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Best Teaching Practices


One objective of science teaching is the development of higher-order thinking skills in students. In order to foster and monitor this development, teachers need to establish and maintain communication with students. The most recognized and accepted method used by teachers is asking questions.

On the other hand, observations of teachers have shown that most teachers ask questions that require nothing more than simple recall or for which only one answer is acceptable. Besides doing nothing to encourage student thinking on the part of the student questioned, it is likely to create a classroom atmosphere in which any divergent thinking seems inappropriate. Why do teachers allow this to happen?

One reason is that many teachers consider student mastery of text material to be their primary professional responsibility. Since much textbook narrative is factual, only a creative teacher can formulate higher-level questions from it. Other teachers feel that open-ended questions may be "too hard," and discourage students of low ability. Still others candidly admit that recall-level questions are better suited to firm classroom management.

Observers have found that recall-level questions predominated even with teachers who were committed to fostering critical thinking. They refused to admit this until they saw documentation of their classroom behaviors.

Probing questions, such as why?, can you elaborate?, what evidence can you present to support your answer? encourage students to "unpack" their thinking, to show how they have reached particular conclusions. Teachers can use probing questions to press students to consider and weigh diverse evidence, to examine the validity of their own deductions and inductions, and to consider opposing points of view. Probing questions ask students to extend their knowledge beyond factual recall and "parroting" of learned theories, to apply what is known to what is unknown, and to elaborate on what is known to deepen their understanding of this knowledge.

Probing questions contribute to a classroom climate of inquiry and thoughtful examination of ideas. Students who are regularly exposed to questions that force them to defend their responses with reasons and evidence may internalize this "critical thinking" habit of mind.


Journal Articles - To access most of these Journal Articles, you must be a student, faculty or staff member at an OhioLINK affiliated institution. Access to OhioLINK may be available to Ohioans through their local, public, or school libraries. Contact OPLIN, INFOhio, or your local library for more information.

Student and Teacher Questioning During Conversations About Science
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 38, Issue: 2, February 2001. pp. 159 - 190
Van Zee, Emily H.; Iwasyk, Marletta; Kurose, Akiko; Simpson, Dorothy; Wild, Judy

This paper summarizes case studies developed by a group of collaborating educators. We investigated ways of speaking that encourage students to (a) formulate insightful questions about science topics and (b) express their own ideas during reflective discussions. The authors include elementary, high school, and college faculty. Subject-matter contexts included phases of the moon, motion, electricity, light, and waves. In developing case studies, we documented and interpreted student and teacher...

What Does it Mean to Question?
Interchange, Vol. 36, Issue: 4, October 2005. pp. 405 - 430
Bérci, Margaret E.; Griffith, Bryant

The purpose of this paper is two fold: first, to tease out the meaning inherent in the correlativity of the question and answer process and second, to suggest a philosophical answer to the question, "What does it mean to question?" in the context of teacher education. To that end, we want to claim that R.G. Collingwood's "Logic of Question and Answer" is a valuable tool in filling the gap in scholarship concerning the art of questioning. While research into the activity of teaching...

Teaching Young Children Science: Three Key Points
Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Vol. 21, Issue: 4, August 2005. pp. 303-313
Yoon, Jiyoon; Onchwari, Jacqueline Ariri

Many early childhood teachers report lacking confidence to teach science. Today, science education is defined as "doing science", as opposed to memorization of facts (Seefeldt and Galper, 2002). This paper discusses developmentally appropriate practices in the context of teaching science. Knowledge of child development, individual differences and the role of children's socio-cultural context are explicitly discussed. The use of questioning and the 5 Es...

Questioning Skills Facilitate Online Synchronous Discussions
Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Vol. 21, Issue: 4, August 2005. pp. 303-313
Wang, C-H

Abstract The results of this study show that effective questioning skills increase student intellectual moves that, in turn, facilitate the process of knowledge construction in online synchronous discussion (OSD). The open-ended questions elicited multiple perspectives by promoting student participation, while OSD enabled them to share and debate multiple perspectives simultaneously without worrying about interrupting the flow of a conversation that had moved on. Furthermore...

Using Socratic Questioning to Promote Critical Thinking Skills Through Asynchronous Discussion Forums in Distance Learning Environments
The American Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 19, Issue: 3, September 2005. pp. 163-181
Yang, Ya-Ting C.; Newby, Timothy J.; Bill, Robert L.

This study investigated the effects of using Socratic questioning to enhance students' critical thinking (CT) skills in asynchronous discussion forums (ADF) in university-level distance learning courses. The research effort empirically examined two coherent subjects: (a) the efficacy of teaching and modeling Socratic questioning for developing students' CT skills in ADF and (b) the persistence of students' CT skills following the teaching and modeling of Socratic questioning in the ADF. The...

Learning to Question: Categories of Questioning Used by Preservice Teachers During Diagnostic Mathematics Interviews
Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Vol. 5, Issue: 4, 2002. pp. 293-315
Moyer, Patricia S.; Milewicz, Elizabeth

Developing appropriate questioning techniques is an important part of mathematics teaching and assessment. This study examined the questioning strategies used by 48 preservice teachers during one-on-one diagnostic mathematics interviews with children. Each participant conducted an audiotaped interview with one child, followed by an analysis and reflection of the interview. Data were analyzed to develop general categories of questions used by the preservice teachers. These categories included...

Urban African-American Middle School Science Students: Does Standards-based Teaching Make a Difference?
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 37, Issue: 9, November 2000. pp. 1019 - 1041
Kahle, Jane Butler; Meece, Judith; Scantlebury, Kathryn

The current reform movement in science education promotes standards-based teaching, including the use of inquiry, problem solving, and open-ended questioning, to improve student achievement. This study examines the influence of standards-based teaching practices on the achievement of urban, African-American, middle school science students. Science classes of teachers who had participated in the professional development (n = 8) of Ohio's statewide systemic initiative (SSI) were matched with...


Professors Wang and Ong give helpful tips for teachers in their short article entitled, Questioning Techniques for Active Learning.

Cotton's work, Classroom Questioning, maintains that questioning ranks second to lecturing as the most popular teaching method. She summarizes research on the use of questions to facilitate students' learning and gives helpful tips on the effective use of this technique.

This site contains three short essays related to questioning - questioning and answering, the Socratic method, and question models.

This site has a long list of teacher tools and an extensive bibliography about the use of questions and techniques related to questioning. Includes a slide show with sound.

This site contains the text of a short article, Using Research to Improve the Quality of Classroom Discussions, by J. N. Swift, C. T. Gooding, and P. R. Swift, whose work has focused on classroom communications/discussion and teachers' questioning techniques. Teachers working with their research project perceived their involvement as vital to their continuing growth as teachers.