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.

Posted in Instructional Strategies, Questioning Techniques, Teaching Math - Resources | Leave a comment

Building a Culture of Inquiry

If you want students to ask questions, the culture in your classroom has to support them in that.  Building a culture of inquiry means fostering an atmosphere where asking and answering questions is safe. Here are some articles to get you started thinking about building a culture of inquiry:


Here’s some tips on getting students to participate in answering questions:

  1. Wait 15 seconds before you call on anyone – gives more people a chance to think of an answer
  2. If no one has volunteered after 30 seconds, try rephrasing the question or asking students what they need to know to answer the question
  3. Try to call on different people throughout a class. You could say, I want to hear from someone who has not yet participated
  4. Give verbal and nonverbal feedback to students who have participated-praise for good answers, for non-helpful answers you might thank the person for volunteering and ask for more responses.


University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. (2014, January 1). Student Participation/Active Learning- Teaching Tips.


When building a culture of inquiry, place importance on the question rather than the answer, the thought being that you want to build questioning skills, not just provide answers.


McTighe, Jay and Wiggins, Grant. (2013). Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding. Alexandria, VA:  ASCD



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Teaching Students to Ask Questions

“Students learn to ask questions by asking questions. Students learn to ask good questions by asking questions and then receiving feedback on them. Students learn to become scholars by learning to ask good questions.” Marshall Brain. (1998) The Importance of Questions

It’s not only important that teachers ask good questions, it’s also a vital skill for students. Here’s some resources on teaching questioning:


Posted in Instructional Strategies, Learning how to Learn, Questioning Techniques, Teaching Thinking - Metacognition, Problem Solving | Leave a comment

Gamefication – Learning by Doing, over and over again

Video games can be a wonderful way to learn something that has to be memorized – like times tables, prime numbers, factors because it allows the player to get enough repetition to memorize something before they’re so bored that they stop paying attention. Memorizing from flash cards isn’t nearly as fun as earning points for shooting only the prime numbers out of the sky. IMHO, gameification has so much potential to engage my discouraged and disinterested students that I’m actively pursuing it. But, I’m keeping in mind that the model has limits. I think there are only a few things that the model CAN teach effectively. I’d say that if it’s low on the Bloom’s Taxonomy, it can probably be ported to a game. But learning objectives that require higher order thinking will be more difficult and much more costly to port to gaming.

For example, as a software developer, I can take a shoot ‘em up game and change the targets – blow up asteroids and avoid ice crystals to earn points and win the game, drop in some new graphics and change it to blow up prime numbers and avoid non-prime numbers to earn points and win the game. All the graphics, sounds, and logic – the expensive stuff – is already written and can be re-used. All I need to do to create this new game is some small cosmetic changes to create a relatively interesting game for a small cost.

And, here it is:

AD 2442 Prime

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ARCS Motivational Model

The ARCS Model of Motivational Design, created by John Keller is based on Tolman’s and Lewin’s expectancy-value theory, which assumes that people are motivated to learn if there they expect success in learning it and value the knowledge presented. The model concentrates on four main factors that lead to student engagement:

  • Attention
  • Relevance
  • Confidence
  • Satisfaction


Posted in Curriculum Development, Delivery of Instruction - Get up there and talk, Instructional Strategies, Lesson Planning, Motivation | Leave a comment

Assessment for Learning and motivating

Here are some articles on using grading, not grading and failure as motivational strategies.

  • Kohn, A. (March, 1999). From degrading to de-grading. High School Magazine.
    In this article, Alfie Kohn makes a case for not giving grades as all as a motivational strategy,
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Effective Classroom Management

There are many approaches to Classroom Management. Here are some that we discussed:


Three Simple Keys to Effective Classroom Management  In this article, Monique Perry talks about the three steps she follows for effective Classroom Management:

  • Set the Tone from Day One, document and publish your guidelines
  • Model the Way – practice what you preach
  • Be consistent – Or, as she says, “What’s the purpose of a law, if no one enforces it?”


Classroom Management  This article discusses the notion of the 3 components of classroom management:

  • Content – How the instructor manages the physical classroom space, movement of people, lessons
  • Conduct – How well the instructor addresses and resolve discipline problems in the classroom
  • Covenant – The group dynamics in the Classroom

The consensus in the discussion was that content had the most potential because it engaged students, thus leveraging their intrinsic motivation.


Management Tips for New Teachers  This article provided some insight and tips for new teachers.


