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An overview of effective questioning in the classroom

An overview of effective questioning in the classroom

4 min read
  • Questioning, Cold-Calling & Wait Times

Teachers are constantly looking for ways to engage students and enhance their learning. One simple but powerful tool to do so: effective questioning.

This teaching strategy holds potential in transforming our classrooms into spaces where students are cognitively engaged and thinking hard and critically about the concept. It also allows us to regularly check for understanding.

So, read on to learn more about:

  • What effective questioning is
  • How to use effective questioning in your classroom
  • Common misconceptions surrounding effective questioning

What is effective questioning?

Effective questioning is more than just asking questions; it’s about crafting questions that stimulate critical thinking, promote active participation and encourage a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

It’s an art that involves precise phrasing and timing to ignite your students’ curiosity and facilitate their learning. It’s not about just getting the correct answers, but instead getting your students to think deeply about and really understand the material they’re learning and fostering enriching classroom discussions.

How to use effective questioning

Here are four strategies to focus on to ask more effective questions in your classroom…

Open-ended questions

Evidence suggest that these type of questions allows students to express their thoughts and encourages dialogue. Closed questions require students to respond with a single discrete answer, such as “yes” or “no”, recalling existing knowledge and information. For example, instead of asking, “Do you agree with this statement?”, consider asking “What do you think about this statement?”.

This literature review analysed the benefits of using open-ended questions in the classroom and found that they were instrumental in promoting critical thinking skills among students. Open-ended questions encourage students to think beyond the surface level, fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Probing questions

Probing questions push students to delve deeper into a topic by asking for clarification, justification or evidence. For instance, after a student response, you could ask, “Can you explain why you think that?”, or “What evidence supports your conclusion?”.

One study found that students who were posed probing questions in the classroom achieved higher grades than those who were not. These questions, which ask students to clarify or expand upon their initial responses, were found to engage students in higher-order thinking. Such engagement plays a crucial role in making the learning process more interactive and robust.

Wait Times

The length of the pause between asking a question and expecting a response, known as Wait Time, is instrumental in allowing students to process their thoughts and formulate meaningful answers. A simple practice of waiting a few seconds before accepting responses can significantly improve the quality of your students’ answers.

The importance of Wait Time is highlighted in this study. The researchers found that when teachers allowed an appropriate amount of Wait Time, students were more likely to provide thoughtful and accurate answers. This pause also fostered an environment conducive to peer-to-peer discussions and collaborative problem-solving, further enriching the learning experience.


Scaffolding involves providing support and guidance to students as they answer questions, gradually reducing your assistance as their understanding improves. This technique helps students build confidence and promotes independent thinking.

Scaffolding and its benefits for effective questioning come from the principles of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, where Scaffolding is seen as a crucial element in facilitating learning. By providing appropriate levels of support, you can help your students reach their full potential and acquire new skills.

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3 common misconceptions about effective questioning

1. “Fast-paced questioning is effective”

    While fast-paced questioning can keep a class engaged, it doesn’t necessarily lead to deep understanding. Giving learners adequate thinking or Wait Time can yield more thoughtful responses, fostering a more profound comprehension of the subject matter.

    2. “Open questions hold more value than closed ones”

      Closed questions, or specific questions are both important in the learning process. The latter can serve a critical role in checking and reinforcing knowledge, and they can also boost learners’ confidence with the subject content. For a deeper dive into this, check out our blog on Specific Retrieval Practice Questions.

      3. “Students must always get it right”

        While getting the correct answer is important, we shouldn’t live in fear of students getting it wrong. This can allow the change to identify any misconceptions that have taken place. Plus, the Hypercorrection Effect suggests that if used well, wrong answer can actually accelerate long term learning.

        Final thoughts

        Effective questioning is a powerful tool. It not only allows teachers to gauge students’ understanding for timely interventions but also fosters an environment of active cognitive engagement and critical thinking among students. With its ability to stimulate meaningful discussions and enhance comprehension, effective questioning undeniably contributes significantly to a productive and enriching learning environment.

        As more research gets released, we learn even more about what effective questioning might look like, and how to maximise it for our students.

        To learn more about evidence-informed techniques and gain access to our exclusive online collection of courses and resources, join our Teacher CPD Academy today.

        About the editor

        Bradley Busch

        Bradley Busch

        Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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