditions. These are questions about questions that are in need of exploring.


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