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Effective Questioning in the Mixed Ability Classroom
Sharon Longert

Often, teachers are unaware of their patterns of questioning in the classroom. Effective questioning encourages higher response opportunities, active engagement, critical thinking and student accountability.

The first step to effective questioning is explicitly teaching your student the following guidelines, skills and behaviors.

  • Listen respectfully.
  • Stay on the topic/subject.
  • Come prepared (complete required reading) and be ready to participate.
  • Make references and defend ideas from the text.
  • It is all right to pass.
  • Ask for clarification when confused.
  • Respond with statements such as, “I agree… but I want to add….” “I disagree because…”

The teacher also has to be prepared to follow explicit guidelines:

  • Ask a specific opening question and give students a proscribed amount of time to discuss in small groups (pairs, triads, quartets) before beginning the large group discussion.
  • Allow wait time of at least 5-7 seconds for replies, then follow with a clarifying question.
  • Rephrase a question if not understood.
  • Ask the students to be more specific or elaborate.
  • Request reasons for responses.
  • Allow and encourage discussion of differences; reasons for implications.
  • Ask open –ended questions that have many possible answers.
  • Keep refocusing back to the text.
  • Ask students to paraphrase other students’ responses.
  • Keep a record of who has participated.
  • Encourage students to speak up.
  • Return to students who pass.
  • Have closure by having students summarize a few points during the discussion.

Now, for some questions that can be used for a variety of curricula:

  • In what ways are … and … alike/different?
  • What would you say/do if you were …?
  • Can you find an example in the text to illustrate your point?
  • What if … happened instead of…..?
  • What well-known people are like…..? Do you know anyone like…..?
  • What would you say/do if you were ……?
  • How would…(another character, historical figure) view this? Why/why not?

These techniques can lead to more engaging discussions that include more students and can lead the teacher to become aware of the depth of each students’ understanding.

Adapted from:

Rief and Heimburge, How to Reach and Teach All Students in the Inclusive Classroom, The Center for Applied Research in Education, 1996.

If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


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