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Rosenshine's third Principle of Instruction: Ask lots of good questions

Rosenshine’s third Principle of Instruction: Ask lots of good questions

4 min read
  • Questioning, Cold-Calling & Wait Times
  • Rosenshine’s Principles

Asking questions is a staple part of teaching.

To Rosenshine, using effective questioning strategies was one of the most powerful tools a teacher could use to consolidate student understanding and to assess their progress.

Read the whole Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction blog series…

Therefore, for his third principle, Rosenshine recommended that teachers should ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students. By asking questions about previous or relevant material, students can practice retrieval and cement their overall learning.

So let’s take a closer look at why…

What does Rosenshine say?

Since learning is not a process that teachers can directly observe, there has to be another way to check for student understanding. Rosenshine found that the best teachers asked the most questions and asked students questions about how they got to their answer.

This is because questions are a great way for students to practice rehearsing new material and make connections with previous learning as students are forced to discuss their thoughts. Not only do questions show whether students have understood what you’re trying to teach them, but they also reveal which students engaged with the previous lesson.

If a student can’t answer a content-related question, this indicates that further instructional teaching is necessary before moving onto the next stage of the lesson.

What does the research say?

In one study, teachers were asked to follow instructional teaching of new material with lots of questions. The main two types of questions were factual recall questions and process questions. The researchers found that the students who were asked more questions performed better academically than students who were asked less. Rosenshine found that the least effective teachers only asked 9 questions throughout the entire lesson.

However, it’s not just about quantity – quality matters too. Yes, lower-level questions that assess knowledge and understanding are important, but they’re only a starting point. Higher-level questions that require students to evaluate, summarise, analyse, and apply their understanding encourages the development of critical thinking skills. Essentially, teachers need to be strategic about the types of questions they ask.

Help your staff understand the research behind Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, and how to apply them in the classroom.

Practical implications in the classroom

Yes, questions are important, but you have to be asking the right questions as well. As a teacher, there are several effective questioning strategies you can use to consolidate your student’s learning. Here are some of our favourites…

Ask pre-questions

Pre-questions are things you can ask your students about material that they have not yet learned. Research shows that students who had been asked pre-questions were later able to recall almost 50% more information than their peers who had not. They were also able to remember other key information from the lesson too.

Pre-questions are beneficial because they allow students to preview the nature of the material they’ll learn in the lesson and can be presented in any format, be it open-ended, short-answer, fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice. There are some important caveats though, which include pitching them at the right level: too easy and it doesn’t capture attention, too difficult and it can reinforce negative beliefs (i.e. ‘I am not clever enough for this subject’).

Elaborative Interrogation

While pre-questions are used before we teach the material, elaborative interrogation is a strategy that is used afterwards. This involves asking students ‘why’ questions, such as:

  • “Why would this be true?”
  • “Why would this not be the case?”
  • “Why do you think that?”

Doing so forces them to think harder and deeper about the material, with several studies finding that this enhances how much they remember in their long-term memory.

These sort of probing questions are a great way to challenge your students’ understanding and allow you to guide their learning. essentially, you are engaging in a funnelling technique by initially asking a student a broad question and slowly getting more specific. This process allows your students to explore their understanding of a topic in more depth and from a different perspective that they may not have thought of.

Use self-questioning

Self-questioning is an effective metacognitive strategy as it encourages students to think more deeply about the material they are studying. This leads to stronger connections, making it easier to retrieve the information at a later date as students are forced to focus their attention and interact with the presented information.

Questions such as ‘why does it make sense that…?’ and ‘why is this true?’ are great examples of the what students should be asking themselves. Asking these questions will improve how much your students learn, how quickly they learn and, subsequently, how well they perform in their final exams.

Use Cold-Calling

Cold calling is when you ask a student to answer a question when their hand isn’t raised. Research shows that classes with “high” cold-calling rates caused students to volunteer to answer more questions over time. The number of students raising their hand to answer a question also increased.

By participating in classroom discussions more and more, students felt it was easier to offer their opinion and answer questions.

Rosenshine’s six suggested questions

Need a prompt? Rosenshine himself suggested 6 question templates that can be helpful to get your students to engage with their learning more deeply and to gauge their level of understanding, so you know which areas need more work. These questions are:

  1. “What is the main idea of …?”
  2. “What are the strengths and weaknesses of …?”
  3. “How does this tie in with what we have learnt before?”
  4. “Which one is the best … and why?”
  5. “Do you agree or disagree with this statement: …?”
  6. “What do you still not understand about …?”

Final thoughts

Although asking questions sounds simple, it is incredibly effective. When they have to answer questions, your students engage in their learning more, perform better academically and become more confident in their ability.

Read our complete guide to Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction…

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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