Developing A Questioning Strategy

Developing A Questioning Strategy

Many of the seminars I attend focus on the strategies instructors can employ to engage students in their own learning and enhance their learning outcomes. The appropriate use of questioning strategies by instructors is a method that can facilitate this process. Research highlights the importance of instructors being able to ask questions that engage students and allows them to expand, clarify, and justify their answers. Nevertheless, instructors often do not receive any training in the use of questioning strategies.

Below are some of the questioning strategies instructors use to engage students:

Instructors Ask Closed vs. Open-ended Questions

Closed-ended questions require a single answer, such as “yes”, “no”, or a brief phrase, and do not invite an elaborated response from students. For example, this question is an example of a closed ended question: Was Purdue University founded in 1869? The answer is yes. In addition, closed-ended questions can be used wrap up discussions, obtain more information from students, or help groups reach consensus. Examples of these kinds questions include: Have we covered everything?, Does everyone agree this is the best choice?, or Is the class ready to move on?

  • Pros: May require little time to develop and grade. There is one correct answer. Not ideal if the goal is to stimulate in-depth thinking by students.
  • Cons: Questions may not provide students with the opportunity to explain that they do not understand the content or have an opinion about a topic. These questions may also discourage students from thinking on their own or expressing their real feelings. In addition, students can answer without knowing anything about a topic.

Open-ended questions do not have a single correct answer and leaves the formulation of the answer up to the individual. When open-ended questions are posed, students have the opportunity to be creative, structure their response in a manner that best suits them, and develop critical thinking skills. These questions usually begin with “What”, “How”, or “Why.” Some examples of open-ended questions include: What kind of information were you looking for?, How does this information related to our goal of…?, and What suggestions do you have for…?.

  • Pros: These questions encourage students to share their ideas, concerns, and feelings; facilitate the development of enhanced levels of cooperation and understanding among students; and help faculty support diverse ways of student learning.
  • Cons: It is sometimes difficult for faculty to formulate an open-ended question in such a way that students understand the type of response that is expected of them.

Instructors Utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy to Guide the Development of Questions

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework that describes three domains or types of learning: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956). The cognitive domain, pertinent for this discussion, focuses on the development of a hierarchy of thinking skills important in the learning process. The levels of learning found in the cognitive domain can be used by instructors to develop questions that enhance the development of critical thinking skills in students. The grid below provides a glimpse of the types of questions that can be posed to students during the learning process.

Instructors Integrate A Four-Question Technique into Their Discussions

I recently read an interesting Faculty Focus blog post authored by Dr. Maryellen Weimer which described the use of a four-question set that could be used to engage students with course content and promote deeper ways of learning. The strategy was developed and used by Dietz-Uhler and Lanter (2009) in an introductory psychology course. Students were asked to analyze, reflect, apply, and question the content they read. The following question prompts were used:

  • [Analyze}:“Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea…they learned while completing this activity.”
  • [Reflect]: “Why do you believe that this concept,, research finding, theory or idea…is important?”
  • [Apply]: “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”
  • [Reflect]: “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?” (Dietz-Uhler & Lanter, 2009, p. 39)

These researchers found that students performed significantly better on a quiz when they were able to answer the four-question set prior to rather than after they had taken a quiz. A benefit of using this strategy is that it can be applied to learning environments that tend to be lecture-based as well as those that promote active learning.

Some Tips on Developing A Questioning Strategy

  • Ask a mix of questions (from all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  • Create a classroom climate that invites student questions
  • Plan your questions in advance (noting when you will pause to ask and answer questions)
  • Create questions that help students link important concepts
  • Frame questions in language students understand
  • During class discussions, ask one question at a time
  • Rephrase the question if it seems unclear to students



Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition, New York : Longman.

Bloom, B. & Krathwohl, D. (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives. The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. N.Y.: Longman Green.

Dietz-Uhler, B. and Lanter, J. R. (2009). Using the four-questions technique to enhance learning.Teaching of Psychology, 36 (1), 38-41.

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview, Theory Into Practice, 41(4), 212-218.



About Constance Harris

Constance is an Educational Technologist in ITaP. She earned her Ph.D. in Learning Design and Technology from Purdue University in 2013.
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