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What are Questions?

Questions are verbal devices that are used to solicit a response from others (Borich, 1988)

There are many different types of questions and ways to classify them. In the most basic form, questions are either open or closed.

Closed (Convergent) Questions

Closed questions have a definite end. They usually result in a yes/no answer (Are you happy?), the selection of the answer from a number of options in the question (Do you like cats or dogs?), or the recall of a piece of information (What is the capital city ofAustralia?). As such there are only a few correct answers. They are the most basic questions that can be asked.

Open (Divergent) Questions

Open questions include almost every other type of question that you could ask. They are open ended and so students usually give longer, more creative responses. These questions include the top five tiers of Bloom’s taxonomy: comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation questions.

Other Types of Questions

There are some other types of questions that are not as commonly used.

  • Rhetorical: usually used for humour and don’t require an answer.
  • Probe: these are follow up questions that can be used when students provide a partial or incorrect answer. And why do you think that the….. There is more information on probing questions on the How Many Questions are Enough page.
  • Clarifying: these questions differ slightly to probes in that they are used to clarify the previous response or question, and to assess the facts of the situation before an conclusion is given. So you are saying that Charlie likes dogs AND cats?
  • Funnelling: this is a questioning technique where a series of questions are asked, each question narrows down from the previous answer. What did you do yesterday? What did you have for lunch? Did you like it? Would you have it again?
  • What, when, how, where, who, why: these are often used in a primary school setting to encourage students to comprehend various texts and situations, and to develop the basic cognitive skills needed to be able to answer complex questions in the future.


Why Ask Questions?

Questions are used in the classroom for many different purposes such as to engage and motivate students, to encourage students to review and consider their knowledge and to prompt discussion. We can vary the level of questions that we ask to achieve different results. Being able to provide a correct response can boost a student’s confidence and make them more likely to participate in the future. Lower-order questions are usually easier to answer and so involve more students in the class than the more complex higher-order questions. However higher-order questions require more thought and improve students’ cognitive abilities.

According to Simonds and Cooper (2014) there are four main levels of questions commonly used in the classroom. The first level are knowledge-based questions such as What is this called? or How many states and territories are there in Australia? These questions only require the student to recall information that they have previously learnt.

The second level includes comprehension questions, these are questions that require students to reorganise the learnt information to demonstrate that they understand the meaning. Some examples of comprehension questions include Compare these two texts, Give an example and What caused this?

Application questions make up the third tier. Students use the previously learnt information to solve problems in a new situation such as Apply Pythagoras’s Theorem to calculate the length of timber Bob needs to finish building his roof.

The higher-order questions include analysis questions. To answer these questions, students must break up an idea into parts so that they can then logically analyse each part. For example, Does the evidence support the conclusion? Synthesis and evaluation questions also require higher-order thinking.

It is important that as teachers, we use a variety of question levels in the classroom to guide students’ cognitive improvement and lead them to greater academic success (Deethardt, 1974 and Redfield and Rousseau, 1981).

Bloom’s Taxonomy

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and some collaborators (Englehart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl) came up with a categorization framework for academic learning goals. The text was originally titled Taxonomy of Educational Objectives but is now commonly referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy. It is widely used by teachers and professionals throughout the world and formed the basis for Simonds and Cooper’s question levels.


There are some resources for using Bloom’s taxonomy located in Teacher Support Resources.

How Many Questions are Enough?

Whilst Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great starting point for thinking about questions, it doesn’t include all the types of questions that we would use in a classroom. One important type is the probing question. These prompt students on an initially weak response and generally steer students in the right direction. Some examples are: Why? Could you elaborate? Can you think of any other examples? In general, the more probing questions a teacher asks, the more the students will participate verbally.

A teacher can also ask probing questions to stimulate discussion, such as Do you agree? It is important to guide the flow of the discussion with further questions and suggestions to ensure that it doesn’t get off topic and that it doesn’t get stuck at a certain point. It is important to try and include all the students in a class discussion. This can be achieved by specifically asking students to answer a question or follow on from another student’s idea.

The number of questions that are asked depends on how long it takes for the students to get to the desired answer. Sometimes if a higher order question is asked initially, it can take several probing questions to lead a student through a logical sequence to the correct answer. It is important to ask a question in a way that the students can understand and respond to.

Also, the way that the teacher responds to students’ answers will influence how the discussion flows. Always respond to students’ questions in a positive and constructive way.  In other words, whilst Good job is positive, it doesn’t tell the student how they could improve their answer or even what it was that you liked about the answer. For more information about how to provide feedback, head on over to the Giving Feedback page.

Question marks


Wait Time

“Wait time is the period of silence between the time a question is asked and the time when one or more students respond to that question.” (TeacherVision, 2015)


It is necessary to give students some time to think about the questions and formulate a response. Even though it can feel like you have been waiting forever for an answer, or even just some small sign that they heard you, in reality it was probably less than one second. On average, teachers only wait 0.7 and 1.4 seconds after asking a question (Stahl, 1994). Try counting to at least three in your mind (one mis-sis-sip-pi, two mis-sis-sip-pi, etc) before repeating the question or rewording it. Nobody wants to turn into the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Most students will take anywhere from 1 to 10 seconds to process a question and find link the correct information to it.  As such it is also a good idea to wait after getting a response to let the other students process the answer as well.


