Planning effective questions

In Step 4.11 you’ve explored three types of question, and as mentioned in the Step 4.10 – the quality of an answer received is determined by the quality of the question asked. An effective method is to write down exactly the questions you want to ask, and you can do this by using the ‘Effective Question Matrix’.

A grid 8 x 8. From left column to right column reads: is... [present], did... [was], can.. [possibility], should... [opinion], would... [probability], will... [prediction], might... [imagination]. From top row to bottom row reads: What? [Event], Where? [Place], When [Time], Which? [Choice], Who? [Person], Why? [Reason] How? [Meaning]

This matrix is helpful in enabling you to frame the questions you want to ask. It works in a linear fashion, where harder questions are furthest right and towards the bottom of this grid. The top left corner has questions such as ‘who is..?’, where the answer is going to be short. For example, ‘who is the Queen of England?’ requires the answer ‘Elizabeth’. The bottom right ‘how might..?’ requires a much more detailed answer due to the nature of the questions, for example, ‘how might we stop global warming?’

Here are a few points to help you when asking questions to children:

  • Try not to have recall questions like ‘what did we do yesterday?’ It’s much better to simply say what you did yesterday and move on with a complicated question for today
  • Rhetorical questions are for dramatic effect and are not helpful
  • A leading question is not open ended as it prompts the respondent to answer in a specific way
  • ‘Guess what I am thinking’ questions where you already know the answer, don’t help children to think
  • Use ‘Why don’t you try…’ questions to supply alternative answers or ideas, rather than give the answer
  • Direct questions to individual children not the whole group, otherwise only certain children will answer and only some may be able to answer
  • Ask one question, not a whole series, so you don’t confuse children
  • Be cautious of using closed questions which only require a yes/no answer and inhibits discussion
  • Make the learning environment interesting so that children are asking lots of questions
  • Most important, ask yourself: what do I want children/this child to learn from this question?

Do you have your own tips to share with your fellow learners in the comments below?

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Supporting Successful Learning in Primary School

University of Reading