Question Types

Do you know what kind of questions you ask most frequently? Research on the questions teachers ask shows that about 60 percent require only recall of facts, 20 percent require students to think, and 20 percent are procedural in nature.

The major types of questions fall into four categories:

  • Managerial: questions which keep the classroom operations moving;
  • Rhetorical: questions used to emphasize a point or to reinforce an idea or statement;
  • Closed: questions used to check retention or to focus thinking on a particular point; and
  • Open: questions used to promote discussion or student interaction.

(Source: P. E. Blosser. (1975). How to Ask the Right Questions. National Science Teachers Association)

Following is a list of question types you can use to analyze your questioning strategies and develop a variety of questions to help students think.

I. Probing Questions

Series of questions which require students to go beyond the first response. Subsequent teacher questions are formed on the basis of the student's response.


  1. Clarifying

Ex: "What, exactly do you mean?"

"Will you please rephrase your statement?"

"Could you elaborate on that point?"

"What did you mean by the term. . .?"


  1. Increasing Critical Awareness

Ex: "What are you assuming?"

"What are your reasons for thinking that is so?"

"Is that all there is to it?"

"How many questions are we trying to answer here?"

"How would an opponent of this point of view respond?"

  1. Refocusing

Ex: "If this is true, what are the implications for . . . ?"

"How does John's answer relate to . . . ?"

"Can you relate this to . . . ?"

"Lets analyze that answer."


  1. Prompting

Ex: Teacher: "John, what's the square root of 94?"

John: "I don't know." Teacher: "Well, what's the square root of 100?"

John: "Ten." Teacher: "And the square root of 81?" John: "Nine."

Teacher: "Then what do we know about the square root of 94?"

John: "It's between nine and ten."


  1. Redirecting to Another Student

Ex: Teacher: "What is the theme of Hemmingway's 'Old Man and the Sea'?"

Sam: "It's about an old man's courage in catching a fish."

Teacher: "Mary, do you agree?"

or: "Mary, do you think it's that simple?"

or: "Mary, can you elaborate on Sam's answer?"

II. Factual Questions

Questions which require the student to recall specific information s(he) has previously learned. Often these use who, what, when, where, etc.


  1. Simple Bits of Information

Ex. "Who was the leader of the Free French forces during W.W.II?"

"Who is the main character in Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone With The Wind?"

"During which century did Shakespeare live?"

"What is the Spanish verb meaning to run?"


  1. Facts Organized into a Logical Order (Sequence of Events)

Ex. "What are the steps a bill goes through before it becomes a law?"

"How were the American and French forces able to bottle up Cornwall and the British at Yorktown?"

"How did Robinson Crusoe react when he discovered footprints in the sand?"

"What is the commercial method for producing hydrochloric acid?"

III. Divergent Questions

Questions with no right or wrong answers, but which encourage exploration of possibilities. Requires both concrete and abstract thinking to arrive at an appropriate response

Ex. "What might happen if Congress passes a law preventing the manufacture and sale of cigarettes in the United States?"

"How would the story have been different if John had been a tall, strong boy instead of disabled?"

"If you were stuck on a desert island and the only tool you had was a screwdriver, what use might you make of it?"

"In what ways would history have been changed had the Spanish Armada defeated the English in 1588?"

IV. Higher Order Questions

Questions which require students to figure out answers rather than remember them. Requires generalizations related to facts in meaningful patterns.


  1. Evaluation: Requires judgment, value or choice based upon comparing of ideas or objects to established standards.

Ex: "Which of the two books do you believe contributed most to an understanding of the Victorian era? Why?"

"Assuming equal resources, who would you rate as the most skillful general, Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant? Why?


  1. Inference: Requires inductive or deductive reasoning

Inductive: Discovery of a general principle from a collection of specific facts.

Deductive: Logical operation in which the worth of a generalization is tested with specific issues.

Ex: "We have examined the qualities these world leaders have in common. What might we conclude, in general, about qualities necessary for leadership? Why?" (Inductive)

"If the temperature of the gas remains the same, but gas is taken to an altitude of 4000 feet higher, what happens to the pressure of the gas? Why?" (Deductive)


  1. Comparison: Requires student to determine if ideas/objects are similar, dissimilar, unrelated, or contradictory.

Ex: "Is a mussel the same thing as a clam?"

"What similarities and differences exist between Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Pericles' Funeral Oration?"

"What is the connection between Social Darwinism and the Supreme Court actions of the late nineteenth century?"

  1. Application: Requires student to use a concept or principle in a context different from that in which she/he learned it.

Concept = Classification of events/objects that have common characteristics.

Principle = A relationship between two or more concepts.

Ex: "How was Gresham's Law demonstrated in the Weimer Republic of Germany?"

"Can you think of an example to fit this definition?"


  1. Problem-solving: Requires a student to use previously learned knowledge to solve a problem. Students must see relationships between knowledge and the problem, diagnose materials, situations, and environments, separate problems into components parts, and relate parts to one another and the whole. This question may generate answers the teacher hasn't anticipated.

Ex: "Suppose you grow up with the idea that dogs were bad. Out of the many dogs you came into contact with, none bit you when you were quite young. How would you react towards dogs now? Would the type, size, etc., of the dog make any difference as to how you react? Explain the notion of prejudices using this example."


V. Affective Questions

Questions which elicit expressions of attitude, values, or feelings of the student.

Ex: "How do you feel about that?"

"Is that important to you?"

"Would you like to . . . ?"

VI. Structuring Questions

Questions related to the setting in which learning is occurring.

Ex: "Are there any questions?

"Any further comments?"

"Is the assignment clear?"

"Would you repeat that?"

"Are we ready to continue?"