10 Tips for Successful Questioning

Word got around quickly that our new principal was a stickler for assessing our questioning techniques. At the beginning of every observation, he would make a chart, and would use that chart to record every single question we asked. He wanted to make sure we were successfully questioning our students. His chart included these aspects of questioning and more:

  • Were we picking on students who did not volunteer, as well as those who raised their hands?10 Effective Tips for Successful Questioning, Questioning, Asking Good Questions
  • Did we accept “I don’t know” as an answer?
  • What language did we use in our questioning technique?
  • How much wait time did we provide before expecting a response?
  • Did we question an equal ratio of boys to girls?
  • Did we hum She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain after each question?
Okay, so the last one wasn’t part of his chart. But he might as well have thrown it in. New and experienced teachers panicked. We’d never had anyone hold our feet to the flames before. So we held an impromptu meeting after school to come up with some effective questioning strategies.
It ended up being a pivotal meeting, and not just because the emergency chocolate stash made an appearance. That meeting was when I learned best practices related to the power of successful questioning.

Here are ten questioning strategies that will enhance teacher-student relations and keep inquiry alive.

1.  Pose the question, scan the room, and then ask a student to respond.

Asking the question first and then looking around the room, sends the message that everyone should be prepared to answer. Students are more attentive when they know they could be held accountable at any moment. It also allows students the think time they need to process the question and formulate an answer.

2.  Allow “think time”  before expecting a response.

You can not practice successful questioning without a little wait time. Most teachers wait about 1.5 seconds before answering the question themselves or moving on to another respondent. That’s understandable, as we feel pressure to cover a great deal of content in a limited amount of time. And that silence? It can feel mighty awkward in a class with 20 other kids chomping at the bit to participate.
Wait Time, Time to Answer, How long should I wait?

“Think time” allows students time to  process complex information and construct more complex answers. I like to call it what it is by telling students that I’m giving them “think time.” It’s important for them to know that the person with the fastest response doesn’t go home with a shiny silver trophy. Thoughtful and thorough responses are more valuable than speedy ones.

How much time is enough? Studies show that a three-second pause is appropriate for a lower cognitive question, and a think time of up to nine seconds should be used for higher cognitive questions.

3. Dignify incorrect responses.

•        One of our primary classroom goals should be to create a safe atmosphere for risk taking so our students feel comfortable and confident when answering questions, as well as when asking questions. There several ways to establish such an atmosphere when a student gives a wrong response.
  • Resist the impulse to say “Moe, that’s wrong.” Instead, indicate which question the answer does answer correctly. For example, if you ask students to correctly identify a metaphor and Larry’s answer is “simile,” you can say, “That would be correct if the author had used the words like or as…” •
  • Allow a student to save face by “phoning a friend” to give another response. This is a positive way to have the student participate in finding an answer or idea. They succeed in helping the search along, despite being unable to answer.
  • If a student gives an incorrect answer, dignify their attempt by saying something like, “Curly Sue, I know what you’re thinking,” and then move on. This dignifies the student because it gives the impression that a response does follow some line of reasoning. An alternative might be, “Oh, that’s close, just tweak the idea a little,” but this should only be used if the answer is indeed close. Kids can see right through us when we try to mislead them with sugar-coating and we do want students to learn the correct information.
  • Break the question down, so the student can be successful with a more manageable bite.

4. Ask for an idea instead of an answer.

Successful questioning does not always include a right or wrong answer. Most of us are in the habit of positively reinforcing a valid response by saying it is “good” or “correct.” The problem is that this shuts down the other students. They automatically assume other answers are wrong. This is especially problematic if a question is interpretive, as there are many possible responses, and students have to supply supporting evidence to validate their response.
The solution to this is to develop the habit of asking for ideas instead of answers. We can then commend the proof that a student supplies, instead of the “answer” itself. It also encourages kids to formulate strong evidence in support of their responses.


