#42 Asking the Right Questions

Questioning- the pivotal area of our teaching!


Today myself and Sarah-Kate looked at a range of questioning styles and the importance of questioning in our practice.


In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
The important thing is not to stop questioning.’

  Albert Einstein

It’s a Fact!

  • An average teacher asks 400 questions in a day
  • That’s 70,000 a year!
  • One-third of all teaching time is spent asking questions
  • Most questions are answered in less than a second

What is the purpose of questioning?

  • To interest, engage and challenge
  • To check on prior knowledge
  • To focus thinking on key concepts and issues

What are the pitfalls of questioning?

  • Asking too many closed questions
  • Yes or no questions
  • Short answer recall-based questions

SO what strategies can we use to improve our questioning in the classroom?

Mock The Week

mock the week

‘If this is the answer…what is the question?’

  • Taken from ‘Mock the Week’, this simple little technique sparks the inquisitiveness within students – just by quickly reversing the standard question and answer dichotomy it can deepen their thinking.
  • It could be a relatively closed answer, like ‘3.14159265359’ (the numerical value of pi); or something more open and abstract, like ‘religion’ (a potential powder-keg that one!). They can be given the idea by showing a short clip of ‘Mock the Week from’ on YouTube – but I would advise you to vet the video carefully first!

Laminated cards/ Mini whiteboards to show answers to questions

Laminated card.

laminated cards

  • A word of caution here – make sure the edges are not too sharp since they can cut fingers.
  • You can laminate cards of different colours and also write a code letter or number on each card before laminating. This is useful for group work etc


  • Can the red cards get together and share their ideas.
  • Can the people with the letter ‘a’ on their card sit together here.
  • I want an answer from a person with a green card.
  • Will the person in each group with a blue card feed back on the group’s ideas in 5 minutes time.

Show & Tell- visual way to understand the class’ understanding.laminated

Deliberate Practice: Lemov Quigley

become a teacher because

“I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Bruce Lee

“No hands up”

  • Stops pupils putting  their hands up before they have had time to think about the question.
  • Most able pupils often did not volunteer answers for fear of being labelled as “boffs” or “swots”.
  • Provides greater opportunity for AFL
  • Improves attention levels

    No Wrong Answer       

think think

  • No answer pupils provide are wrong
  • Promotes positive interaction with subject
  • Increase child’s confidence in discussions.

Phone a friend!

phone a friend

Ask one of them, but let them “phone a friend” (i.e. ask someone else) and then get them to repeat the answer their ‘friend’ has provided.

  1. A good way to build team spirit within a lesson.
  2. We are all there to help

Traffic Lights

traffic lights

  • Easy to see who has answered.
  • Allows all pupils to feel some success in lesson.
  • Little competitive spirit in the KS3 class : )
  • Allows them to monitor own progress

Benefits of Questioning

benefits of questioning

  • Team spirit
  • Literacy (no half answers)
  • Assessment for all
  • Greater understanding due to grade ups

“Good learning starts with questions, not answers.”

     Guy Claxton, Bristol University

#41 Classroom Management

chaotic classroom

Classroom management- the answer to all our prayers. The calm to our stormy seas!  We all need help with management techniques from time to time, to calm those little tear-aways down and get them into a relaxed and productive learning environment.

So what are these magic strategies? How can I get them to actually learn and enjoy their lesson at the same time??

Emma Mellon and Teresa talked to us about various techniques which work for them:



Pace in a lesson is essential to getting it just right. If the pace is off, so too is the learning; and very quickly you can have a room full of restless and agitated children. So what do we mean by this? It means we set the right amount of time for our various input/ activities and reviews. If we have different ability sets, this means we are setting time frames that push, stretch and challenge and do not allow for lazy learners. It also means being organised- something that a teacher can struggle with, what with the ever changing ‘plans’ and hiccups that happen in our day-to-day lives.

Shouting is TIRING!


We have all been there- at the end of our tether, ready to explode, ready to pack it all in. However, the magic is that we don’t let them see that. The magic is in the calmness and deflecting the behaviour that annoys you. Instead draw your attention to positive work and praise them CONSTANTLY! Shouting is a stress and  as teachers we do not need any more of that. The best practice is to lower your voice almost to a whisper. Or simply your movement towards them and to talk only to them can be as equally effective. A lot of the time pupils misbehave for the attention- try your very best to not reward them with your time or vocal cords!

