4 Types of Questions You Should be Asking Your Students

by History Gal



I have always heard 'There are no stupid questions.' While this may be true, there definitely are ill-timed questions asked in your class. And, it's not what you are thinking. The ill-timed questions don't come from our students, but from us.

We all know the importance of 'wait time' before calling on a student and we usually remember to avoid leading a question with a student’s name so the other students don't zone out. But, beyond that, we should be purposeful in the questions we pose to our students.

There are four types of questions and the type of the answer you are hoping for is dictated by the type of question:

Do you want to spark student interest and curiosity? Then, you ask a hook or preview question.

Is there a definite correct answer to your question? Then, you ask a leading question that directs students to that answer.

Are there multiple possible answers? Then, you need to ask a guiding question.

Do you want to promote critical higher level thinking? Then, you need to ask an essential question (EQ).

HOOK OR PREVIEW QUESTIONS
These types of questions are often used as a lesson opener. They can use “kid” language. Hook questions can be clever or amusing to activate curiosity, questions, and even discussions. New vocabulary can actually make interesting hook questions because the answers are from the students’ personal prior knowledge, not prior academic knowledge. There are no correct answers to hook questions so they are not judgmental or threatening. Hook questions usually start with “What do you think …?” These questions are only asked once or twice at the beginning of the unit.

My favorite example of a hook or preview question was from the day we started statistics in my 5th grade math class. I asked: “What do you think range, mean, median and mode mean?
The answers I heard were:
Range: where the deer and the antelope play; where Mom cooks; that box on a map that tells you how tall the land is.
Mean: someone that is not nice; it has something to do with my grade but I don’t know what
Median: where the cops sit
Mode: it has something to do with pie and ice cream

Needless to say, we had a good chuckle, but it was a perfect segue into finding out exactly what those words do mean in math.

LEADING QUESTIONS
Leading questions do just that – they lead your students to discreet correct answers. Since leading questions activate recall and the finding of information from a text book, lecture or notes, you would not use a leading question to hook your students’ interest. They require very little or no justification. Leading questions are only asked until the correct answer is given. 

Some examples of leading questions are:
Who was president during the Industrial Revolution?
What was the Treaty of Versailles?
When did the Crimean War take place?
Where did Charles Lindbergh land?
Why did Richard Nixon resign from the presidency?
How did the United States acquire the Oregon Territory?

GUIDING QUESTIONS
Guiding questions direct students to a deeper response that requires more thought, examination, and research before answering. Students will need background knowledge and research skills to determine the answer. Answers will be longer than hook and leading questions since they require an explanation and evidence/support for the answer. Guiding questions can be revisited throughout the unit of study.

Some examples of guiding questions are:
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, in what ways did the U.S. try to avoid going to war?
When does a recession become a depression?
Why isn’t a monarchy a dictatorship?
What caused the Age of Exploration?
Why do we have the Bill of Rights?
Why did Native American cultures differ across North America?

THINKING OR ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS (EQs)
Thinking or Essential questions are the ultimate type of questions. These are the “big” questions that can carry an entire unit of study and be revisited throughout the school year because the answers can change as new information is acquired. EQs are questions that cause students to continue to explore and examine a topic so they come to a meaningful understanding of the key ideas and concepts. They raise more questions and can initiate discussions and debate. EQs require justification and support.

Some examples of EQs are:
How does where you live affect how you live?
How do governments get and use power?
What is independence?
Do wars have to be fought?
How has immigration shaped our nation?
Why does racial prejudice still exist?


If you would like a great source of essential questions visit the EQ Exchange for lists of user generated essential questions, GlobalDigital Citizen Foundation's list of essential questions for each subject, or read the preview of ASCD's Essential Questions book.
So, there really is a right time or wrong time to ask a particular question.

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