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  • Mark Harris

How to Develop the Habits of Effective Questioning.

Questioning is at the heart of effective teaching; in fact questioning is what most great teachers spend most of their time doing. They ask a range of questions aimed at gauging the students’ knowledge and understanding, questions to engage the students with the subject or topic, questions to develop deeper understanding, questions to clarify what is being taught and questions to assess if the students have got it: have they made progress? Are there any misconceptions?

In my experience, great questioning is the hallmark of a really effective teacher and sits right at the top of the list for things teachers can and should improve. (T Sherrington, Great teaching: The Power of Questioning, 2018)

Therefore, questioning must be regarded as a key skill which teachers should strive to continually develop and improve.

Great questioning techniques are not something you can simply learn and become proficient in during a staff training session. It takes time to develop, through practice, mistakes, feedback, perseverance and self-analysis. Done well, questioning can help to unlock a student’s potential; the questioning interaction that you have with a student can be the catalyst for something great, it may be the piece in the jigsaw that the student was missing but through your questioning all the pieces finally fit and big picture is clear.

If we are to develop our questioning skills we must aim to develop effective questioning as a routine or a habit within our lessons.

A habit can be defined as: an acquired pattern of behaviour that has become almost involuntary as a result of frequent repetition. (

Your current teaching practice is essentially the sum of your current habits. How you consistently react to situations and stimuli governs your comfort zone. So how can we develop new habits?

Charles Duhigg recognised that habit has three specific features: cues, routine and reward. (The Power of Habit)

Cues: These are triggers that stimulate a response from you.

Routine: How we respond to the cue.

Reward: The reward you give yourself that helps your brain to remember that habit for the future.

What we need to do is use cues to develop or improve our questioning routine, the reward being that our students have engaged in their learning, deepened their knowledge and understanding, and for us as a teacher we have the intrinsic motivation knowing that our questioning session has improved.

The Habit Loop

The Habit Loop

What cues can we use?

To help to develop the questioning habit we have three potential cues we can use within a lesson as a trigger to remind us to develop our questioning techniques.

This image is on all staff desktops.

The questioning cue card

The questioning poster

Start small

Use the questioning cue card as a reminder to ask questions using the questions stems. Start by using just three or four stems for example:

· Susan you’ve heard to answers which one do you prefer and why?

· Can you give me another word for…?

· What makes that such a good answer?

· How could we improve that answer?

Once you have used these consistently, over time you will begin to ask these questions automatically and it will become part of your everyday teaching repertoire. Research suggests it takes anything from 21-66 days to develop a habit until it operates with automaticity. The length of time is some way governed by the difficultly of the habit you are trying to automate. Once you have embedded these question stems into your routine then you can look to add more question stems and so your questioning skills develop further. Habits and automaticity can only be developed with practice and conscious thought. You must consciously think how you react to certain cues so that with time they become an automatic feature of your teaching practice.

For more detail and information concerning habit development and questioning please refer to my book.

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