5.  Design questions that require students to build on classmates’ responses. 

 Read this blogpost to find out how to design effective questions, promote inquiry, and improve teacher/student relationships in your classroom. Very helpful!
Encourage students to listen to one another and make connections by asking them to build on what others have said. You might say, “Moe, how does your idea connect with Larry’s?” This encourages interaction, and your classroom will become less teacher-centered and more peer-directed.

6. Prepare your questions in advance.

Plan a series of clear and specific questions that are logically connected. During class discussions, rather than beginning with a question that is multifaceted and complex, use a sequence of questions to build depth and complexity.
These are some of the questions I had ready when my students were preparing to write mini-argumentative papers on trophy hunting:
  • What is trophy hunting?
  • How has hunting changed over time?
  • Can a society benefit from trophy hunting?
  • What are the short-term effects of allowing trophy hunting?
  • What are the long-term effects of trophy hunting?
  • What ethical dilemmas does trophy hunting present?
  • What factors have to be considered when creating laws regarding trophy hunting?
As much as we think we will remember the questions we intend to ask a class, unless we have a superhuman memory, most of us will forget. Planning questions in advance allows us to build on knowledge and is one of the keys to effective questioning.

7. Utilize partner sharing techniques to increase student engagement.

A great way to successfully question your students is by making it low risk through partner sharing techniques.
Turn & Talk and Think-Pair-Share  are great collaboration strategies to encourage participation and practice effective speaking and listening skills.

Turn & Talk

  • Pose a question or prompt for students to discuss.
  • Allow students to turn toward a predetermined partner and talk about the question for one to two minutes.
  • When the time is up, the class can come together to share their answers.
My students love when I call out “turn & talk” after posing a question. Their partner is a built-in captive audience, and who doesn’t seize the chance to spout off to a captive audience?


  • Think: Pose a question and have students independently write a response.
  • Pair: Have students share their response with a partner.
  • Share: Come together as a class to share responses.
Asking students to write and chat about their ideas with a partner before sharing with a large group has many benefits. In addition to strengthening listening skills, it builds confidence, encourages participation, and results in deeper class discussions.

8. Use mini whiteboards, so students can all respond at the same time.

Sometimes successful questioning needs a little bit of magic. Mini whiteboards cast a spell over my friends. Kids who balk at every line they have to write on paper will write a three stanza poem on a whiteboard. (I’m not kidding. I can’t tell you how many kids have to whip out their phones to take a picture of their whiteboard masterpiece.)
Those miniature dry erase boards provide an awesome way for ALL students to answer questions simultaneously.
Mini whiteboards are awesome! They allow ALL students to participate in answering questions simultaneously! Read this blogpost to find out more tips for effortless classroom questioning!

9. Take advantage of free random name generators.

It can be easy to ask the “ol’ reliable” student(s) over and over again. You want to randomize who you’re asking for successful questioning to occur.

Download an app like Randomly that will randomly generate students to call on. Or Transom offers a free random name generator here.For a good old fashioned no-tech version, the popsicle stick name generator is a great alternative. Just have the kids write their own name on a stick, put them in a jar or basket, and then randomly select.

10. Self-evaluate after class. 

Reflecting is a principle part of becoming a better educator. If you don’t already, find a way to practice mindfulnes after class and reflect on your overall day but also what questions you asked.
  • Make notes on the more or less successful questions from the day’s lesson.
Make sure you ask yourself
  • Which questions resulted in spirited discussions and which ones led to more inquiry?
  • Which questions and questioning fell flat? Why?
I always laugh when I remember writing lesson plans with a friend and looking at his planbook from the previous year. One page included a neatly typed list of discussion questions, with a handwritten note scrawled over them that said, “You idiot.”
That note says it all. According to The Guardian, teachers ask 300-400 questions a day. We’re not going to get all 300 questions right the first time, but with a little practice, we can keep improving.

What are your favorite questioning techniques?