Research-Based Strategies for Asking Questions

This activity involves the use of four questions that get students actively involved in the material they are studying.  When used by the authors and subsequent instructors, this technique demonstrated improved understanding of course materials and higher critical thinking scores upon evaluation.

The questions/prompts used:

  • “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea … that you learned while completing this activity.”
  •  “Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea … is important?”
  • “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”
  • “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?” [You might need to prohibit the answer “nothing”.]


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According to the authors, the question set is versatile. Here are some examples of how it could be used. Use the four prompts as a way to summarize an in-class discussion, adjusting the wording of the questions:

  • Have students answer the questions about a reading assignment. Dietz-Uhler and Lanter had students write 100-word responses to the first three prompts. Written answers could be shared in small group discussions.
  •  At the beginning of class, give students five minutes to write answers to the questions as a way of reviewing notes taken in a previous class session. Or, have students submit answers online before class and use sample responses to review the material.
  •  A version of the question set could be the template used to provide peer feedback on a paper. (What’s one important idea presented in this paper? Why does the author think the idea is important? Is that idea important to you? Why or why not? What question(s) do you think the author still needs answer?)
  •  Use the questions as way to end and evaluate a course. (What’s one important idea you’ll take from this course? Why do you believe it’s important? How does it relate to your life? What are the next questions you want to find answers to?) To answer these questions, students must reflect on their learning. Their answers might cause teachers to reflect as well.


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Dietz-Uhler, B. and Lanter, J. R. (2009). Using the four-questions technique to enhance learning. Teaching of Psychology, 36 (1), 38-41.

Alexander, M. E., Commander, N., Greenberg, D., and Ward, T. (2010) Using the four-questions technique to enhance critical thinking in online discussions. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6 (2), 409-415 –


Additional Web-sites for improved questioning techniques:

Questioning Techniques: Research-Based Strategies for Teachers

  1. Purpose for asking questions
  2. Types of Questions
  3. How Many Questions and When?
  4. Wait-Time
  5. Feedback: Redirecting, Probing and Responding
  6. Video demonstrations focusing on how to ask better questions (open ended versus closed ended and convergent versus divergent questions).


New Classroom Questioning Techniques for the Best Year Ever

  • The Use of Wait-Time between questions should be approximately three seconds for “lower-order questions” and more than three seconds for “higher-order questions.”
  • Increasing the use of higher-order questions to fifty percent or more is positively related to student-to-student interactions, speculative thinking, length of student responses, and relevant questions posed by learners.
  • Incorporating TAPN (Time, Amount, Public, Novelty) into your questioning to increase the percentage of students who actively engage with your questions.