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Effective teacher questioning

Questioning is used by teachers not only to inform them of the understanding of their students, but also to improve their students’ learning. BrainWaves School Research Liaison Manager, Abbie Simpkin, discusses teacher questioning, a technique which can help teachers to engage their students by inviting curiosity and provoking thinking…


The importance of questioning

Questioning is viewed as an essential pedagogical skill that requires practised knowledge. However, there can sometimes be an imbalance of questioning within teaching because of the dominance of teacher talk. This can lead to negative responses from students including disengagement. So how can questioning be used effectively in the BrainWaves lessons to instil a sense of wonder and encourage participation whilst differentiating between the different abilities of your students?

Dialogic questioning

Dialogic teaching, a technique which fosters the use of dialogue, counters the imbalance of questioning by using skilled questioning which extends the students’ thinking and in which students’ answers are built upon rather than just received. This technique encourages teachers to ask one question at a time, not to answer their own questions and ask questions to all students regardless of their ability or how likely they are to engage.

Why not give it a go? Here are some tips:

  • Talk less, listen more
  • Respond to the students and re-orientate them where necessary
  • Encourage students to expand upon their responses by asking additional probing questions
  • Ask questions simply and conversationally
  • Encourage students to also ask questions
  • Use silence as thinking time for students to gather their thoughts before answering
  • Sequence your questions using an increasing taxonomy of questions
  • Ensure that your questions are sufficiently open and divergentUse a no opt-out or cold calling strategy

Opportunities in the BrainWaves lessons

There are many opportunities to foster conversations about mental health through dialogic questioning in the BrainWaves lessons. Many lessons state specific questions you could ask to encourage this type of conversation. For instance:

  • In the KS5 lesson on ‘Sleep and teenagers’, students are asked “What surprised you?” after watching a video.
  • In the KS5 lesson on ‘Boosting your mood’, questions are sequenced “Which outcome do you think was produced by each activity?” then “Why do you think that?”

When asking these questions, enter into a conversation with the students, respond to their answers and even ask other students to respond to the answers too. This will encourage students to engage with the conversation and stretch their thinking.

Using techniques of dialogic questioning can lead students to natural inquisitiveness, deep insights and creative responses. It demonstrates to the students that they should all be engaged in the dialogue with no-one dominating or being overlooked. Responding to the answers given by students can add depth and breadth to the discussion and create further conversation points. It is a strategy that can support lower level students, encouraging them to participate and improve upon their answers in a conversational and natural way so that they feel supported but also confident in their increasing understanding. It can also support higher-level students by stretching and extending their thinking, and keeping them engaged and learning, even when the material might seem easy for them to understand.

About the author

Abbie Simpkin is a School Research Liaison Manager at BrainWaves, responsible for supporting schools on the BrainWaves Research Programme.  She was previously a music teacher at Key Stage 3-5.