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What’s in a question?

How do you ask the right questions? In this article, find out what a question is and why it is important.
A pile of plastic toy question marks with 2 of them lit up
© University of Reading

“If you want interesting answers, you’ve got to ask interesting questions.” – Ted Wragg, Professor of Education

A question is an enquiry either spoken or written to find something out, and you tend to ask questions to which you don’t know the answer.

However, in school, adults tend to ask questions which they do know the answers to – which can confuse pupils. For example, if you ask a pupil ‘what colour is grass?’, they’ll wonder why you’re asking something which you know the answer to. They may think it’s a trick question or that it’s more complicated than they first thought, so they may choose to remain silent and refuse to answer.

Pupils can also face an interrogatory style of questioning such as ‘what is 5 x 5?’, ‘what is 8 x 7?’, ‘what is 4 x 3?’ ‘what is 11 x 3?’ etc…, which can be overwhelming and confusing. This manner of questioning tends to occur in school; adults tend not to form questions like this outside of it.

The quality of an answer received is determined by the quality of the question asked. You need to be aware of the type of question you’re going to use, in order to achieve the response you’re hoping for. For example, ‘why do birds fly?’ and ‘why is it that birds can fly?’ don’t feel like particularly different questions but you may find you’ll get very different responses.

There are many theories and models that help breakdown the types of questions, but for the purpose of this course we’ll be narrowing this down. In the next Step, you’ll hear from Professor Ted Wragg, a renowned educationalist and academic, discuss three types of questions.

© University of Reading
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