A question of mix and match

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Advice for teachers in their early career

This is the term when you'll really begin to motor. One of the best ways to become even more effective in the classroom is to improve your questioning skills. Think about the level of difficulty of what you ask. Do your questions call for relatively sophisticated thinking skills? Or basic application of rules? Or retention of facts?

Lower-level questions should be quite easy to answer. Higher-level questions require more thinking from pupils and will, of course, be harder to answer. The balance of the two depends on what you are teaching. A topic requiring factual recall - such as times tables - requires more lower-level questions than one that probes higher-level content, such as evaluations by pupils.

Try to ask higher-level questions whenever possible to develop pupils'

thinking skills. Lower-level questions are normally "closed" as they have one clear answer ("What's four times two?"), while "open" questions can have innumerable answers ("Why is it wrong to steal?").

Think about product and process. Product questions are designed to find the answer; process questions are meant to elicit the procedures, processes and rules used to get to the answer. In general, the fromer are closed and often lower-level, while process questions tend to be open and at a higher level. The two types can be combined. You can ask a product question ("What's the area of this shape?") and then ask pupils how they worked out the answer.

How long should you wait for an answer? Waiting time should vary according to the type of question. If the question is a closed, lower-level factual recall question, three seconds is about right. For open-ended, higher-level questions you might have to wait about 15 seconds. Waiting might lead to restlessness, so you can prompt.

When asking complex questions it is a good idea to break them down into small chunks or give pupils time to work out answers on their own before they respond. Get all pupils involved in answering by using individual whiteboards or paper to write on. You can also get pupils to discuss their answers in pairs before responding.

Sara Bubb's The Insider's Guide for New Teachers is published by TESKogan Page (pound;12.99) See www.tes.co.ukbookshop

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