Asking Effective Questions – best practices

There’s many articles written on how to ask questions. Here’s some that I liked:


Effective Questioning Techniques
1.Prepare your students for extensive questioning.
2.Use both pre-planned and emerging questions
3.Use a wide variety of questions
4.Avoid the use of rhetorical questions
5.State questions with precision
6.Pose whole-group questions unless seeking clarification
7.Use appropriate wait time
8.Select both volunteers and non-volunteers to answer questions
9.Respond to answers provided by students
10.Maintain a positive class atmosphere
11.Throw back student questions
12.Interrelate previous comments.
13.Restate discussion goal periodically
14.Take your time
15.Equitably select students


Retrieved from


4 Factors to consider in a question

This article focuses on understanding question types as part of forming better questions. Andrews identifies the following four factors in a question that have an impact on the answer:

  • Question Cognitive level
  • Convergence or Divergence – Number of acceptable answers
  • Question Structure – How much context is provided
  • Straightforwardness – How much information is provided


Di Risio, S. (2006). Questioning Techniques.

 Question Types

Another article I found points out not all questions are created equal – there are many different types of questions, including:

  • Open questions elicit longer answers.
    (“So, what did you study in Math, today?”)
  • Closed questions elicit short, factual answers.
    (“Did you do the fractions quiz?”)
  • Funnel Questions are trying to go somewhere – gaining the confidence of the audience or get more detail. Start with general, closed questions and move to more specific, open questions.
    (“How did you do on the fractions quiz? Did it cover both multiplying and dividing fractions? Were there any word problems? Did you have any problems with the quiz? What do you think went wrong on the word problems section?”)
  • Probing Questions get more information, often using who, what, where, when, why and how questions.
    (“How do you know you only need Math 4 to get in to that program? Who did you speak to about it? What’s going to happen if Potsy was wrong and you need more Math than that? When does the program start and will you still have time to finish Math 10 before then, just in case?”)

Use the right question type for the type of answer you’re looking for. Open-ended questions are more effective if your goal is to understand a process, However, if your goal is to understand an outcome, close-ended questions are far more efficient (Kolar).



Question Hierarchy

Just as important as asking the right type of question is asking questions at the appropriate level of difficulty and then scaffolding to a more difficult questions. Penick, Crow and Bonnstetter’s HRASE hierarchy emphasizes prior and applies this prior experience throughout the rest of the hierarchy.

  • History – What happened when you…?
  • Relationship – What do all these procedures have in common?
  • Application – How could this idea be used to solve…?
  • Speculation – What would happened if you changed …?
  • Explanation – Which of the three methods would I use to solve this quadratic? Why did you choose that one? Walk me through it.


Clough, Michael P. What is so Important about Asking Questions?



As a math tutor, I often scaffold when I ask questions. If students don’t understand a concept, I try to start with a question I know they can answer – what or how questions, before moving on to more complex questions – what if I? before moving on to the Why questions.  My questions might look like this.

  • What are you trying to figure out – area or perimeter?
  • How do you calculate the perimeter?
  • What if the shape is a square? Is there a shorter equation I can use?
  • Why can I use that equation if it’s a square, but not if I’m measuring the perimeter of this classroom?

I do use this and it’s very effective, but it’s also quite time-consuming to come up with each question set for each topic.  The other thing I find is that some students just get annoyed by this approach because they’re just not ready for higher order thinking or to take responsibility for understanding. If you use formula A for a square and formula B for a rectangle and formula C for everything else, that’s all they want to know. So, be mindful of how far up the scaffold your students are willing to go without getting annoyed with you.

This entry was posted in Instructional Strategies, Questioning Techniques, Teaching Math - Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

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