Definition and Examples of Display Question

Professor talking in college classroom
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A display question is a type of rhetorical question to which the questioner already knows the answer. Also called a known information question. Different from erotesis questions, display questions are often used for instructional purposes. They're used to determine if students are able to "display" their knowledge of factual content.

Examples and Observations

  • "'So as I have just demonstrated, children,' he was saying now, 'grass is very nice to sit on, but be careful because it can tickle. Now, can anyone tell me the name of this handsome creature over here?'
    "'Is it a rhino, sir?' said a girl called Caroline.
    "'Very close, Caroline,' said Alan Taylor kindly. 'Actually, it is known as an "ant." Now who can tell me—'"
    (Andy Stanton, Mr. Gum and the Cherry Tree. Egmont, 2010)
  • "In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the--anyone? anyone?—the Great Depression, passed the--anyone? anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which, anyone? Raised or lowered? Raised tariffs in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. Today we have a similar debate over this. Anyone know what this is? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone seen this before?"
    (Ben Stein as the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)
  • "The [driver's education] class was taught by an old and embittered veteran of the New York City public school system who had the looks and the attitude of, come to think of it, me these days. His form of instruction was Socratic, relentlessly so.
    "'What is the purpose of the steering wheel?' he asked.
    "The elderly Jewish ladies looked at their shoes. The Chinese stared into space. The Black guys continued slanging each other.
    "'What is the purpose of the steering wheel?' the teacher asked again and got the same response. . . .
    "And so it went for a month and a half. The teacher asked a painfully simple question. Nobody said anything. The teacher repeated the painfully simple question. Nobody said anything."
    (P.J. O'Rourke, Driving Like Crazy. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009)

The Purpose of Display Questions

"Something that the media interview and the classroom interaction have in common is the use of display questions. . . . The purpose of a display question is to put knowledge or information on public display. In the classroom, this is an important way of transmitting and testing knowledge for teachers and students. In these display question situations such as classrooms and quizzes, the questioner follows up the answer by stating whether it is the correct one or not. However, in media interviews, . . . the follow up is very often left to the listener or viewer."
(Anne O'Keeffe, Michael McCarthy, and Ronald Carter, From Corpus to Classroom: Language Use and Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press, 2007)

The Lighter Side of Display Questions

Texas Ranger: The teacher asked me what was the capital of North Carolina. I said Washington, D.C.
Cal Naughton, Jr.: Bingo.
Ricky Bobby: Nice.
Texas Ranger: She said, "No, you're wrong." I said, "You got a lumpy butt." She got mad at me and yelled at me and I pissed in my pants and I never did change my pee-pants all day. I'm still sitting in my dirty pee-pants.
Cal Naughton, Jr.: I wet my bed until I was nineteen. There's no shame in that.
(Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, 2006)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Display Question." ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, September 3). Definition and Examples of Display Question. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Display Question." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).