Asking Good Questions Overview

A good question is both answerable and challenging. It will inspire analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and critical thinking. Below are several types of questions and suggestions about when to use which kind.

Where to Begin?

Begin with material students are familiar with or feel comfortable with. This might be a question that can be answered with information from general experience or from basic data in the subject area. Learn to prepare a mix of questions—those that are easily answered, slightly challenging, or highly complex—that they can draw on as the discussion develops.

Types of Effective Questions

Analysis – Questions beginning with “Why…” “How would you…” “What is …”
• Example: What is the meaning of Madame X’s comment about Jacque’s activities…?

Compare and Contrast – “Compare…” “Contrast…” “What is the difference between…” “What is the
similarity between…”
• Example: What is the difference between the mother and the father’s attitudes toward…?

Cause and Effect – “What are the causes/results of…” “What connection is there between…”
• Example: What is the cause of Lea’s distress when she looks at herself in the mirror?

Clarification – “What is meant by…” “Explain how…”

Types of Ineffective Questions

Simple Yes-No – Produces little discussion and encourages guessing.
• Example: “Is the Aunt expressing a desire for Gigi to marry?”

Elliptical – Too vague; it is not clear what is being asked.
• Examples: “Well, what do you think about the Don Juan’s values?”

Leading – Conveys the expected answer.
• Example: “Don’t you think that Colette is condemning the…?”

Slanted – Closes down student who may not agree with the implied assumption.
• Example: “Why are Colette’s young women so corrupt?”

Managing Group Dynamics

•Decide whether to ask questions of a particular individual or the whole group. Sometimes calling on an individual may help to get a slow class going, but it can release the other students from the responsibility of formulating answers for themselves.
• Leave sufficient wait time after asking a question before answering it yourself, repeating it, rephrasing it, or adding further information. Wait at least ten to fifteen seconds before making any change in your question.
• Avoid rapid reward for responding. Rapid reward means calling immediately on the first person who indicates an answer or approving immediately of a correct response that a student has given.

For more information about this topic, please contact the Coulter Faculty Commons Educational Development Team at 227-7196.