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Fifteen minute forum

Questions Worth Asking: Thursday Morning Thriller 22nd January 2015

The sell out Thursday Thriller crowd was treated to another really informative session, this week delivered by Tom Haward.  The topic of the session was questioning and the point should be made at this point that due to the volume of information Tom was only able to cover the first part of his presentation, part two is to follow so stay tuned!

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Questioning is a hot topic; it garners much attention and researchers such as Hattie seem to indicate that improving questioning can have a positive impact on student progress.  Tom posed the question to us:

Why is questioning important?

Questions have the power to…

  • Give an immediate way for a teacher to assess learning, which in turn can be used to modify teaching.
  • Develop thinking skills – from the use of lower order to higher order questioning.
  • Move towards greater independence of thought.
  • Encourage a sense of mystery and wonder

What became clear during the course of Tom’s presentation was that teachers are likely to be asking a considerable number of questions throughout their career so should probably work hard at becoming efficient in asking quality questions.

Ted Wragg’s (1993) research into questioning came up with some interesting facts:

  • On average teachers ask up to 2 questions every minute, 400 in a day, about 7,000 a year or 2-3 million over a career.
  • Most questions are answered in less than a second – the average time teachers allow between posing and answering a question.
  • 30-60% of these questions are procedural rather than learning-based.
  • An average of one spontaneous question a lesson comes from students.

TES article

Tom then shared some really useful tips for how questioning can be improved:

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Questioning mats: useful for giving students various options if they find a question initially difficult to access.

Hands down or no hands up: ensuring that all have an answer in some form.  Tom made the point that it is the skill of the teacher to then bounce the questions around the room to quickly include larger numbers of students that allows this be effective and then avoid the teacher and individual student game of question answer ping pong that can occur!

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Shifting the question lens: This struck a real chord with me as a PE teacher.   By moving around a room you will naturally ask different students as they appear in your field of vision.

Question cards: Distribute slips of paper / card at the beginning of the lesson. As pupils answer a question, they can hand over one of their cards. Teachers can see clearly who has still all their cards and can target an appropriate question! This technique also allows teachers to engage reluctant pupils, who may be given fewer cards.

Collective questioning: Address a question directly to a named pupil. Keep others involved by asking them to consider whether they agree / disagree or can add something new. e.g. “John, do you think Macbeth really wants to kill the King at this point? Sam, do you agree? What evidence can you find? Does anyone think something different?”

Observation: Get an observer to record on a tally chart or visual line chart where you direct questions in the room. This can be very revealing about distribution in terms of location and gender.  A pupil may even be able to do this, and this may engage others in the discussion about who answers and why.

A personal favourite that I have added is Think, Pair, Share.  I find this really useful to pose a question, provide an opportunity for thinking and then sharing ideas with a partner before drawing group ideas together.  I find this greatly increases the volume of discussion about a topic and students often extend answers during peer discussion as they feel more comfortable discussing before putting their ideas on show to larger groups of their peers.  It also helps avoid  having students who are passive during lessons as you ping pong with the super duper keeno who wants to answer everything!

Tom also mentioned strategies for extending student responses:

Pausing: give thinking time, then take responses. Try: Pause, Pose, Pounce, Bounce

Verbal Cues: After the pupil has responded, try: “Could you say a little more about that?” “Go on…”


  • “So you think that…?”
  • “So what you’re saying is…”
  • “Can someone just summarise what Tara has just said?”


  • “Yes, I sometimes think that…”
  • “I know what you mean, I also think…”
  • “Do you feel that…”

Non-Verbal Cues: Use body language e.g. eyes fixed, waiting, or hand extended, upturned to signal expectations that there may be more to be said.

That was all we had time for!  Stay tuned for the update folks… If you would like to download Tom’s presentation it is here:

Question Worth Asking



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