Improving Questioning Skills to Stimulate Learning

Melissa Cater, PhD

Educators use a variety of presentation skills to spark learner interest and engagement. One of the most commonly used techniques is to pose a question to the group at large. The resulting dialogue among educators and learners may clarify misunderstandings, inspire critical thinking, increase understanding, promote engagement, and create bonds with group members.

Types of Questions



Question Complexity

Figure 1. Blooms Taxonomy.

Bloom’s Taxonomy (see Figure 1) offers a great guide for developing questions. Simple knowledge questions ask learners to define, recall, or identify facts from memory. This question is easily constructed based on the facts presented in the lesson. Comprehension questions require learners to demonstrate a degree of understanding by explaining or summarizing information. Questions requiring comprehension foster longer-term retention of the material. Application questions involve solving a problem or using knowledge. When asked this type question, the learner must transfer knowledge to a similar, but different, problem from that which was used to learn the information. Think about math problems. A teacher demonstrates how to solve a problem on the board. The student must then solve additional problems which use the same steps, but use different numbers and have different answers than the first problem. As learners gain skill, they should progress to analysis questions. These questions ask the learner to consider different parts of a whole and their relationship to each other. This type question tends to ask a learner to look for patterns. When learners experience synthesis questions, they are asked to create something new, predict an outcome, formulate a strategy, or compare options. This question require significant scaffolding from the educator, so a good plan may be to not only construct the synthesis question but to also consider probing questions which could be used to help learners consider several viable options as answers. Finally, learners may be asked evaluation questions where there is a need to judge, justify, or defend using defined standards. These standards may either be objective (based on research) or subjective (opinion-based) depending on the way the question is worded. The goal is for the learner to logically articulate the reasons upon which the judgment or decision was made.

The Practice of Questioning

An individual’s questioning skills can be improved with a little forethought and planning:

  • Plan questions ahead of time. Brainstorm and write down good questions when preparing the lesson content.
  • Sequence questions carefully to guide learner thinking and reflective group discussion. Two strategies to consider for constructing question sequences include 1) using a string of questions of the same type and topic and 2)funneling the question series from very broad, open-ended questions to very narrow, problem-solving questions.
  • Balance the types of questions used to include both convergent and divergent questions.
  • Use probing questions to encourage group discussion. As one question is answered, use the learner’s response to pose another question which extends discussion and deepens understanding.
  • Practice wait time when posing a question. A general rule of thumb is to pause at least three to five seconds after posing a question. Research shows that this improves both the quantity and quality of the answers. With a particularly hard question, or shy group of learners, consider extending the wait time.

As you build your next presentation, save time during the preparation phase to plan your questioning strategies.


Borich, G. (2011). Effective teaching methods: Research-based practice (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Kindsvatter, R., Wilen, W., & Ishler, M. (1996). Dynamics of effective teaching (3rd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers.

Note: The Blooms Taxonomy figure is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Information about this file may be accessed from its description page here. Commons is a freely licensed media file repository.

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One Response to Improving Questioning Skills to Stimulate Learning

  1. Pingback: Questioning Skills: A Manager's Key to Successful Interviews | Call Center Cafe

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