Asking the Right Questions to Encourage Learning

By Nadiah Hair

Asking the right questions, in the right way, at the right time, is the most important thing you can do in a lesson.
The right questions engage your children, identify their reasoning and challenge their viewpoints. Great
questions enable students to analyse and evaluate their own and other children’s positions.

What questions should we ask?

There are two types of questions that we ask: closed questions and open questions. Closed questions are ones
where there is a predefined response. For example, if I asked “Is your mummy at work?” your answer would be
either “yes” or “no”. My question doesn’t require you to go beyond that short response, so the information I can
gather from closed questions is very limited. However, with open questions, you will receive more extended
answers. For instance, if I asked, “Where did mummy go?” the person answering the question could go in
different directions, explaining their answer at great length and in whatever way they wanted. Open ended
questions are very useful for finding out great depth and breadth of information that you may not even have
known to look for.

Here are some question styles to encourage depth questions. Use them at the start of conversation, or during
feedback sessions, to keep children’s thinking and to encourage them to go into greater depth. Design your
questions so that they can’t give a direct response.

1. What do you think of…?
2. How far would you agree that…?
3. How similar is…?

Enhance questioning techniques by not letting the children feel intimidated. Many children fear questions
because they feel scared to give the wrong answer. However, you can address this in a number of ways.

1.  Ask children who are particularly quiet open-ended questions that don’t require a ‘right’ answer. By getting
them to engage just once or twice, even with a basic response, they will begin to lose the anxiety which
many of our children face.

2. Ask a variety of questions and then allow the children to choose the one they would prefer to answer. By
allowing them to take ownership over their learning, their engagement will increase over time. They won’t
be able to hide behind that they are ‘forced’ to learn in a particular way. They are choosing the way
themselves.

Over time, keep going back to the “quiet” students, asking progressively more challenging questions. Once they
begin to realise that they have nothing to fear, they will open up more and give deeper and more sophisticated
answers. There are a number of resources that you can use with your children to create high quality questions.
You can use a question-dice where each side contains a question such as ‘what is’, to ‘who would’, to ‘when is’,
to ‘how might”. This way, children can choose a level of questioning they are comfortable with.