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  QuESTioning Rubric


A rubric of questioning skills:
For schools implementing Inquiry Learning and Information Literacy there has been no argument about the importance of helping pupils develop better questioning skills. The difficult issue has been in finding, or developing, a construct that would incorporate the features of an ‘effective question’ and the skills of an ‘effective questioner’ in some form that would assist teachers in the two aspects of assisting pupils to improve their questioning skills and assessing the development of those skills.


The following rubric was developed and trialled in a range of schools. It includes reference to the 'seven servants', this is derived from Rudyard Kipling's poem that talks about the "six honest serving men" called Who, What, when, Where, How and Why. this has been inflated into the 'seven servants' to incorporate Which. Now the seven servants are the seven question words in the English language that do not return Yes/No/Maybe answers. The seven stage rubric is structured around the requirements of an effective information seeking question and the context for that question. For the sake of providing explanatory samples the following scenario will provide a context for the inquiry.


Scenario:  All questioning occurs within a context, the scenario provides a context.
At our school we have a problem with disposal of paper rubbish because soon we will not be allowed to burn our paper in the incinerator. We need to find a new solution to our paper rubbish problem. Fortunately we have a local paper recycling plant and this may help us to deal with our paper rubbish. You need to research paper recycling, find out what processes are used, and what we need to do at school so our paper can be used by the recycling plant. You will need to present a plan of action to the Board of Trustees that shows what we have to do so our paper can be recycled.

Now we have a context within which questions can be posed. The rubric outlines seven stages that are a hierarchy of questioning skills. Each stage will be described and some samples of questions at that stage will be supplied.

Stage 1: Poses a statement or provides no response.
This stage recognises that many young learners are still developing a concept of what a question is and as a result are likely to make a statement instead of posing a question. Baseline evidence from twelve schools shows that pupils up to the ages of ten or twelve years of age will still pose some statements instead of questions when given an opportunity to pose a number of questions around a given scenario or problem. Some pupils will also give a null response when given an opportunity to pose a question.

We are going to do paper recycling.
Our school burns paper.
Paper can burn.


Stage 2: Any irrelevant question.
Many learners will digress at tangents and pose questions that will not provide useful relevant information to the set context or problem. An effective question is one that fits within the context and whose answer will assist in developing understanding and/or creating a solution. These questions are questions that are tangential or unlinked to the specific context. There are a variety of possible reasons for this. They may not have understood the scenario, context or problem or they may have picked up on a peripheral aspect. Whatever the reason such a question is ineffective in terms of the problem or issue.

Sample Questions:
How do we recycle plastic?
What happens to glass?
How are tins recycled?

Stage 3: Relevant Yes/No/Maybe Questions.
According to most definitions these are closed questions. However if such a question returns the information needed by the inquirer then it is a valid and effective question. To classify it must meet two requirements.
First it will be a question that is worded in such a manner that it seeks a confirmation or denial (yes or no).
Secondly, to be relevant, it must contain enough contextual key words and phrases so that it will return information that is relevant and useful in terms of the context. It is important to note that if the question is posed to a person then there is likelihood that the person will be aware of the context, however that is an assumption and a good questioner will still incorporate contextual key words to avoid misunderstanding.

Sample Questions:
Can we send our paper to the recycling plant?
Is the recycling plant in Nelson?
Do we have to stop burning paper at school?

Stage 4: Questions that utilise one of the ‘7 Servants’ and relevant key words.
The ‘7 Servants’ is drawn from Rudyard Kipling’s prose where he talks of six honest serving men named ‘who, what, when, where, how and why’. In fact there are seven question words in the English language that do not return yes/no answers, by adding the word ‘which’ to Rudyard Kipling’s list we have the seven prime question words a good questioner will use across most layers of this rubric. Stage 4 questions also need to incorporate key contextual words that will help them to return relevant information and thus be effective.
Key contextual words utilised in these questions are: paper, processes, recycled, collected, school.


Sample Questions:

How is paper recycled?
How many processes does the paper go through when it is recycled?
What day would the paper be collected from school?

Stage 5: Questions that utilise one of the ‘7 Servants’ and relevant key words and phrases.
These questions move on a step further and will need to include contextual phrases and combinations of key words. The inclusion of key contextual phrases are particularly powerful strategy in digital searching.
Phrases utilised in these questions are: paper rubbish, paper recycling, recycling process.

Sample Questions:

What processes are used in paper recycling?
How do we get paper ready for the recycling process?

Stage 6: Questions using one of the ‘7 Servants’ and synonym/s of key words.
This is an essential skill in creating effective questions and in trouble shooting or improving stage 3 to 5 questions. Often a word may be relevant to a particular context but may still not be the best word. For instance if the inquirer was wanting to know how an aboriginal humpy was built then the word ‘built’ would be an important key word, however if the inquirer put some thought into the words an author would be likely to use they may realise that ‘constructed’ or ‘construction’ would be better words to use. The inquirer may have identified an initial set of key words and then examine that set for alternative synonyms and used these to compose an effective question.

Synonyms utilised in these questions are:
Stages … instead of processes
Requirements … instead of need
Utilised…instead of used

Sample Questions:
What are the stages of paper recycling?
What are the pickup requirements with paper that is going to be recycled?
What has to be done to paper rubbish so it can be utilised for recycling?

Stage 7: Probing questions combining 2 or more question words when interviewing a person.
These are the probing questions a person may ask an expert in an interview situation, they are often in two or more parts, one that opens up an aspect and the second part that digs deeper into that aspect. This requires two or more of the ‘servants’ to be used in the question along with the usual contextual key words and phrases.

Sample Questions:
What are three things we need to do to our paper rubbish and why are they important for paper recycling?
What types of paper are suitable for recycling and how do we know how to sort it properly before it is collected?

All of this is put together in a table that outlines the rubric.


QuESTioning Rubric © Trevor Bond 2005

Stage 7   Creates relevant probing questions combining 2 or more question words when interviewing a person.
Stage 6   Creates questions using one of the ‘7 Servants’ and synonym/s of key words.
Stage 5   Creates questions that utilise one of the ‘7 Servants’ and relevant key words and phrases.
Stage 4   Creates questions that utilise one of the ‘7 Servants’ and relevant key words.
Stage 3   Creates Yes/No/Maybe Questions that contain relevant key words and phrases.
Stage 2   Poses an irrelevant question.
Stage 1   Poses a statement or provides no response.

An issue was found when trialling this layout in schools, in that many students saw the rubric as a ladder to be climbed. The result was that students were striving to ask stage seven questions. It is important that the rubric is shared alongside the definition of an 'effective questioner' so that children understand that the goal is to ask a range of questions from Stage 3 to Stage 7.

A powerful way of linking the stages of the QuESTioning rubric with the definition of an 'Effective Questioner' has been the development of this questioning construct that can be used as a tool to evaluate questions and as a tool to assist questioners to create 'Relevant Questions' that have a high chance of being 'Effective Questions'.

There is value in raising pupil’s awareness of different types of questions, but raising awareness does nothing to help them to be more effective as questioners. Most questioning resources target question types rather than question quality. The full rubric detailed above has been deliberately developed to target question quality and the skills a questioner needs to be able to create a range of 'good' questions that have a high chance of being effective. To do that it addresses the factors covered in the definition of an effective questioner and addresses the issues of question relevance, key words and phrases, and question editing.