Types of Questions
's greatest weapon
is the question
. Below are some different types of questions to use with your student
s, as well as some reflection
on their use.
is used to gain more information
from a student
to help the teacher better understand a student's idea
s, and thought process
es. Often, asking a student to elaborate
on an initial response
will lead her to think more deep
ly, restructure her thinking, and while doing so, discover a fallacy
in the original response. Examples of clarifying questions are "What I hear you saying is that you would rather work alone
than in your group
. Is that correct?" "So, Patrick
, you think the poem
is a sad one, is that right?" Research
has shown a strong positive correlation
between student learning and development of metacognitive
skills and the teacher's use of questions that ask for clarification. In addition, by seeking clarification, the teacher is likely to be demonstrating an interest in the student and his thinking.
CONVERGENT-THINKING QUESTION: Convergent
-thinking questions, also called narrow
questions, are low
-order thinking questions that have a single correct
answer (such as recall
questions). Examples of convergent-thinking questions are "How would you classify the word spelled c-l-o-s-e, as a homophone
?" "If the radius
of a circle is 20 meters, what is the circle's circumference
?" "What is the name of the first battle of the Civil War
If you ask a question to which, after sufficient wait
-time (longer than two seconds and as long as nine), no students respond or to which their inadequate
responses indicate they need more information, then you can ask a question that cue
s the answer or response you are seeking. In essence, you are going backward
in your questioning sequence to cue the students. For example, as an introduction to a lesson on the study of prefix
es, a teacher asks her students, "How many legs do crayfish
s, and shrimp
have?," and there is no accurate response. She might then cue the answer with the following information and question, "The class to which those animals belong is class Decapoda
. Does that give you a clue about the number of legs they have?" If that clue is not enough, then she might ask, "What is a decathlon
?" and so on.
DIVERGENT-THINKING QUESTION: Divergent
-thinking questions (also known as broad
, or thought questions) are open-ended (i.e., usually having no singulariy correct answer), high
-order thinking questions (requiring analysis
, or evaluation
). These questions require students to think creatively by leaving the comfortable
confines of the known
and reaching out into the unknown
. Examples of questions that require divergent thinking are "What measures could be taken
to improve the effectiveness of crime prevention
in our city
?" and "What measures could be taken to improve the trash
problem after lunch on our school grounds?"
Some questions, whether convergent or divergent, require students to place a
value on something; these are referred to as evaluative
questions. If the teacher and the students all agree on certain premise
s, then the evaluative question would also be a convergent question. If original assumptions differ, then the response to the evaluative question would be more subjective, and therefore that evaluative question would be divergent. Examples of evaluative questions are "Should the United States
in its national forests?" and "Should women be allowed to choose to have abortion
This is any question that is designed to focus
student thinking. For example, the
first question of the preceding paragraph is a focus question when the teacher asking it is attempting to
focus student attention on the economic
issues involved in clear-cutting.
Similar to a clarifying question, the probing
question requires student thinking to go beyond superficial
first-answer or single-word responses. Examples of probing questions are "Why, Siobhan, do you think it to be the case that every citizen
has the right to have a gun
?" and "Could you give us an example?"
In the fifth century B.C.
, the great Athenian
used the art of questioning so successfully that to this day we still hear of the Socratic method
. What, exactly, is the Socratic method?
Socrates' strategy was to ask his students a series of lead
ing questions that gradually snarl
ed them up to the point where they had to look carefully at their own ideas and to think rigorous
ly for themselves. Socratic discussions were informal dialogue
s taking place in a natural, pleasant environment
. Although Socrates sometimes had to go to considerable lengths to ignite
his students' intrinsic interest, their response was natural and spontaneous
. In his dialogues, Socrates tried to aid students in developing ideas. He did not impose
his own notions on the students. Rather, he encouraged them to develop their own
conclusions and draw their own inference
s. Of course, Socrates may have had preconceived notions about what the final learning should be and carefully aimed his questions so that the students would arrive at the desired conclusions. Still, his questions were open-ended, causing divergent rather than convergent thinking. The students were free to go wherever the facts and their thinking led them.
Throughout history, teacher
s have tried to adapt the methods of Socrates to the classroom
. In some situations, they have been quite successful
. However, we must remember that Socrates used this method in the context
of a one-to-one relationship
between the student and himself. Some teachers have adapted it for whole-class direct instruction
by asking questions first of one student and then of another, moving slowly about the class. This technique may work, but it is difficult because the essence of the Socratic technique is to build
question on question in a logical
fashion so that each question leads the student a step further toward the understanding sought. When you spread the questions around the classroom, you may find it difficult to build up the desired sequence
and to keep all the students involved in the discussion. Sometimes you may be able to use the Socratic method by directing all the questions at one student, at least for several minutes, while the other students look on and listen in. This is the way Socrates did it. When the topic is interesting enough, this technique can be quite successful and even exciting, but in the long run
, the Socratic method works best when the teacher is working in one-on-one coaching situations or with small groups of students, such as those who may be working on a group inquiry
, rather than in whole-class direct instruction.
When Socratic questioning is being used, the focus is on the questions, not answers, and thinking is valued as the quintessential
activity. In essence, to conduct Socratic questioning, identify a problem (either student- or teacher-posed) and then ask the students a series of probing questions designed to cause them to examine critically the problem and potential solutions to it. The main thrust
of the questioning and the key questions must be planned in advance so that the questioning will proceed logically. To think of quality probing questions on the spur of the moment
is too difficult.
Levels of Cognitive Questions and Student Thinking
Questions teachers pose are cues to their students to the level
of thinking expected of them, ranging from the lowest
level of mental
operation, requiring simple recall of knowledge (convergent thinking), to the highest
, requiring divergent thought and application
of that thought. It is important that one is aware of the levels of thinking, understand the importance of attending to student thinking from low to higher levels of operation, and realize that what for one student may be a matter of simple recall of information may for another require a higher-order mental activity, such as figuring something out by deduction
One should structure
one's questions (and assist students in developing their own skill in structuring and sequencing their questions) in a way that is designed to guide students to higher levels of thinking.
- 1. Lowest level (data input phase): Gathering and recalling information. At this level questions are
designed to solicit from students concepts, information, feelings, or experiences that were gained in
the past and stored in memory. Sample key words and desired behaviours are "complete, count, define,
describe, identify, list, match, name, observe, recall, recite, and select."
- 2. Intermediate level (data processing phase): Processing information. At this level questions are
designed to draw relationships of cause and effect, to synthesize, analyze, summarize, compare, contrast, or classify data. Sample key words and desired behaviours are "analyze, classify, compare, contrast, distinguish, explain, group, infer, make an analogy, organize, plan, and synthesize."
- 3. Highest level (data output phase): Applying and evaluating in new situations. Questions at this level
encourage students to think intuitively, creatively, and hypothetically; to use their imaginations; to
expose a value system; or to make a judgment. Sample key words and desired behaviours are "apply
a principle, build a model, evaluate, extrapolate, forecast, generalize, hypothesize, imagine, judge,
predict, and speculate."
A teacher should use the type of question that is best suited for their purposes and a variety
of levels of questions. One must structure questions in a way intended to move student thinking to higher levels. When teachers use higher-level questions, their students tend to score higher on tests of critical thinking
and on standardized test
s of achievement