Know the class-where the trouble is!

misbehaving children

This is especially relevant for new members of staff., or new classes. Always be prepared to deal with behaviour. Kids are kids at the end of the day, and they are always going to push boundaries. However, if you are prepared and have constant high expectations- then they will know their will be consequences. Have a seating plan- discuss with your faculty leaders the ‘troublesome’ pupils and ensure they are close to you and away from distractions. Ensure that work is at the correct level for those ‘naughty’ pupils. If it is too complex or even too simplistic, it will allow them time to play up and distract others around them. Most importantly have confidence and know the rules of your own classroom. Stick by them and do not be shaken- persistence and patience will prevail!



” Equality, compassion, supportive, inclusive.” These are all ideals that we as teachers must endeavour to stick to in our classrooms. There should be no child in our care that does not feel supported or loved in our learning environment. In order for them to learn, and be successful they have to feel that their learning space is not judgemental, regardless of ability, behaviour or background. If a child is a ‘naughty’ child ensure they are the one who receives praise when they deserve it. Make sure that the shy, quiet ‘invisible’ pupil doesn’t feel unnoticed. Ensure that the child with EAL isn’t a recluse at the back of the room with an ipad and Google translate. As a teacher, your biggest goal should be to ensure every pupil is inspired, educated and united in their goal to learn and make progress.



Sometimes in the frantic, hectic, ever-changing world it can be very difficult to be positive. Especially, at the end of a 5 period day. However, this is the one thing that will increase your job satisfaction and ensure that the 30 pupils sitting in front of you feel inspired and excited to learn. Positivity is infectious. Its the good disease we want to spread. Look for the good in the pupils you have the least connection with. Talk to the staff member you know the least about. Spread the good vibes around your staffroom and it is without a doubt going to make a change to the ethos of your classroom and school. Teach your pupils how to smile in the face of sadness and be brave in the midst of panic. We are their models, and they are our future; let us lead them in a positive and inspirational way, so that they too become successful, intelligent and passionate young adults.



How do we differentiate to the right level?


A few decades ago the world of education was very exercised by the forerunner of differentiation which was called ‘mixed ability teaching’.  Then people began to realise it was not just ability that could be “mixed’’ and that teachers had to cope with a plethora of differences: learning style, age, motivation, prior learning and experience, gender, specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, and so on.  Consequently the term ‘mixed ability’ began to be replaced by the less vivid term: ‘differentiation’.   But what does differentiation mean exactly?

Differentiation is an approach to teaching that attempts to ensure that all students learn well, despite their many differences. Catch phrases which go some way to capturing this concept include:

‘Coping with differences’.

‘Learning for all’ or

‘Success for all

(Geoff Petty)


So how can we unleash the ‘genius’ in every child?

Chris Black looked at how we can challenge our top sets, and how we can ensure that no child is left ignore door over looked. Here are some techniques he has used successfully:

Questioning can serve the dual purposes of differentiation and assessment. Used effectively, it can greatly influence lesson outcomes.

cold call questioing

Cold Call is a technique whereby students stand behind their chairs. The change to standing up signifies to students they should be aware that the questions they’re about to be asked are challenging and often have several stages to the ‘correct’ answer. The reason the students stand up is to emphasize the cold call (or to use a more British term ‘random questioning’) aspect of this style of questioning. Everyone is aware they can be called upon to answer these difficult questions.



Ask students clarifying questions.

Encourage them to do the same to you.

The great advantage of clarifying questions is that they diminish ambiguity. This is because they require the person being questioned to explain an aspect of their thought or speech so that it is clear to the questioner.

Questions of clarification include:

  • What exactly do you mean by that?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • How would that work?
  • Can you explain that again using this key word?
  • What would you compare it to? E.g. Trigonometry is like … because…

Ready-to-go extension lollypop sticks/extension capsules.

Match up extension tasks with levels or grades according to the national curriculum levels/GCSE mark scheme.

Extension tasks can be colour-coded so that students can choose to do an extension that is one level (or one sub-level) above their most recent level. This way students can take some ownership over their own progress and achievement.

E.g. for MFL:

Level 3: Write a sentence using three different connectives

Level 6: Find an idiom, explain it in English, and use it in context in the Target Language.

differentiated lollipopsdif time capsules

So Really Importantly: Knowing Who You’re Challenging!

Howard Gardner’s theory of “multiple intelligences”, acknowledges the fact that people have strengths and weaknesses in different areas (Gardner 1993)

Even the Key Stage 3 Framework for English (2003) points out that “Not all able pupils will demonstrate equal capabilities in all aspects of English” (p. 70), recognising that ability, even within one subject area may be limited to only one or two of the key skills.


Renzulli’s Three-Ring model of giftedness (1977)

Harry gave us a great insight, into the support required for Students in a low-ability classroom. Harry, as an additional adult knows how a little differentiation can go a significant way, to progressing a learner’s understanding. Harry identified key areas of support for the following needs in our school:

-Visual Impairment

-Hearing Impairment
-Autistic Spectrum
-Speech & Language
-Literacy Difficulties

Harry reiterated the importance of routine, structure and targeted support for pupils. We need to ensure we are using our SEN information; allocated to each specific pupil and ensure that every pupil can access the information in every lesson. Our communication with our additional adult is vital, they are like gold dust and extremely essential to the pace and engagement in our lessons. Help them by providing them with material prior to the lesson- converse with them and explain exactly where the direction of the lesson needs to be. All of this, together with appropriately challenging lessons will create a harmonic relationship between teacher and learner and lead to sustained pupil progress.

“Challenge is the pathway to engagement and progress in our lives. But not all challenges are created equal. Some challenges make us feel alive, engaged, connected and fulfilled. Others simply overwhelm us. Knowing the difference as you set bigger and bolder challenges for yourself is critical to your sanity, success, and satisfaction.”

Brendon Burchard.

#39 starting points and creating the right environment..

Starting off the new year can always be a challenge, especially to those starting in a new school, with all the added pressures that follow it. I am sure we have all had our new (school) year resolutions, and many a sleepless night dreading the first of September. But all is not lost! All we need is a little team support, high expectations and a few useful tips to get us heading in the right direction. Chloe and Joyti joined us this week, to give us their best guides on how to get the pupils in, set up and passionate to learn.

!first day teaching

So, how can we foster excellent learning environments in our classrooms and develop a passion for learning in the students we teach?

Chloe talks to us about what works for her….

In my opinion, to take a good learning environment to an excellent learning environment in KS3/4 at Westfield you  to add a healthy dose of just one key ingredient…

little bit of love

Seriously, I’m not joking!

  • We all need to feel loved to do our best. With love comes safety, security, a desire to please and be the best version of ourselves we can be for the person that loves us.
  • Once you feel this lovely warm fuzzy feeling for your class, everything changes! You want to be in their lessons. They want to be in their lessons. They focus on learning. They will do anything you ask of them.
  • Adoring them does not mean you stop expecting the best from them/that you never tell them off. Rather, your anger becomes the frustration you’d feel towards an annoying younger sibling that you love deep down and your telling off generally starts something like “I have never, ever, ever been so disappointed/shocked/mortified/let down etc.”

So, what if you have a class (or many classes/every class you have met so far) that you do not love?

  • Well, this is normal with a new class but the more you try, the more you gain
  • Example: My new class – 7BL. Cute, small, eager but so far blank, ordinary feel to classroom/No real relationship or buzz
  • Must have plan of action… how can we get that special bond that makes a fantastic classroom environment?

You must be resolute and unmoving in your efforts to create a great classroom…

You must find the balance between work and effort and love

A great work ethic and perfect behaviour will help you to establish a classroom environment that you and your students can be proud of and love being in together

My recipe to create that environment you want..

  • Be strict – they will respect boundaries and a teacher who is willing and able to enforce them to stop distractions. Let them get away with nothing! Make a big deal about tiny rules being broken – e.g. someone whispering during silent work.
  • Create routines from day one – where do they line up? How do books get handed out? Does your PPT have a title and date? Do you check the equipment on mats? Do you take in H/W? Is there a punishment for no H/W? What do you do if someone is late? This builds up the feeling of ‘safety’ – they know what they get with you and that you are a constant figure.
  • Praise good effort in front of others. Tell them at the end of the lesson what they did well as a class. