The Art of Questioning: A Guide to Teachers

Even in today’s modern educational practices, the art of questioning has remained one of the best tools in promoting effective learning.  In fact, questioning continues to be an essential component of good teaching.  There are even some people who believe that the effectiveness of a teacher can be measured by his ability to ask good questions.  And yet far too many teachers take this teaching tool for granted, or use it carelessly.

Skillful questioning involves knowledge of the various uses of the question, the characteristics of a good question, the techniques of questioning, and the techniques of handling the learners’ responses.  It often takes many years of classroom experience, professional reading, and self-evaluation for a teacher to be a proficient questioner.  All the while, the teacher must make a constant and persistent effort to improve his questioning ability and technique.  Towards this end, the following questioning techniques are suggested:

1) Questions should be asked in a natural and well-modulated voice.  They should not be asked hurriedly nor in a manner that is likely to create nervous tension in the learner and thereby block the learner’s thinking.
2) A teacher should ask the question first, and then wait for the class to think about it before calling on anybody to answer the question.  In this way, everyone has a chance to think before anyone attempts to answer it.  Learners should be given enough time to formulate the answer.  Furthermore, this technique will keep the entire class alert.  If learners are apprised beforehand as to who should answer the question, inattention will result.
3) A sufficient number of questions should be asked to stimulate learners to activity.  There should not be too many questions to the extent that they require a minimum of thought and the giving of very short or one-word answers.  Too many questions lead to too much teacher activity and not enough on the part of the learners.
4) A teacher should refrain from repeating questions.  Attention is challenged when questions are not repeated.  However, if for some legitimate reasons, the learners did not hear or understand the question, then, of course, the question has to be repeated.  This technique also applies to repeating answers.  Repeating answers merely wastes time and encourages inattention.
5) Questions should be evenly distributed so that the majority of the pupils can take part in the discussion.  Difficult questions should be asked of those who are deemed to be bright.  A teacher should encourage all learners to share in the group thinking at all times.
6) A teacher should avoid resorting to any mechanical system of fielding questions to the class, such as by alphabetical order, or row by row.  Learners catch on to these devices, thus resulting to inattention.
7) A teacher should ask questions that are really interesting and thought-provoking.  Leading questions, questions which give away answers, one-word answer questions, and the like may result to boredom on the part of the learners.

As important as the skillful asking of questions is the manner in which the teacher handles the answers of the learners.  The following techniques are suggested for the teacher to observe in handling learner responses to his questions:

1) A teacher should make every effort to show an appreciative attitude toward learner answers.  The learners should be made to feel free to do their best.  They should be allowed to make mistakes without fear of recrimination, but they should not be abetted either in doing careless work.  When the learner does not answer correctly, the teacher can ask further questions to help the learner discover for himself why his original answer was wrong.  The teacher should refrain from giving sarcastic comments to wrong answers.
2) A teacher should never allow incorrect answers to slip by; otherwise the learners will adopt wrong facts and concepts.  Any portion of an answer that is correct should be recognized, but any part of an answer that is incorrect should be corrected.  This can be done by the teacher pointing out the error himself or by throwing the question to the class for discussion.
3) Correct answers of learners should be followed with encouraging remarks by the teacher.  Commendation should be judged by the nature of the response.
4) Clarity in every point expressed by the learners should be insisted upon by the teacher.  If a learner fails to make a point clear, the teacher can ask him to elaborate.
5) Answering in concert should be discouraged.  Allowing the whole class to shout the answers aloud will result in classroom chaos.  It will also give the lazy or inattentive learner the chance to go unnoticed.
6) A teacher should encourage learners to answer in a loud and clear voice.  A learner’s response should be heard by the entire class.  This is especially important when the learner’s answer will be thrown to the class for the other learners to comment on.
7) Learners should be encouraged to answer in complete thought units and grammatically correct statements.  Every teacher should be concerned with the development of correct expression, whatever subject he teaches.  He should insist upon correct forms of expression in order that they may become habitual to the learners.
8) A teacher should refrain from marking the learners in his record book during the class recitation.  Such a procedure is probably the worst way to handle a learner’s response.  This will reduce the recitation to the level of the old-style recitation which creates nervous tension among learners and may paralyze critical thinking and hamper spontaneity.

Even with the teaching formula of "assign, study, recite, test" of the traditional school, the ability to ask questions was a necessary art.  In fact, the traditional classroom at all levels was dominated by activities of the question-and-answer type.  The question in the modern school serves a wide range of purposes.  Consequently, the teaching skill of questioning has become more complicated and difficult with the emphasis on comprehension and intellectual understanding of facts learned.  Teachers must, therefore, learn to perfect the art of questioning, and these suggested techniques will help them a great deal.