Teacher questioning

In classrooms a significant amount of time is used by teachers to ask questions. When teachers are skilled in the type of questions they ask, and how they ask them, it can propel and support student learning.

Image: For effective teacher questioning to occur, teachers need to plan their questions and how they respond to students. Redirection, probing and reinforcement are effective ways to respond to students.

Why focus on teacher questioning?

So much of classroom time is spent with teachers questioning the students…skilled questioning by teachers can guide students to thoughtful and reflective answers and so facilitate higher levels of academic achievement. (Hattie)

The research of Hattie, Cotton, Walsh and Sattes has highlighted that teachers spend a lot of time asking questions, and that:

  • Questioning accounts for up to a third of all teaching time, second only to the time devoted to explanation.
  • Teachers ask up to 2 questions every minute, up to 400 in a day, around 70,000 a year, or 2-3 million in the course of a career.
  • Of the 400 a day, a large proportion of these (anything between 30-60 per cent) are procedural.
  • After teaching for around 14.5 years, a teacher has most likely asked a million questions.
  • Teachers frequently call on volunteers to answer their questions and these volunteers often constitute a select group of students. This means not all students are accountable to respond to all questions.
  • Teachers typically wait less than a second after asking a question before calling on a student to answer. They wait even less time (often 0 seconds) before speaking after a student has answered.
  • Teachers often accept incorrect answers without probing, and frequently answer their own questions.
  • Students in turn ask teachers very few content-related questions.

Questions serve many purposes. They can help pupils to reflect on information and commit it to memory. They can develop thinking skills, encourage discussion and stimulate new ideas. Questions allow teachers to determine how much a class understands and enable them to pitch lessons at an appropriate level. They are an important tool for managing the classroom, helping to draw individuals into the lesson and keeping them interested and alert. And questions have a symbolic value - sending a clear message that pupils are expected to be active participants in the learning process. (Hastings)

  • Cotton, K. (2001). Classroom Questioning.
  • Hastings, S. (2003, July 4). Questioning article from the TES.
  • Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Hattie, J. (2011). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Walsh, J. A., & Sattes, B. D. (2005). Quality Questioning: Research-Based Practice to Engage Every Learner. California: Sage Publications.
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