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How To: Adjust Your Teaching Style to Your Students' Learning Style
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How To: Develop as a Professional
How To: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

Asking the Right Questions
Sharon Longert

Asking the right questions is an art that is cultivated over a period of time by all educators. As our students are learning, we are also learning to ask questions that lead to inquiry and understanding of the critical content. Our students are led to Higher Order Thinking Skills as we develop strategies in questioning. These questions may be used for teaching or leading as well as for assessing or evaluating. Questions and responses may be oral, written or demonstrated by projects or other authentic assessments. The goal is for the questions and the responses to lead to reflectiveness on the parts of the learners as well as the teachers.

Over the period of a school year students are exposed to many learning units in each of the content areas. Effective questioning leads a student to have a complete and detailed understanding of what is important to the topic. The student can then perform the skills and processes fluently, independently and with little error.

Here are some basics on effective questioning.

  • Prepare possible questions ahead of time and ask additional and different questions for each presentation and for clarification
  • Allow for thoughtful answers with WAIT TIME
  • Record your own reflections as a reminder for future lessons

The California Mathematics Council recommends the following:

Problem Comprehension:

Can the students understand, define, formulate, or explain the problem or task?
What is the problem?
What can you tell about it? How do you interpret that? Please explain in your own words.
Is there something that can be eliminated?
Is there something missing?
What assumptions can be made?

Approaches and Strategies:

Do students have an organized approach to the problem?
Do they use manipulatives, diagrams, graphs, calculators, and computers appropriately?
Where do you find the needed information?
What have you tried?
What steps did you take?
What did not work?
How do you record the information?
Did you have a system?
Would it help to draw a diagram or make a sketch?
How would you research the problem, topic, etc.?


Do students see the relationship and recognize the central idea?
Do they relate the problem to similar problems previously done?
What is the relationship of this to another example?
What is the same?
What is different? Is there a problem?
Can you break in into its parts? Can you write another related problem?


Can students vary the approach if one is not working?
Do they persist?
Do they try something else?
Have you tried making a guess?
What else have you tried?
Is there an easier way?
Is there another way to explain that?


Is there evidence of thinking ahead, checking back?
Can you predict what will happen?
What is your estimation?
What do you think comes next?
What else would you like to know?

Equality and Equity:

Do all students participate to the same degree?
Is the quality of participation the same?
Do you work together?
Have you discussed this with your group?
Where would you go for help?
Does everyone get a fair chance to speak in the group?


Do students reach a result?
Do they consider other possibilities?
Is that the only possible answer?
How would you check the steps you have taken to reach the answer?
Is there anything you overlooked?
How do you know you are done?


Do students evaluate their own processing, actions, and progress?
What do you need to do next?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
What have you accomplished?
What kind of problems is still difficult for you?

This questioning technique is applicable not only to mathematics but to other content areas especially Science, Literature/Language Arts/Literacy and Social Studies. As teachers pose effective questions to the students, the students are led to become independent learners and ask similar questions of themselves when they encounter a challenge. It is essential that the reflective process apply to students and teachers.

I hope you’ve found these basics helpful. If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


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