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What is a ‘good’ or ‘effective’ question?


The word ‘good’ probably has too many value based associations to be beneficial. A better word would be ‘effective’. What is an ‘effective question’? There are three issues (Purpose, Vocabulary and Source Content) to be considered in defining and answering this question.

Question Purpose

The first issue relates directly to the purpose of the question. The immediate purpose of any ‘Inquiry’ question is to gain some specific information that is relevant to the context. Therefore an effective question is one that returns the needed relevant information. It doesn’t matter whether the question is defined as rich, open, closed, fat, skinny, simple or complex; if it returns the required relevant information then it has been effective and accomplished the purpose. This indicates that closed or open questions can both be ‘effective questions’ if they achieve the purpose of bringing the required information to the inquirer. This also indicates that any question, be it rich, closed, open or any other definable type, is an ineffective question if it does not return the information required by the seeker.

Observations indicate that in many schools there exists an arguably flawed approach where learners are being encouraged to write specific types of questions because they are considered as better than others. This differentiation is applied particularly to ‘fat’ versus ‘skinny’ questions, and ‘open’ versus ‘closed’ questions where pupils are consistently being given the message that ‘fat’ or ‘open’ questions are better than ‘skinny’ or ‘closed’ questions. When learners are seeking information the main consideration should be the ability of the question to return the required information from the chosen information source. Any particular type of question is only better than any other type of question if it is effective in obtaining the required information. There will be times when ‘closed’ questions, for example, are more effective in obtaining the required information than an ‘open’ question.

This requires us to take a deeper look at how we scaffold pupils into asking effective questions. The concepts of open/closed and fat/skinny questions contain some flaws and don’t necessarily lead our pupils to asking effective questions and into being ‘effective questioners’. We need to look at this practice a bit more critically and make sure we are giving the right messages to our pupils.


Question Vocabulary

The second issue with defining whether a question is ‘effective’ concerns the relationship between the vocabulary contained in the question and the vocabulary of the context. An effective question needs to be constructed with the relevant vocabulary. The question needs to contain appropriate contextual key words and phrases relevant to the context, issue or problem. It is these key words and phrases that will locate the question within the appropriate context. If a question does not contain relevant contextual vocabulary it is most likely to be ineffective in returning the required information.

Source Content (Sources can vary hugely and may be printed text, digital text, images, audio visual, or human

The third issue in defining an ‘effective question’ relates to the source being used. If an effective question is one that extracts the required information from the source being queried, the success of the question is also dependant on the chosen source actually containing the required information. The inquirer may have created a question that contains the appropriate contextual vocabulary but if the chosen source does not actually contain the required information then the question is still ineffective in that situation. This situation shows us that any particular question may be effective when applied to one source and ineffective when applied to a different source. The questioner may have to apply the same question to a range of sources, and the question is likely to be ineffective in some me sources, but that does not mean it will be ineffective in another source.

This opens up the further issue of questioner skill which will be examined in the next section.


An effective question is one that returns the required information, to do this it needs to contain the relevant contextual vocabulary and the query needs to applied to a source that contains the required information. These factors also need to be supported by a range of questioner skills.


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.