What’s in a question, you ask? Everything. It
is a way of evoking stimulating response or stultifying inquiry.
It is, in essence, the very core of teaching.
—John Dewey (1933)
Here are some tips on questioning techniques to enhance active
1. Ask Challenging Questions
Avoid phrasing questions that are closed, which require straightforward
factual answers, unless you simply want to check retention. Ask
probing and evaluative questions that call for higher cognitive
thinking such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Challenge students
to explore the evidence for their existing knowledge, apply their
existing knowledge to other situations, bring them to the limits
of their knowledge base.
Example of a straightforward question: What is the expression
for kinetic energy?
Example of a more challenging question: Why is there a factor
of ½ in the expression for kinetic energy?
2. Ask Well-Crafted, Open-Ended Questions
To start an active discussion, ask open-ended questions that encourage
the exploration of various possibilities. However, the questions
should not be too unstructured as this may lead to ambiguity, and
time is lost defining the question rather than addressing the issue
at hand. Questions can be crafted to bring out inductive and deductive
reasoning skills. Encourage students to figure out answers rather
than remember them. At times questions are designed to help students
see things from a broader perspective, but this may necessitate
other questions along the way to help the students narrow their
focus before arriving at the answer.
Example of an open-ended and structured question: We have examined
the aetiology of dental caries. What factors would increase a patient’s
risk to caries?
3. Ask Uncluttered Questions
Avoid cluttered questions that involve many sub-questions or are
interspersed with background information. This type of questions
confuse the students because they are not clear what is being asked
e.g. of a cluttered question: What are some of the reasons that
Newton’s laws are flawed? I mean…what seems to be the
main problem, according to Einstein? Can we then still use Newton’s
laws? A few of you earlier said that you do not think Newton’s
laws should be used for some situations. What are the problems there?
Learn to Wait
You need to wait after asking a question before answering it yourself
or going on to ask further questions or making further points. Good
questions, especially profound ones, may necessitate lengthy wait
times. Do not be afraid to wait. Waiting is a sign that you want
Oral presentation can result in students not hearing or understanding
a question. Thus long unproductive wait times are likely to follow.
To ensure questions are clearly communicated to the students, write
your questions on the overhead or on the whiteboard or hand them
out in the written form. It is often useful to ask whether the questions
are clear before launching into wait time.
Cooper, J.M., et al. (1977). Classroom
Teaching Skills: A Handbook. Toronto: D.C. Heath.
Kissock, C. & Lyortsuun, P.A. (1982). Guide
to Questioning: Classroom Procedures for Teachers.
London: MacMillan Press Ltd.
Rasmussen, R.V. (1984). ‘Practical Discussion
Techniques for Instructors’. AACE Journal.
‘Question Types’. (1998). Teaching at
UNL. Teaching & Learning Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
http://www.unl.edu/teaching/teachquestions.html (Last accessed:
3 February 2000).