As teachers we ask a lot of questions, in fact current research suggests that we ask over 400 a day!  Think about your last teaching session, how many questions did you ask?  Most of the time we instinctively start a session with a question, along the lines of “how are you today?”.  Often as we ask questions intuitively, we don’t always stop to think if that question is the best way of getting the response or information we are looking for.  This blog post will get us all thinking about the way we ask questions and reflect on our own approach especially as we continue to develop new courses such as THiNK.   

Why do we ask questions?

We ask questions in a lesson for many reasons, including:

  • As part of the icebreaker conversation;
  • To engage Breadies with the learning;
  • To maintain the pace of a lesson;
  • To test memory and understanding;
  • To seek views and opinions;
  • To formally assess when to move on to the next level;
  • To encourage thinking;
  • To model higher level thinking;
  • To create a sense of shared learning.

Ultimately, they all involve getting the student to think and engage.  What we need to ensure always is that our question is tailored to the Bready’s level of thinking and language ability.

How can we improve our questioning?

As mentioned above, the key always is to consider the Bready you are working with.  Breadies will be working at different levels of English and will also have different levels of thinking due to their age.  The combination of language level and thinking level means that each question needs careful consideration to be effective.  It is impossible to accurately assess a Bready’s level without carefully planning the questions we are using to assess them.

Planning of questions

In order to make our questioning as effective as possible, it needs to be planned.  It is as important to the lesson as the resources and slides are, arguably even more so.  As you prepare for each session in advance take time to also plan out which questions you are going to ask, how you are going to ask them and for what purpose?

Questioning techniques and ideas

  • Previewing questions in advance: this is where the questions are shared/displayed before being asked, possibly as part of the previous lesson homework.  This can be incredibly useful for lower level Breadies and can really help to build up confidence.
  • Open and closed questions.  An open question is one that encourages the use of full sentences in the response, whereas a closed question invites a one-word response.  You need to consider which style is going to give you the type of answer you are looking for but also keep in mind some carefully selected closed questions can really help to build confidence.
  • 5 Ws (Who? Where? What? Why? When?).  These can encourage Breadies to rehearse enquiry and comprehension and can lead to some much higher-level responses. 
  • High Challenge.  These must be pre-planned, and the command words based on Bloom’s Taxonomy to really help stretch the more able Breadies. 
  • Sequencing.  This can be an effective technique for increasing confidence.  You increase the level of challenge with each question, moving from low to higher-order questioning.   
  • Big questions.  Something that older Breadies like the challenge of.  You set a thought-provoking question that isn’t easily answered at the start of a session but makes them think all the way through.
  • Fat and skinny questions.  With fat questions you can specify how many words the answer must contain, for example you can say the answer must contain at least 10 words.  These are great for extension work and really challenging the Buddy to use their vocabulary.  Skinny questions on the other hand are one-word answers, usually yes/no or true/false. These can be great for games or to check memory and facts. 
  • Brainstorming and rehearsal.  Something to help build confidence in Breadies is to allow them to brainstorm and rehearse their answers first.
  • Modelling and scaffolding.  A useful for technique for younger and lower level Breadies is to model the question and answer or provide a scaffold for them to develop their own repsonses.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Questioning

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great way of thinking about questions and the level of thinking required to answer them.   The lower level questions are usually where most people tend to focus in a lesson, especially with lower level Breadies but children love to be challenged and often the more engaging activities involve moving up the pyramid of thinking. 

Thinking Time

Research shows that on average a teacher will only wait 0.9 seconds for a student to answer a question and that the less able students tend to get less ‘wait time’ than more able ones.  Student’s actually need at least 3-seconds to formulate a good response to a question and we should be giving them the time to give an answer that truly reflects their ability. 

Group Teaching

Teaching a group of Breadies can make questioning even more demanding as you have to consider methods to ensure all get a chance to be engaged at the right level.  Future blog posts will consider group teaching in much more detail. 

What are you going to do?

Reflect on your own style of asking questions.

  • Do you plan in advance what questions you are going to ask?
  • Do you tailor your questioning to the level of the Bready’s language and thinking ability?
  • Do you vary your questions to add interest?
  • Do you know the aim and intent of each question you are going to ask?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on social media

Further Reading