Mr Kemp NZ

Questioning – the most powerful tool in the classroom – an action research

Over the last few weeks I have been inspired by several online discussions with my PLN about questioning.
It got me thinking back to 2010 when our team in my NZ school ran an action research about questioning which we linked to our inquiry topic. Our key question was “What makes a GREAT question?”. Not only did the team of teachers run an action research to produce something meaningful to make our classrooms a better learning space but we involved our students in the process.
Those of you who follow me on twitter and read my blog posts will know that I am a huge believer in student voice in Education and this is a great example of how it works.
It came about because we found our students struggled to ask a question that would help them find information, a critical school for a 21st century learner. After 10 weeks of data collection, investigation and in depth learning this is what we came up with (please note the data and findings below were written in 2010 immediately after our action research):
We created a questioning rubric to support the students learning. They got so good at analysing their questions that we would regularly refer to language and self assess questioning based on these levels

What Makes a GREAT question?


Level 1
Poses a statement or provides no response (e.g. A worm lives in the ground)
Level 2
Any irrelevant question (e.g. Do trees lose their leaves – a question that does not fit the set topic or problem)
Level 3
Relevant Yes/No/Maybe questions (e.g. Do bees make honey?)
Level 4
Questions that use who, what, when, where, why, how without relevant key words (one word answer questions – e.g. What does it mean?)
Level 5
Questions that use who, what, when, where and relevant key words (one word answer questions – e.g. Where do bees fly to?)
Level 6
Questions that use how and why and relevant key words (e.g. Why do bees carry pollen?)
Level 7
Probing questions using two or more question starters using key words (e.g. Why do bees carry pollen and how do they use it?)





Before teaching questioning my class were predominately asking level 5 and 6 questions with a lack of probing questions. 

After actively teaching the question criteria the children’s questioning is now predominately level 7 (after 10 weeks of discussions) with the children using a combination of question starters and key words.  For example: What does a bee do with its pollen and how does it collect it?  This has led to the children having to find more specific information and has led to them having a deeper understanding of the topic.

Those children who are still at level 6 or below are not using probing questions or are just attaching a why or how to the end of a question without going into more detail e.g. what does a bee do with its pollen and why instead of probing more for example … what does a bee do with its pollen and how does it collect it?

The data – Year 6

  • Excellent development of questioning skills from beginning to end of active teaching
  • Children’s increased understanding of topics
  • Included in teaching of inquiry topic
  • Definite and obvious shift in the quality of children’s questions
  • Children more aware of questions and what makes a great question
  • Finding out and sorting out stage were more focussed
  • Children keen to learn about questioning
  • Relating to current topics – some topics are easier for the children to generate questions
  • Still children with low questioning skills that need to be addressed
  • Need to dedicate more time to it to carry out in deep teaching
  • Children assessing their own questions
  • Probing questions or are just attaching a why or how to the end of a question without going into more detail

Four years on, and I still don’t think we teach students how to ask questions well. Although four years old, I think we were on the right track with our questioning action research, providing results that we valuable within the context of my school. Taking this information and transforming it into another environment may be challenging but I would be interested to know how you teach questioning now in 2014, what similarities or differences do you have to our work in 2010.

Looking forward to hearing your stories soon. 

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Craig Kemp

Craig Kemp

I am a passionate Global EdTech Consultant based in Singapore but working with Schools and EdTech companies all over the world. I am a lifelong learner, dream creator and thought leader. I love to inspire others and find inspiration. Co-founder of #whatisschool, #asiaED edchats and #pubPD.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Craig,
    This is a great post and something that I am planning on working with my students on next year. I am using a book, Make Just One Change, that outlines a process for teachers to help students learn how to ask questions to get them explore topics on their own. I will be interested to continue reading your posts and integrate them into the reading that I am doing to do as you are trying to do it, increase student voice in the classroom.

  • A good friend of mine uses Morgan and Saxton’s questioning in her work in drama and through it models brilliant deep questioning to the students. Working in drama provides a context where students can ‘practice’ their questioning in authentic contexts e.g. they may be asking questions as if they are reporters investigating an incident (perhaps the opening of King Tut’s tomb or Sir Edmund Hillary after ascending Everest or a case of playground bullying… remember this is within the drama, the options for inspiration are endless). Here’s a link for the book:

  • Thanks for this post – I plan to focus on explicit quality criteria and questioning for my Action Research Project during Internship!

    Any tips or hints about what worked and what didn’t when teaching questioning to the class? I have a class of 88 Year 5/6 students, team teaching with 3 teachers.

    Would love to increase student voice and provide them with the opportunities and skills to do so.

  • One thing that made my students aware of their own questions was when we dove into fishbowl activities. I modeled the first 3-5 questions (depending on the class) for discussion of the text we were reading, and then they were asked to come up with questions after that. We posted all of their questions, and discussed why each would work as a great discussion question, or why not. Then we voted on the two or three that would work, and tried them out in another fishbowl discussion. After the discussion, students got a choice in which question they would like to write about. They could use their notes from the discussion (along with the text, of course). This was very powerful, as it carried us through the rest of the year, and we had some stellar discussions. I LOVE student questions, and every time they have one, I give it back to the class instead of answering it. They know I’m just the facilitator, not the “answer key.” 🙂 Keep pushing your students – they will rise to your expectations!

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