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Research School Network: What does the evidence say about questioning? How can the research evidence around questioning help busy teachers to reflect on their own practice?


What does the evidence say about questioning?

How can the research evidence around questioning help busy teachers to reflect on their own practice?

by Durrington Research School
on the

Questioning is an essential part of teaching and as a result, teachers ask hundreds of questions every day. These questions might be aimed at a whole class, a small group or an individual and then of course, there are the follow-on questions that teachers will ask in response to how students responded to the original question. Questioning really is our bread and butter as teachers. With this in mind, it’s worth looking at what the research evidence suggests effective questioning might look like and how busy teachers can use this to inform their day to day practice. This article will draw from two sources of evidence – Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction’ (2012) and Kathleen Cotton’s Classroom Questioning’ (1988).

Kathleen Cotton

Cotton’s review of the evidence around questioning looked at a number of different aspects of questioning, all of which are explored in detail:

- Placement and timing of questions.
- Cognitive load of questions.
- Wait time.
- Relationship between increasing the use of higher cognitive questions and increasing wait time.

- Redirection/​Probing/​Reinforcement.
- Student attitudes.
- Teacher training.

The general findings were:

1. Instruction which includes posing questions during lessons is more effective in producing achievement gains than instruction carried out without questioning students.

2. Students perform better on test items previously asked as recitation questions than on items they have not been exposed to before.

3. Oral questions posed during classroom recitations are more effective in fostering learning than are written questions.

4. Questions which focus student attention on salient elements in the lesson result in better comprehension than questions which do not.

These are then developed into the following recommendations for classroom teachers to consider:

- Incorporate questioning into classroom teaching/​learning practices.
- Ask questions which focus on the salient elements in the lesson; avoid questioning students about extraneous matters.
- When teaching students factual material, keep up a brisk instructional pace, frequently posing lower cognitive questions.
- With older and higher ability students, ask questions before (as well as after) material is read and studied.
- Question younger and lower ability students only after material has been read and studied.
- Ask a majority of lower cognitive questions when instructing younger and lower ability students. Structure these questions so that most of them will elicit correct responses.
- Ask a majority of higher cognitive questions when instructing older and higher ability students.
- In settings where higher cognitive questions are appropriate, teach students strategies for drawing inferences.
- Keep wait-time to about three seconds when conducting recitations involving a majority of lower cognitive questions.
- Increase wait-time beyond three seconds when asking higher cognitive questions.
- Be particularly careful to allow generous amounts of wait-time to students perceived as lower ability.
- Use redirection and probing as part of classroom questioning and keep these focused on salient elements of students’ responses.
- Avoid vague or critical responses to student answers during recitations.
- During recitations, use praise sparingly and make certain it is sincere, credible, and directly connected to the students’ responses.

Barak Rosenshine

According to Rosenshine, questioning is an important part of the instructional process because it gives students the opportunity to practice new information and connect new material to their prior learning’. Alongside this questioning allows a teacher to determine how well the material has been learned and whether there is a need for additional instruction’. He suggests that the most effective teachers ask lots of questions to check how well the material has been learnt and also on the process that was used to answer the question. They also use a range of strategies to check the responses of all students and ensure the active participation of all students, for example:

- Tell the answer to a neighbour.
- Summarise the main idea in one or two sentences, writing the summary on a piece of paper and sharing this with a neighbour or repeating the procedures to a neighbour.
- Write the answer on a card and hold it up.
- Raise their hands if they know the answer (thereby allowing the teacher to check the entire class).
- Raise their hands if they agree with the answer that someone else has given.

Rosenshine also suggests some stems that are useful for teachers when thinking about how to frame their questions – these are particularly useful for literature, social sciences or science:

- How are ____ and _____ alike?
- What is the main idea of ______?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of _____?
- In what way is _____ related to_​_​_​_​_​?
- Compare ____ and ____ with regards to
- What do you think causes ____?
- How does ____ tie in with what we have learned before?
- Which one is the best ____ and why?
- What are some possible solutions for the problem of ____?
- Do you agree or disagree with the statement: ____?
- What do you still not understand about____?

Shaun Allison is Head of School Improvement at Durrington Multi-Academy Trust. He is also Director of Research School for Durrington Research School and will be delivering training on Evidence informed approach to curriculum, teaching and assessment’, Making Every Lesson Count’ and An evidence informed approach to improving science teaching’.

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