Questioning to Extend Student Thinking

Please log in to view tutor details
11+ exam By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: 11+ exam
Last updated: 03/02/2017
Tags: assessment, assessment for learning, higher order thinking, questioning

How long do you think the average adult waits for an answer to a question? In the majority of classroom settings, pupils are typically given less than one second to respond to a question posed by a teacher. Research shows that when given a short thinking time (1 to 2 seconds), pupils generally give a) short, recall responses or b) no answer at all. Increasing the wait time however, to seven seconds results in:


  • Length of pupil responses
  • Number of volunteered responses
  • Number of pupil-generated questions
  • Number of responses from lower attaining children.
  • Number pupil-pupil interactions


  • Number of pupils who failed to answer when called on/asked by name.
  • Number of ‘inappropriate,’ ‘irrelevant’ and incorrect answers.

The most important distinction between types of questioning is that of lower order (requiring children to recall) and higher order (requiring children to think) The majority of research suggests that teachers still depend too frequently on basic recall questions and not enough on questions that provoke higher order deep thought. The traditional teacher led model identified by Mehan in 1979 in his seminal study of American classroom dynamics known as I-R-E (Initiation, Response, Evaluate) has profoundly influenced education systems globally for decades.

e.g. How many sides does a quadrilateral have? (Initiate) 4  (Response)Well done.  (Evaluate)

Whilst pedagogies have moved on significantly since Mehan’s study, questioning in the classroom still falls behind with teachers still largely dependent on procedural based questioning. Many educationalists advocate the “Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce” technique where by the teacher poses a question, pauses to allow pupils time to think, pounces on any pupil (To keep pupils on their toes) and then bounces the pupil’s response onto another pupil.

For example
T: "How might you describe a hexagon?"

P: "It’s a shape with 6 sides"

T: (to second pupil) "How far do you agree with that answer?" Depending on the answer of the second pupil, the line of questioning could continue; "Is the first answer completely right?

How could we improve the question? 
How could we make the answer accurate? And so forth. Questions serve many purposes and are an important tool for classroom management. However, for teachers, being able to recognise the types of questions they ask distinguishing between lower and higher order is the key to effective questioning.

Common Pitfalls to avoid when asking questions (How to elicit poor, low quality, shallow answers!)

  • Insufficient / no thinking time
  • Lack of balance between types of question asked
  • Question are mainly shallow (recall, remembering, comprehension / understanding)
  • “Guess what word / answer I’m thinking of” – Here the teacher has a set/fixed answer in mind & persists until that ‘set’ answer is vocalised and although the teacher may acknowledge other answers, the child’s  answer that matches the teacher’s is held up as the ‘best’ or ‘correct’ answer.
  • The IRE ‘school’ of questioning  (sometimes/often linked to above) - outdated and ineffective
  • Selecting same or narrow range of pupils - usually using hands up.
  • Questions are too difficult or too easy.

How to ask / pose a good question (How to elicit good, high quality answers!)

  • Thinking Time – the more the better (5-7-second rule) more responses, more LAPs responses, deeper thinking, better answers.
  • Ask a range of shallow, deep & profound questions matching needs, differentiation, challenge, engagement etc.
  • Use PPPB (not IRE) otherwise known as follow-on questions. Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce (Not Initiation, Response, Evaluation)
  • Use hands down approach, targeting your questions carefully.
  • Sometimes use lolly sticks for random purposes to ensure pupils are all prepared to answer.

To summarize:

  • Children need approximately five seconds wait time to respond to questions. It is best with some structure e. g. whiteboards or talking partners.
  • ‘No hands up’ inceases wait time and child focus, but used with recall questions is counter productive.
  • Having talking partners/groups before responding to questions enables all children to participate, think and articulate and develop life skills of social interaction as well as to practice speaking and listening.
  • TPs need to change regularly in order for children to have varying experiences – random pairings are most effective.
  • Effective questioning involves effective modelling.
  • Effective questions should further and deepen learning rather than simply help to establish prior knowledge.
  • Importance of supportive climate, avoiding put downs and enabling children to articulate their ideas without fear of failure.

Ciara O'Flaherty Key Stage 1 Maths Tutor (Harrow)

About The Author

I am a fully qualified, practicing and experienced primary teacher working with children across all primary ages. I take a particular interest in building confidence and self esteem in pupils and I hold an enhanced and current DBS certificate.

Tutors Wanted

  • Physics, Chemistry Tutor GCSE Redditch Face to Face, not Online
  • English Tutor for 9 yo Girl West London Gen. comprehension and essay technique
  • 11 Plus tutor Leeds Passionate Teacher needed
  • GCSE History tutor wanted Blackeath SE3 Lessons take place at student's home
  • PhD thesis writing tutor UK or Europe Holds a PhD in Health
  • French Teacher Wed 3.10- 4.10 Kingston, London Start 6th June DBS police check needed
  • Economics and Politics tutor Online or Central London Cambridge Pre-U
View tutor jobs
Tutors: Download your free e-book!