So how long should you wait?

This depends on the complexity of the question, the ability of the students and the clarity with which the question was asked. In general, recall and lower-level questions will take most students 1-3 seconds to answer. Questions that require calculation, such as 11 x 3, usually take 4-6 seconds to generate a response. Higher-order questions that require more thought than the simple recall questions, could take anywhere from 6 to 10 seconds to formulate a reply.

Benefits to waiting longer

In 1972, Mary Budd Rowe published a paper summarising five years of study into wait times. She observed that when teachers allowed at least 3 seconds of wait time, there were a number of positive changes in the classroom.

“There are increases in the length of the response, the number of unsolicited appropriate responses, student confidence, incidence of speculative responses, incidence of child-child data comparisons, incidence of evidence-inference statements, frequency of student questions, and incidence of responses from “relatively slow” students. The number of teacher questions which do not elicit a response decreases.” (Rowe, 1972)

By waiting longer for a response, a teacher will involve more class members, get better quality answers and students are more likely to ask their own questions.

Giving Feedback

Providing feedback is a huge part of questioning. How we react to a student’s answer can determine how the discussion will continue. Praise rather than criticize an answer.

If the student provides a correct answer, praise the student and reiterate the answer for the rest of the class. You could even go on to apply the student’s answer to a situation or text. This shows the class that you were listening and you value their answers. If the students see that you value what they have to contribute to the lesson, they will participate much more.

If the student got the answer wrong don’t just say “No that isn’t the correct answer”. Praise them for trying and reiterate the question. You could also probe the student’s response to guide them to the correct answer or provide the student with additional information to help them answer the question.

Of course, the student could just say that they don’t know. In this instance, urge the student to attempt to answer at least part of the question. Repeat the question so that they can hear it again, rephrasing it if needed. Alternatively, redirect the question to another student.

Make sure that your feedback is constructive and non-judgemental. Ensure your comments are your own opinion by using the pronouns “I” and “my”. Make sure that your verbal comments match the your non-verbal communication. For example, make eye contact and smile when you explain why you like the student’s answer.


Simonds, C J and Cooper, P J 2014, Communication for the Classroom Teacher, 9th edn, Allyn & Bacon of Pearson Education Ltd, Glenview, USA

Video: Watson, G 2013, ‘Characteristics of Good Student Feedback’, viewed on 17 April 2015,

National School Reform Faculty, 2015, Topic #1 Questions: A Pocket Guide to Probing Questions, Looking at Student Work, viewed on 17 April 2015,

Simonds, C J and Cooper, P J 2014, Communication for the Classroom Teacher, 9th edn, Allyn & Bacon of Pearson Education Ltd, Glenview, USA

Skills You Need, 2015, Types of Question, Skills You Need,  viewed on 17 April 2015,

Tsiorvas, A 2015, EDMT903 Communication for Teachers, Lecture 2, Week 3: Questioning, Listening and Feedback, lecture Powerpoint Slides, viewed on 20 March 2015,

Image: Creative mind, viewed on 18 April 2015, 

Simonds, C J and Cooper, P J 2014, Communication for the Classroom Teacher, 9th edn, Allyn & Bacon of Pearson Education Ltd, Glenview, USA

Tsiorvas, A 2015, EDMT903 Communication for Teachers, Lecture 2, Week 3: Questioning, Listening and Feedback, lecture Powerpoint Slides, viewed on 20 March 2015,

Image: Cornwell, J 2011, ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy: Encouraging Higher Cognitive Thinking in Primary School Classrooms’, Successful Teaching blog, web log post, 23 March, viewed on 17 April 2015,

Simonds, C J and Cooper, P J 2014, Communication for the Classroom Teacher, 9th edn, Allyn & Bacon of Pearson Education Ltd, Glenview, USA

Rowe, M B 1972, “Wait-Time and Rewards as Instructional Variables: Their Influence on Language, Logic, and Fate Control” in Resources in Education, Education Resources Information Center, Presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Chicago, Illinois, April 1972, viewed on 17 April 2015,

Simonds, C J and Cooper, P J 2014, Communication for the Classroom Teacher, 9th edn, Allyn & Bacon of Pearson Education Ltd, Glenview, USA

Stahl, R J 1994, ‘Using “Think-Time” and “Wait-Time” Skillfully in the Classroom. ERIC Digest.’ Viewed on 15 April 2015,

TeacherVision 2015, Your Secret Weapon: Wait Time, Teaching Methods and Strategies, TeacherVision, viewed on 15 April 2015,

Tsiorvas, A 2015, EDMT903 Communication for Teachers, Lecture 2, Week 3: Questioning, Listening and Feedback, lecture Powerpoint Slides, viewed on 20 March 2015,

Video: Ferris Bueller’s Day off:

Video: Positively MAD Teaching Tip #7:Questioning Skills: Wait Time:

Image: Alice in Wonderland, The White Rabbit:

Image: Girl Thinking: