Blog Archive

Thursday 16 September 2021

Questioning - is it the central mechanism to effective classroom talk?

There is a long-held consensus amongst educators that Questioning, when effectively delivered and strategically planned, encourages students to activate 'hard thinking' as well as provide an irrefutable insight to what our students do and do not know. Mango Moments has previously discussed the use of Hinge Questioning, through Kagan Structures and strategies such as cold-calling and 'say it again, say it better'. So what can this new blog post offer you I hear you ask? Now the new term is in full swing, we often find ourselves with limited time to indulge in the evidence-based research surrounding our T&L priorities. This article hopes to provide you with a synopsis of the rationale behind key questioning strategies as well as links to other blogs/research that you may find useful.

Doug Lemov (Teach like a Champion) states that "The kind of talk that happens in a classroom largely determines the type of learning that takes place and developing an armoury of tools to facilitate that talk should be at the top of every teacher's list". If you wish to read more, this archived post from 2014 provides an excellent guide to evidence based questioning. 

To mirror this belief is the EEF Great Teaching Toolkit whose recent evidence review states that 'asking a lot of questions is not a marker of quality; it's about the types of questions, the time allowed for, and depth of student thinking they promote and elicit'. So how does this work at Mangotsfield? 

Throughout this academic year, Questioning is a key priority. Revisiting the concepts of SOLO taxonomy on INSET day provided many of us with the reassurances that spending time planning multi-structural and relational questions in advance allows us time to focus on our interactions with students and their responses within the lesson. Therefore consider planning and asking questions that allow students to:

1. Show how well they have learned the material.

2. Challenge them to think about how they learned that material (metacognition).

3. Highlight if all/some/individual students require further instruction - the value of a hinge question is unmeasured here. 

4. Help students to connect new information and material to their prior learning (Barak Rosenshine Sixth Principle of Instruction).  

I appreciate that for some colleagues, planning questions in advance may raise concerns as it removes the responsive and reactive nature of class discussions, and of course we can not stick to a script that limits students discourse. However engaging in the practice of planning our questions ensures we have fully thought through not just what we want the students to know, but also how.  Below is an excellent question formation grid as produced by Impact Wales - I have referred to this numerous times when creating for example challenge grids, similar to our English Department colleagues with Solo Taxonomy.

Last Friday, Tiff led an excellent session on the merits of cold-calling. It's a strategy named and hugely promoted again by Doug Lemov but has garnered a resurgence in favour most recently through its inclusion in the Tom Sherrington authored Teaching Walkthrus series (click on his name for an excellent video guide by the man himself). For cold-calling to work well it must be inclusive and invitational, where everyone's opinion is valued. Tiff took us through the ADAPT approach, as shown in the image below, but there are some other adaptations you may wish to consider:

1. Move then cold call - Students move within the classroom to show their opinion. After everyone is picked, they talk in their small groups about their choices and then you can 'cold call' one student from each group to feedback. The Kagan Structures of All Stand Consensus or Numbered Heads Together are excellent to support this approach.

2. Confer + cold call - Listen in to students as they are discussing and build their responses in groups. When you are happy with their understanding, ask if they will share with the class. This is similar to Tiff's 'pre-call' approach where students are given forewarning and the 'gotcha' fear is removed.

3. Quick write + cold call - Giving students 2-3 minutes to process their ideas with a 'quick write' means you can be more confident to pick the less confident students to feedback.

4. Turn and talk + cold call with options - "I want you to talk to your partner/the people at your table for two minutes about..... afterwards I will ask three people to report back".

Whilst the pre-call is superb for providing scaffolded support to students, it can sometimes eliminate the level of challenge and encourage students to disengage if their name is not picked. There are some class scenarios where the pre-call is essential, whilst relationships are being developed and to ensure less confident students are less daunted at the prospect of sharing their ideas. If we truly want to ensure that every student is engaged throughout cold calling we need to consider where within our questioning stems we place their name. For example:

"Jack - Can you identify two economic impacts of the Haiti Earthquake?" This of course has its merits to ensure that Jack is fully engaged and also provides him with some thinking time, however what about the rest of the class? Consider this:

"Can you identify two economic impacts of the Haiti Earthquake - Jack I will come to your first". Simple but effective - the whole class are listening to the question as they are unaware who will be picked. Of course it must then be partnered with thinking time as the 'first' implies you will follow up and ask someone else to develop the discussion. 

One final thought, ensure that the questions you do ask are a fine balance between retrieval and new knowledge. We often naturally prioritise ensuring that students understand the new content delivered, before we feel safely capable of moving the class forward. With our knowledge-rich curriculums it is however of equal importance to spend time questioning past learning to ensure students have succinct opportunities to retrieve. 


  1. Might try the quick write and cold call with my 10's today

  2. Love the strategies. Also do not forget, from my experience the more the students are familiar with these techniques accross the whole school, the better quality the respone and answers will be. Love it!!!