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Questioning Skills



What are skills of an effective questioner?
This is a question any school serious about improving their students' questioning needs to seek an answer to.

As one searches the internet, and other resources, to find out what the skills of an effective questioner are an interesting picture emerges. The bulk of the resources available do not actually address the skills of an effective questioner, what the bulk of them seem to address is the types of questions a questioner may ask.

I believe that there are two central issues here, both are connected, but one has been hidden because of a confusion of phrasing. The first is that of Question Types and the second is one of Questioning Skills.


Question Types: an issue of knowledge and understanding.

It is obvious that any one who has had exposure to a wide range of question types is likely to have more knowledge and understanding than a person who has not had this exposure. It also seems logical that a person with this knowledge and understanding is in a better position to be able to ask a wide range of question types. On this basis exposure to, and modelling of, a wide range of question types seems to be something that is worth doing for our students if we want to facilitate them into being better questioners. Fortunately there are plenty of sources and and resources that will provide us a range of question types.  (see Questioning Links)


Questioning Skills: an issue of competence.

It takes more than just knowledge or understanding of different question types to make someone a good questioner. During six years of working with students across the school system as they carry out research, try to solve problems and are deep into the process of making meaning I have identified what seems to be a core set of foundational questioning skills. These are the skills that will increase a student's ability to ask effective questions that will empower them as learners.


A Confusion: question types are often identified as 'skills'.

I have spent a lot of time searching for lists of the skills an effective questioner needs to have. Nearly every resource I have found based round the concept of 'questioning skills' has turned out to be related to 'question types' rather than the actual skills that build questioner competence. This means that our students may well be missing out on some very useful and important skills that will raise their competence as questioners.


Foundational Questioning Skills:

The questioner needs to be aware of a need for information.

This is the focusing drive that fuels questioning. If a person is not aware of an information need then the spirit of questioning itself lays dormant.

The questioner needs to be able to clarify what information is needed.

An awareness of need is the start, but clarification of what information is needed will empower them to ask directed, pointed, and relevant questions to extract the needed information. By implication then a questioner also needs to be able to identify what they already know.


The questioner needs to be aware of a base set of vocabulary that is relevant to the context or issue.

Without this it will be very difficult for the questioner to be able to phrase relevant questions.


The questioner then needs to be able to ask a range of relevant questions.

An effective questioner will be able to ask a range of effective questions. This will include open, closed, probing, diagnostic etc. Question types will be chosen on the basis of the information need. If the context is wide then some closed questions may need to be asked to narrow the focus. If the questioner is trying to identify someone's understanding or belief then they will probably need to ask probing questions. This is where understanding of question types will help with this foundational questioning skill.


The questioner needs to be able to take that range of relevant question to a range of appropriate resources.


Again it becomes obvious that being able to ask a range of questions is inadequate in its own right, to be effective a questioner will need to be able to discern, from a question and its context, what the most likely sources are that will return the information needed.


The questioner needs to be able to persist in their search for the answer/s editing questions where necessary edit their questions as necessary.

Questions don't always return the needed or correct information at the first attempt. An effective questioner will need to persist in their questioning until they get an answer. Often this will include using synonyms of some of the key words in their original questions eg. using 'constructed' instead of 'built'.



The suggestions above are the result of a number of years of looking at studentís as they create questions within Inquiry Learning based classrooms. I am not suggesting that these are all the questioning skills, rather they are perhaps a foundational set to assist students on the way to being effective questioners.

Again I will contend that exposure to a range of question types is not exposure to questioning skills.
However the two aspects will go together very powerfully to empower students as effective questioners.

I am positive that if we work to ensure our children have the above range of questioning skills, alongside the understanding of a range of questioning types, then we will be well on the way to  facilitating them to be more effective questioners.
The skills outlined above are the foundation for the
QuESTioning rubric.



To make comments or become involved in further discussion on any issues raised here please

feel free to access the questioning wiki space and become involved in further discussion.