CPD workshop: Effective questioning

Written by: Steve Burnage | Published:
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Image: MA Education/Lucie Carlier

Continuing his regular series, Steve Burnage talks us through CPD ideas that can be adapted for your school. He will offer a template for a 45-minute workshop, with free handouts and slides available on our website. This instalment looks at questioning techniques to support learning and progress

The purpose of this article is to provide a summary of a 45-minute interactive training session that could be suitable for a staff meeting, staff development group, small group CPD session or for individual study.

The training outline is included here while the PowerPoint slides and an accompanying participants’ handout is available to download from the SecEd website (click the buttons above).

Slide 1: Welcome

In order to facilitate this short training session, you will need:

  • Copies of the PowerPoint slides printed three to a page with space for notes for each participant.
  • Copies of the accompanying Handling Difficult People handout for each participant.
  • Flipchart paper and marker pens.

All resources for this training are available to download from the SecEd website (see above) or by email from bitesizedtraining@gmx.com

Slide 2: Introduction

Effective questioning will focus on the three key pieces of learning that those new to questioning techniques need to know:

  • Knowing what good questioning looks like and sounds like.
  • Understanding why we need to ask good questions.
  • Being able to identify good questioning and use questioning effectively in the classroom.

Slide 3: What do you think?

If a question is important enough to ask, shouldn’t all students have the opportunity to answer it?

Activity: Think-Pair-Share

Ask participants to think individually about their response to this question, discuss their thinking in a pair, and then share their ideas with the group. The trainer should then collate answers on a flipchart and summarise the key points.

Slide 4: Inclusive questioning

For questioning to be effective, every member of the class should have an opportunity to take part. Techniques to do this include:

  • Turn to your neighbour – students discuss their thinking and answers to a question with a learning neighbour.
  • Think-pair-share – after a question, students think individually, then discuss with a partner and then share their thinking with the class.
  • Snowball – a development of think, pair share, after discussing in a pair, the pair shares with another pair to make a four, then the four shares to make an eight and so on (the size of the group snowballs).
  • Value line – after a question, students take their place on an imaginary line to show their response to the question (good for strongly agree to strongly disagree-type questions).
  • Lollypop sticks – students are chosen at random to answer questions posed by the teacher.
  • Voting – after a question, students vote on a range of answers (good for open-ended questions).
  • Diamond nine ranking – students have to rank a range of answers from “best” to “worse” to form a diamond shape.
  • Whiteboard answers – students use individual whiteboards to write down their answers and then show the class or group.

Activity

Work together to devise one or more learning activities that employ the questioning techniques described here.

Slide 5: Prompting

What can we do when students don’t, won’t or can’t respond to a question?

Try this sequence:

  • Original question.
  • Alternate question (ask the same thing in a different way).
  • Open-ended question (i.e. descriptions or comparisons).
  • Alternative response (give students an “either/or” option).

Activity

Adapt the questioning activity you devised from the last slide to reflect this prompting technique.

Slide 6: Wait time

After posing a question, wait at least three seconds before asking for a response. With traditional questioning, this might look like:

  • Teacher questions (pause).
  • Call on student (pause).
  • Student responds, or teacher intervenes (pause).

And for cooperative questioning, this would involve:

  • Teacher questions (pause).
  • All individuals think (pause).
  • All individuals respond (team members and teacher intervene) (pause).
  • Responses are shared with the class.

Slide 7 Take the answer around the class.

Many questioning interactions in the classroom are like a game of tennis – the teacher serves a question, the answer is hit back by a student, the teacher responds with another question etc.

This means, however, that the interaction is just back and forth with one question after another. This misses the opportunity to explore questions in greater depth and breadth.

We should treat questions more like volleyball than tennis. The teacher serves the question to the class and then accepts a range of answers with the object being to keep improving the quality, depth and breadth of answers (and perhaps further questions) for as long as is useful before asking the next question.

Slide 8: Post, pause, pounce and bounce

This activity was first published in 2011 by @TeacherToolkit (see www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2011/11/04/pose-pause-bounce-pounce) and is another great strategy for extending the useful life of a question and developing greater depth and breadth in learners’ answers:

  • Pose: Pose your question to the whole class.
  • Pause: Pause and wait for as long as possible before anyone is asked to answer.
  • Pounce: Pounce on a student(s) to answer.
  • Bounce: Bounce the students’ response onto another student(s) and allow time to tease out concepts and opinions.

Slide 9: What about hands-up?

Departing from the standard practice of asking pupils to put their hands up to answer a question enables the teacher to call on anyone to answer a question and everyone is expected to answer at any time, even if it is “I don’t know”.

The “no hands up” rule changes the dynamic of the classroom. It makes it difficult for pupils to switch off from classroom discussions. It is more likely to work when used with increasing wait time to help students think about their answers.

Activity

How would “no hands up” change the dynamic of your classroom? The trainer should use the cooperative questioning model to lead this activity.

Slide 10: Coaching questions

Closed questions encourage closed thinking and shallow answers. Coaching questions get students to think for themselves. For example:

  • Focus attention – what does this tell us about...?
  • Force comparison – what is the same and what is different about...?
  • Seek clarification – how can we explain...?
  • Stimulate enquiry – what would happen if? What do we need to know...?
  • Look for reasons – how can we be sure that? Why do you think that...?

These sorts of questions are especially good for incorrect answers.

Activity

Work together to plan a series of coaching questions about a topic you teach. Try them out on a partner and ask for feedback.

Slide 11: What about incorrect answers?

Incorrect answers present a great opportunity for us to use better questions to check and develop students’ understanding. You might use questions such as:

  • Why do you think that?
  • Can you be sure?
  • Is there another way?
  • Do you have a reason?
  • How do you know?
  • What do you think?

Slide 12: Questioning level

An updated version of Bloom’s Taxonomy might look like:

  • Remembering – what is the capital of England?
  • Understanding – why is London the capital city of England?
  • Applying – which features make London a capital city?
  • Analysing – what is needed in an effective capital city?
  • Evaluating – do you think Paris or Moscow have the necessary features to be an effective capital city?
  • Creating – what features would you include in a capital city?

Activity: Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

Adjust the questioning activity you have already devised to reflect different levels of questioning as outlined above.

Slide 13: Next steps

What will you do as a result of this CPD? Working in groups, look at the action sheet you have produced during this training.

  • What are the three key learning points for you?
  • What will you change tomorrow to improve your questioning techniques in lessons?
  • How will you know when your change has been successful?


  • Steve Burnage has experience leading challenging inner city and urban secondary schools. He now works as a freelance trainer, consultant and author for staff development, strategic development, performance management and coaching and mentoring. Visit www.simplyinset.co.uk and read his previous articles for SecEd, including his previous CPD workshop overviews, at http://bit.ly/2u1KW9e

Further information

This article is the latest in a series of Bite Sized Training CPD. Bite Sized Training offers a range of 45-minute CPD sessions designed to be used as focused yet active school-based training. The materials are produced by Steve Burnage through www.simplyinset.co.uk


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