Ground Rules  Many problems can be avoided if ground rules are established at the beginning. This guide discusses when to set ground rules (at the beginning), how to explain them (what they are, thy they exist) and provides some example rules you might consider using in your own class.
The Key to Classroom Management  Providing practical strategies for building positive classroom dynamics, this well-researched article points out that because teacher-student relationships are an essential foundation for effective classroom management, teacher-student relationships should be managed and not just left to chance.


I did learn a lot about classroom management from this discussion. However, there’s one problem I didn’t see any resources about. In my classroom, we accept inappropriate dress, coming late, leaving early, salty language. When someone voices something that is clearly out of line, someone will usually correct them “Hey Bro, that kind of talk is not supportive”. But, I’ve yet to find a resource to address how to handle an almost fight, the most stressful problem in my classroom. I’ve refereed half a dozen and punches have yet to be thrown. Still, I’d like to find a resource for this issue.

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Really Big Resource – Solve a Teaching Problem

Solve a Teaching Problem by Carnegie Mellon University

Here’s a valuable site from Carnegie Mellon University that provides practical strategies to address common teaching problems. It has you identify a teaching problem and possible causes and then provides you with strategies to address the problem. It covers a variety of teaching problems, broken down in to the following categories:

  • Attitudes & Motivation (e.g. lack of motivation, rude in class)
  • Prerequisite Knowledge & Preparedness (e.g. students can’t write, can’t research)
  • Critical Thinking & Applying Knowledge (e.g. students can’t apply what they’ve learned)
  • Group Skills & Dynamics (e.g. group projects aren’t working)
  • Classroom Behavior & Etiquette (e.g. student monopolizes class, emotional students)
  • Grading & Assessment (e.g. students perform poorly on exams, students cheat)
Posted in Assessment, Classroom Management, Curriculum Development, Instructional Considerations, Instructional Strategies, Learning how to Learn, Lesson Planning, Motivation, Positive Learning Environments, Really Big Resource Web Sites, Teaching Process-How to be a student, Teaching Thinking - Metacognition, Problem Solving | Leave a comment

About Visible Learning

In his book, Visible Learning (2009), John Hattie summarizes 15 years of research in to what works to improve learning outcomes in school. He collated the results of over 50,000 studies and, from that, produced a list of over 100 practices factors and assigns a numerical value to them to indicate their impact on student achievement. Hattie sets the threshold of effectiveness at .40, meaning any practice that scored below .40 should be discarded.

Of the 138 influences he studied, some of which were factors outside our control, such as television and some of which were practices used within our schools, only 52% of them passed his threshold. Of course, the implication is that practices that score below .40 should be discarded.

As a parent and as a taxpayer, I was dismayed to see some of the practices that fell in to this category, practices that don’t work, but were tried in the school system, such as

  • The whole language concept which, in the 1980-1990s, that saw textbooks and readers replaced by books and worksheets, at great expense and little in the way of results
  • Problem based learning, which saw Math Textbooks abandoned as ineffective and replaced with worksheets that had no continuity, resulting in children who are mystified by how math concepts fit together as a whole
  • Class size, which has had our local school system in an uproar for 20 years but would have little in the way of benefit to students if reduced

I was glad to see that some of my pet strategies scored highly, namely

  • Meta-cognitive strategies (.69)
  • Teacher-Student relationships (.72)
  • Study skills (.50)
  • Direct Instruction (.59)
  • Problem Solving Teaching (.61)

I was pleased to find some of the factors that had the biggest positive effect are incorporated in to the math program in which I teach, specifically

  • Mastery learning (.58)
  • Providing formative evaluation (.90)
  • Teacher Clarity (.75)
  • Feedback (.73)

I was equally pleased to find the influence that had the biggest positive effect is the instructional strategy I just researched for my Instructional Strategies video, Self-reported Grades (student expectation, post-test analysis).


Posted in Instructional Strategies, Teaching Math - Resources, Teaching Process-How to be a student, Teaching Thinking - Metacognition, Problem Solving, Visible Learning | Leave a comment

Metacognition and American Idol – really!

“Poor metacognition is a big part of incompetence. People who are incompetent typically do not realize how incompetent they are. People who aren’t funny at all think they are hilarious…A lot of reality shows like American Idol highlight people with poor metacognition for entertainment.” This quote from the article explains very nicely the impact of poor metacognitive skills outside of education, but the article also goes on to explain how to use formative assessment techniques throughout teaching. Maybe I liked it so much because it agrees with what I think on the subject. Here’s the link:

The article stems from a conversation between the author, James Lang and Stephen Chew at Stanford. Professor Chew also supplied a list of references for further reading on the subject, posted on Lang’s blog at:

Posted in Learning how to Learn, Teaching Process-How to be a student, Teaching Thinking - Metacognition, Problem Solving | Leave a comment