Effective Questioning

Written by Andrew Nelson

I was told, during my PGCE year that ‘watching you question is similar to wading through treacle!’ – slow paced and boring! Looking  back my mentor was correct in his sentiment, if not his approach to his trainee teacher. Against OFSTED criteria, and more importantly in terms of student engagement, my questioning was inadequate.

I have worked extremely hard on developing my questioning and a eureka moment arrived at the AGS Inspire session on Questioning. I have used many of the strategies suggested. Recent lesson observations have highlighted my questioning as a CPD strength and I have had several teachers come to observe my questioning. To date this is my greatest achievement in teaching as I was very often the one observing other teachers desperately trying to find effective questioning strategies.

I still have significant room for development and although I am getting better I still need to develop further, before I can satisfy myself and class my questioning as Outstanding. However I would like to share some of the ways in which I have employed the Questioning strategies AGS Inspire introduced me to.

  1. No Hands Up

I haven’t employed this strategy as the author intended it to be employed, but I have found it to have brilliant applications:-

a) I will ask a very opened ended question at the start of a whole class Q&A session and allow for hands to be raised. But instead of asking the students with their hands up I will focus on the students that don’t have their hands up or the students clearly drifting off task. This has been useful because it brings into play all groups and enables me to involve and engage them all. It enables me to target those students who don’t know the answer, are too shy to answer out loud and enables me to bluntly point out that I am paying attention and I am aware of the students who are not paying enough attention. This encourages increased participation and helps to increase the impact a Q&A session has.

b) Also, knowing the students who know the answer/are prepared to answer the question, I can ask a student without his/her hand up and if their reason for not putting their hand up in the first place is because they didn’t know the answer, I can easily identify someone to bounce the question to. By getting a model answer spoken out loud by some one else, I can then bounce the question back again to the original student who I asked in the first place. As this student has by now  listened to a model answer, they are very often in a position to give a good answer themselves, which demonstrates progress.

c) Discipline. No hands up is a great way to demonstrate that you are the boss, you are in control and the importance of behaviour for learning. I have found no hands up to be a great settler and an opportunity to quash students that are talking over you and that would otherwise disrupt explanations. To achieve no hands up I use a visual prop-who I call Ralf. Which is a severed arm! I have told my students that Ralf put his hand up even though we had no hands up! Low ability sets are particularly responsive to Ralf.

  1. Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce

Again, I haven’t employed this strategy as the author intended it to be employed either! But this is the one I feel my students get the most from.

Most lessons at Acklam start the same for me. I put out the books onto the correct desks before each lesson starts (which is a brilliant strategy for remembering names and where people sit, which is vital for effectively questioning students and for maximising lesson time) and on the board I display  the date, lesson title and starter question. Students copy the date and title and at the same time attempt the starter question. This settles the class and enables me to do the register. More importantly it establishes high expectations as it demands students to think straight away and when students are not following the instructions enables me to tell them get on task, rather than to just settle and be quite.

Very often the starter question is to write a definition for a word I know that no student has heard of. Instantly I am encouraging students to have a go and risk taking and providing opportunities for students to use a dictionary for themselves. After 5 minutes I then ask selected students to read out their definition and we discuss the meaning of the word. I then talk through the lesson objective and success criteria (I will explain exactly how later) and present the actual definition to the students,which we discuss in more depth. After this, I show the AGS DIRT slide and ask students to redraft their starter answer using the model answer and what has mean discussed. Within 20 minutes I can demonstrate progress, as students are then keen to draw a yellow box around their redraft.

When presenting my success criteria I also use Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce. I present my success criteria using the AGS Way i.e. colour coded. I read through the gold and explain what it means. I follow this by asking a student to read out the silver, I then bounce to another student and ask  what is different between the levels and upon getting a satisfactory answer I pounce to a third student to ask what the difference means in practise between the levels. For example if gold is to explain and silver is to describe, then what does describe and explain mean and what is the difference between them? I find that when I am referring back to the success criteria, this is particularly useful for demonstrating progress.

  1. ABC – Add, Build and Contest

This strategy I enjoy using the most, as it works well with high flying classes. I find that students enjoy telling their peers they are wrong! It also provides deep thinking opportunities as I ask what they think of what has been said, but why they think that way.

  1. My own strategy

Many students seem fearful of failure and when they have a yes/no question, they will  very often ask me what the answer is. I give them the answer, but refuse to let them write the answer down until they have given me an answer to explain why the correct answer is in fact the correct answer. This I find promotes deep thinking and encourages students to think about why/process rather than just yes/no.


I have to say that I enjoy questioning, even though I once hated it! I hope that this blog helps you to develop your questioning.  I would love to hear about what you think about what I am doing in my classroom so that we can discuss and share ideas.

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