7 Ways Teachers Get Questioning Wrong

7 Solutions to the Problem of Bad Questioning Strategies

Here are seven (7) common problems in questioning techniques made by teachers. With each problem there are examples and suggestions for solutions that can help to change teacher and student attitudes and behaviors.

Several of the problems and solutions are based in the research by Mary Budd Rowe in her seminal study (1972) "Wait-Time and Rewards as Instructional Variables: Their Influence on Language, Logic, and Fate Control". There is also information from Katherine Cotton's article titled  Classroom Questioning published in School Improvement Research Series Research You Can Use (1988).

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No Wait Time

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Researchers have observed that that teachers do not pause or use "wait-time" when asking questions.  Teachers have been recorded as asking another question within an average time span of 9⁄10 of a second. According to one study (Rowe, 1972), the "wait-time" periods that followed teacher questions and students' completed responses "rarely lasted more than 1.5 seconds in typical classrooms." 


Waiting a minimum of three (3) seconds (up to 7 seconds if necessary)  after posing a question can improve outcomes for students including: the length and correctness of student responses, a decrease in "I don't know" responses, and an increase in the number of volunteered.

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Using a Student's Name


"Caroline, what does emancipation mean in this document?"

In this example, as soon as a teacher uses one student's name, all the other student brains in the room immediately shut down. The other students may be saying to themselves, "We don't have to think now because Caroline is going to answer the question."  


The teacher should add a student's name AFTER  the question has been posed, and/or AFTER wait-time or several seconds have passed by (3 seconds is good). This will mean all students will think about the question during the wait-time, even though only one student -Caroline- may be asked to provide the answer.

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Leading Questions

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Some teachers ask questions that already contain the answer. For example, a question such as "Don't we all agree that the author of the article gave misinformation about the use of vaccines to strengthen his viewpoint?" tips the student as to the response the teacher wants and/or stops students from generating their own response or questions on the article. 


Teachers need to objectively frame questions without looking for collective agreement or and avoid implied response questions.  The example above could be rewritten: "How accurate is the information on the use of vaccines used by the author to strengthen his viewpoint?" 

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Vague Redirection

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Redirection is used by a teacher after a student responds to a question. This strategy can also be used to allow a student to correct another student's incorrect statement or respond to another student's question. Vague or critical redirection, however, can be a problem. Examples include:

  • "That's not right; try again."
  • "Where did you get an idea like that?" 
  • "I'm sure Caroline has thought it through more carefully and can help us."  


Redirection can be positively related to achievement when it is explicit on the clarity, accuracy, plausibility, etc. of student responses.

  • "That's not right because of a factoring error."
  • "Where is that statement supported in the text?" 
  • "Who has a solution that is similar to Caroline's, but with a different outcome?"  

NOTE: Teachers should acknowledge correct responses with critical praise, for example: "That's a good response because you explained the meaning of the word emancipation in this speech." Praise is positively related to achievement when it is used sparingly, when it is directly related to the student's response, and when it is sincere and credible. 

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Lower Level Questions


Too often teachers ask lower level questions (knowledge and application). They do not use all of the levels in Bloom's Taxonomy. Lower level questions are best used when a teacher is reviewing after delivering content or assessing student understanding on factual material. For example, "When was the Battle of Hastings?" or "Who fails to deliver the letter from Friar Lawrence?" or "What is the symbol for iron on the Periodic Table of Elements?"

These kinds of questions have one or two word responses that do not allow for higher level thinking.

Secondary students can draw on background knowledge and low level questions can be asked both before and after content has been delivered or material is read and studied. Higher level questions should be offered that use the critical thinking skills (Bloom's Taxonomy) of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Rewriting the examples above:

  • "How did the Battle of Hastings change the course of history in establishing the Normans as the rulers of England?" (synthesis)
  • "Who do you believe bears the most responsibility for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet?" (evaluation)
  • "What specific properties make the element of iron so usable in the metal industry?" (analysis)
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Affirmative Statements as Questions

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Teachers often ask "Does everybody understand?" as a check for understanding. In this case, students not answering -- or even answering in the affirmative -- may not really understand. This useless question may be asked multiple times during a day of teaching.


If a teacher asks "What are your questions?" there is an implication that some material was not covered. A combination of wait-time and direct questions with explicit information ("What questions do you still have about the Battle of Hastings?") may increase student engagement in asking their own questions. 

A better way to check for understanding is a different form of questioning. Teachers can turn a question into a statement like,"Today I learned______". This could be done as an exit slip

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Imprecise Questions

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Imprecise questioning increases student confusion, heightens their frustration, and leads to no response at all. Some examples of imprecise questions are: "What does Shakespeare mean here?" or "Is Machiavelli right?"

Teachers should create clear, well-structured questions in advance using the cues students need to construct adequate answers. Revisions of the examples above are: "What does Shakespeare want the audience to understand when Romeo says, 'It is the East and Juliet is the sun?" or "Can you suggest an example of a leader in government in WWII that proves Machiavelli right that it is better to be feared than loved?"

Wait-time Improves Thinking

More information on wait time, the most important way to improving questioning, is on this link. Wait-time offers positive outcomes for teachers and teaching behaviors when they wait patiently in silence for 3 or more seconds at appropriate places including:

Their questioning strategies tend to be more varied and flexible;

They decreased the quantity and increased the quality and variety of their questions;

Teacher expectations for performance of certain children seem to change;

They asked additional questions that required more complex information processing and higher-level thinking on the part of students.