A Glossary of Questions

Knowing the right question to ask at the right time, one that generates thinking, compels dialogue, and promotes understanding, is a significant part of the art of great teaching. For this reason there are many books on the subject and many teachers have written excellent blogs sharing their thoughts.

My favourite book is ‘Asking Better Questions’ by Norah Morgan & Juliana Saxton. I’ve read it many times and whenever I return I always discover new insights and develop a better understanding. It is a treasure trove of wisdom and practical suggestions. It is still available on the Internet and I would heartily recommend buying a copy.

This blog constitutes just six pages from chapter 7. It is part of a glossary of questions complied by Morgan and Saxton designed to be used as a thinking tool for teachers. I’ve used the headings from the glossary, but changed the examples to ones from the imaginative-inquiry planning unit, ‘The Roman Box’. I hope you find it useful.

A Glossary of Questions

Please note there is no hierarchy to the order of the questions.

1. ‘Higher-order’ questions: taken from the last three categories of Bloom’s taxonomy – analysis, synthesis, or evaluation, for example:

Analysis: How did the Roman invasions affect the indigenous culture of Britain?

Synthesis: How can we communicate the effects of the Roman invasions (both positive and negative) to the visitors of the museum?

Evaluation: Can we say, on balance, the Roman invasions played a positive role in the history of the British Isles?

2. ‘Lower-order’ questions: the foundation categories of Bloom’s taxonomy – knowledge, comprehension, and application. For example:

Knowledge: What were the main events of the Boudicca revolt?

Comprehension: How did Roman attitudes to women and their treatment of Boudicca and her daughters contribute to the causes of the revolt?

Application: In what ways do the Iceni revolts (and their defeat) mirror modern responses and attitudes to invasion?

3. Closed questions are either:

(a) ones that ask for short, right answers: In what year did the second Roman invasion occur?

(b) or ones that my be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and recognised by use of their interrogative verb/noun structure: ‘is it?’, ‘have you?’, ‘will you?’, ‘shall we?’, for example: Will you choose to side with the Romans or the Iceni when it is time for the choice to be made?

Note: closed questions are very useful for testing recall, focusing attention, obtaining information, and for moving things on quickly. They can also be useful for helping reluctant students into talk because they do not ask them to put anything of themselves into the answer.

4. Open questions suggest the teacher does not have a particular answer in mind but is inviting students to consider and suggest possibilities: I wonder if things would have turned out differently if the Iceni had chosen a male leader?

5. Overt and covert questions are designed to elicit feeling responses:

Overt questions are direct and can sometimes be interpreted as threatening; they generally produce short answers: Were you afraid when you faced the Roman legions?

Covert questions are indirect and invite elaboration; sometimes they masquerade as a statement: I suppose the Iceni understood they had more to lose than just a Queen.

6. Branching questions give students a choice between alternatives: Should we just watch and wait, or is now the time to act?

7. Confrontation questions or ‘tough’ questions are ones that challenge students’ reasoning – pointing out inconsistencies or the validity of their thinking: What was the point of all this suffering and death if we are just going to give in to the Romans now?

8. Key questions or critical questions are ones that open up the issue: Why should we put our people, our families, and our community at risk when we have already lost? It was her recklessness that got us here.

9. Deductive questions pose a statement and then ask a question that requires evidence: The Iceni revolt was an inevitable failure from the start. What made it so?

10. Inductive questions require the answer to include a number of examples: What could the Iceni have done differently to avoid defeat?

Note: Deductive questions confine the area of inquiry. They are reductive, convergent, and close down discussion. Inductive questions widen the process of inquiry. They are expansive, divergent, and open up discussion. Deductive and inductive thinking are complementary parts of a cognitive process. It is, therefore, important to know which you are using and why.

11. Heuristic or creative questions are ones that guide the students into discovering the answers for themselves, using all their resources of knowledge, experience, and imagination: We know what the Romans are capable of and we know how important our culture is to our community, what are we to do?

12. Educative or productive questions are ones that help student learning, leading them to new facts, new perspectives, and new ideas: What do we hold true and value above all else, what would we defend until the last?

13. Divergent questions invite multiple responses from a large number of students and encourage both concrete and abstract thinking: In what ways would building our settlement near a river be a good idea?

14. Factual questions require students to give specific information: What is the name of the Roman Governor (at the time of the Boudicca revolt)?

15. Recall questions ask students to draw on their banks of knowledge and/or experience. Please remind me, what was on the Roman proclamation?

16. Research questions invite students to research a subject and often (but not always) design the procedure for research: What are we likely to find when we open this box? Please use the topic books provided they include artefacts of the kind we are likely to find.

17. Social questions are used as part of classroom management to pull the group together: Aren’t we straying from the point?

18. Rhetorical questions are designed to affect the emotions and do not expect an answer: Who amongst us is without guilt?

19. ‘Thinker’ questions or ‘ponder’ questions are similar to rhetorical ones, they are designed to generate thought and are usually used at the end of a session: I wonder how long it was before people forgot this story?

20. Reflective questions ask the students to think back over their learning, but do not require an immediate answer. The teacher will often need to wait, give the students time to think and the opportunity to talk and share their thoughts: I wonder if we had our time again, would we do things differently? Do you remember when…? I wonder if we ever really had a choice?

21. Opening questions are designed to start up a discussion: Can you remember what you were doing when the Romans first arrived?

22. Following questions reflect on what a student(s) has just said:

Student (Iceni): Everyone who steals should be banished, no exceptions.

Teacher (Iceni): No exceptions? Even children?

The intention here is the implied question: ‘Are you saying…?’

23. Synopsis questions designed to help students crystallise their thinking up to this point: Where did we get to yesterday?

24. Clarifying questions invite students to elaborate: Can you be more specific? What did you mean exactly? Could you say some more?

25. Evaluating questions invite students to look at their work in a critical fashion: In what ways could you improve this piece of work do you think? How close have you got to what you wanted to say? Is there anything you think needs changing?

26. Leading questions strongly imply an answer: Do you think he might have stolen the eggs because he was hungry?

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