California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II


Questioning Strategies that Lead to Higher-Level Thinking Skills

Caught in the Middle. Sacramento: California Department of Education, 1989, pp. 17,18.

The questioning techniques that follow are generally applicable to any questioning model and maximize the potential for a meaningful discussion:

  1. Plan key questions to provide lesson structure and direction. Write them into lesson plans, at least one for each objective—especially higher-level questions. Ask some spontaneous questions based on student responses.

  2. Phrase questions clearly and specifically. Avoid vague or ambiguous questions such as “What did we learn yesterday? or “What about the heroine of the story?” Ask single questions; avoid run-on questions that lead to student frustration and confusion. Clarity increases probability of accurate responses.

  3. Ask questions logically and sequentially. Avoid random questions lacking clear focus and intent. Consider students’ intellectual ability, prior understanding of content, topic, and lesson objective(s). Asking questions in a planned sequence will enhance student thinking and learning.

  4. Ask questions at a variety of levels. Use knowledge-level questions to determine basic understandings and to serve as a basis for higher-level thinking. Higher-level questions provide students opportunities to practice higher forms of thought.

  5. Follow up on student responses. Develop a response repertoire that encourages students to clarify initial responses, lift thought to higher levels, and support a point of view or opinion. For example:
    • “Can you restate that?”
    • “Could you clarify that further?”
    • “What are some alternatives?”
    • “how can you defend your position?”

    Encourage students to clarify, expand, or support initial responses to higher-level questions.

  6. Give students time to think when responding.  Increase wait time after asking a question to three to five seconds to increase number and length of student responses and to encourage higher-level thinking. Insisting upon instantaneous responses significantly decreases probability of meaningful interaction with and among students. Allow sufficient wait time before repeating or rephrasing questions to ensure student understanding.

  7. Use questions that encourage wide student participation. Distribute questions to involve the majority of students in learning activities. For example, call on nonvolunteers, using discretion for difficulty level of questions. Be alert for reticent students’ verbal and nonverbal cues, such as perplexed look or partially raised hand. Encourage student-to-student interaction. Use circular or semicircular seating to crate environment conducive to increased student involvement.

  8. Encourage student’s questions.  This encourages active participation. Student questions at high cognitive levels stimulate higher levels of thought essential for the inquiry approach. give students opportunities to formulate questions and carry out follow-up investigations of interest. Facilitate group and independent inquiry with a supportive social-emotional climate, suing praise and encouragement, accepting and applying student ideas, responding to student feelings, and actively promoting student involvement in all phases of learning.