Questioning: an instructional strategy

If one had to ask teachers whether or not they use questioning as an instructional strategy, the answer is invariably a confident yes. Teachers, regardless of their level of effectiveness feel that questioning is the easiest way to engage students in interactive lessons. This tends to be the case until one provides teachers with a different description of how questioning should be done to elicit maximum intelligent responses that indicate actual learning from students.

Most teachers believe that effective questioning is the ability to sprinkle randomly generated and/or intuitively expressed questions throughout lessons. They think that more questions mean better engagement in learning. Another misconception is that only open-ended questions involve higher order thinking. These may be true. However, one has to look at questioning as a far more comprehensive and technically demanding instructional strategy to attain its inherent benefits.

The ineffectiveness of current use of the questioning strategy is evident in the inability of students to understand test questions. If teachers use and overuse questioning, how come students still don’t know how to go about decoding the same when required?

To engage students in effective questioning, a teacher needs to follow certain tenets. These tenets constitute the underpinning rationale for the effective use of questioning in a classroom setting. The most important of these is, “every student, regardless of his/her past or present academic achievement level, is questioned.”

First tenet

Being humans, teachers tend to question only bright students. They do this for many reasons, none of which are educationally valid. Struggling students are deliberately skipped because teachers don’t like to wait for answers. Some teachers believe that these students cannot answer questions intelligently. Good questioning involves giving every student equal opportunity to take part in the process of learning. Even when a student answers “I don’t know,” a teacher should not give up. Asking a follow-up question or paraphrasing the question allows the student to have another chance.

Simply put, teachers should be sincere in providing everyone a chance to engage in learning through questioning. This includes students who try to avoid eye-contact with teacher by looking away and those who don’t put up their hand.

Second tenet

Another effective questioning tenet worth following is, “require students to justify all responses.” This tenet guarantees the involvement of complex thinking along with lower level mental processes. For example, it’s easy to answer the question, “How are you today?” However, when teachers go further and ask students, “Why do you say so?” a different reaction is seen. Students start thinking hard about reasons for answering the question the way they did. They pull ideas together and creatively express them using effective communication. This can be done by following the Q-R-Q pattern, where teachers ask a question, elicit a response, and ask a follow-up question that requires justification for the answer(s) provided.

Third tenet

“Questioning should not encourage random guess-making.” I have heard teachers saying things like, “Can anyone make a guess?” or “Any wild guesses?” etc. If students are to make wild guesses, then why do we teach them that a hypothesis is an intelligent guess? There is a huge difference between an intelligent and wild guess. While the former is based on prior research and reflection, the latter is based on gut feeling. Going by gut feeling in the process of learning jeopardizes the credibility of knowledge. Hence, effective questioning requires teachers to ask questions that encourage students to reason and respond thoughtfully.


Teachers who use effective questioning strategy break the culture of disengagement in the classroom. Passive students become active. Those who heavily rely on teachers for answers become thinkers for themselves.

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