Five steps to effective questioning

One psychology teacher shares his tips for posing successful queries

Mike Lamb

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Questioning is something every teacher does and yet even within my school there are a wide variety of approaches. I decided to consider more carefully the questioning techniques in our psychologyclassroom. My current practice is the result of five stages of development.

  1. Bring in a no-hands policy 
    First, I scrapped self-selection. Instead I pose questions to the entire class and then pick a particular pupil. This obviously means all pupils are aware that they might be picked and hence I have found much higher engagement. It also allows for differentiation via carefully targeted questioning.
  2. ​Give pupils more time
    Picking a pupil at random highlighted how quickly I expected an answer. It is thought that on average pupils are provided with close to a second to answer a question, whereas for anything requiring genuine cognition, several seconds would be more appropriate. Leaving more time does require you and the students to get used to uncomfortable silences, but if you explain why you are leaving them and don’t leave students hanging on too long, it works well.
  3. Pose, pause, pounce, bounce
    By this point I was most of the way to adopting this well-documented approach – I just needed the bounce. This is where you ask another student to respond to their peer’s answer. This ensures pupils listen to their classmates and I've found it provides more opportunities to push the learning further.
  4. Develop your own subject-specific question taxonomy
    To facilitate the above, we developed a taxonomy of questions that we felt led to higher-order thinking. We linked the question words specifically to our subject with reference to the key question words used by our exam board. We put a poster of this up in our classrooms to encourage staff to use the system.
  5. Get the pupils asking more questions
    I found that, having come this far, questioning had become didactic. To counter this, I encouraged students to question each other using the poster from the previous step, and also by adjusting seating plans so that pupils felt more comfortable questioning and discussing issues.

Mike Lamb teaches biology and psychology at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex, England He is also a TES Subject Genius blogger

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Mike Lamb

Mike Lamb is director of staff welfare at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex

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