Questioning for Classroom Discussion

We know that the right question can spark the curiosity of our students and propel them into meaningful and productive discussion.  I am sure we have all experienced that wonderful teaching moment when the whole room comes alive because of a question you posed.  How can we harness the power of questioning and use it more often in the classroom?  Over the summer I read Questioning for Classroom Discussion by Jackie Acree Walsh and Beth Dankert Sattes.


The reading reminded me about the importance of questioning in our classrooms as a way: 1) to create a student-centered classroom,  2) to spark the interests of our students, and 3) to allow them to wrestle with ideas and hear multiple points of view.

The authors begin their book with the question: Why should we place greater emphasis on questioning for discussion in our classrooms?  In short, here are a few reasons:

  1.  Increases student engagement
  2.  Improves learning outcomes
  3.  Promotes higher levels of thinking
  4.  Develops speaking and listening skills
  5. Adheres to Common Core State Standards (for Literacy and Math Practices)
  6. Adheres to NGSS standards
  7. Adheres to the College, Career, and Civic Life Framework
  8. Makes connections among disciplinary knowledge
  9. Develops a life skill important for working with groups
  10. Is critical for becoming active participants in a democratic society

REFLECT:  How often do you use questioning and discussion in your classroom?  Do you balance teacher-guided discussions with student-driven discussion?  Do you equip your students with the tools to successfully engage in productive discussions?

Quick Tips and Tricks:  

  1.  Teacher typically:
    1. Models, scaffolds, coaches (remember to set norms/ground rules…consider creating these together first)
    2. Uses quality questions as a tool for inquiry
    3. Frames one question to focus the discussion, then questions further only if students seemed perplexed
    4. Doesn’t respond to every student comment which allows students to critique one another’s thinking and ideas
    5. Relinquishes a bit of control and allows students to take their thinking in the directions they choose
    6. Plans whole group and structured small-group discussions
    7. Provides scaffolded response templates for students (this is one way to differentiate!)

Want to learn more?  Read chapter 1 here and check out this infographic on the five steps to meaningful classroom discussions.


Perhaps you have been thinking more about how to include Listening and Speaking Standards into your classroom? Questioning would be a great strategy for a lesson study focusing on these important standards.  Talk with your colleagues and contact me to set up a planning time!



  1. Normally my kids would struggle with concepts like this. I am finding the exact opposite though. My theory is that they have such little (perceived) control over their own lives that when they get a chance to ask WHY and HOW it is quiet a lively conversation.
    This week’s example: What if the British treated the natives like the Spanish treated the native? One kid asked this joking around; What if they just got along and started dating and stuff?” I know he thought he was being funny but I’m finding SpEd kids are doing well with process and again I think it’s because they want to control and understand what they can in their lives. This was NOT the case in SC1 but definitely here in SC3 . The 3s were similar to the usual teenager. “Just give me the answer and let’s move on” fascinatingly the 1s want to know why and how which makes teaching stuff like Jamestown, The Missions, Trail of Tears actually exciting to teach!


  2. Allowing students to just explore, ask questions, and investigate is so important! I think you are right…they do believe they have little control-and this is especially true when it comes to school. They are used to being the ones are told answers…but Common Core has moved us away from this and put the student at the center of learning. I have found that they impress us when we put them in the driver’s seat of learning!


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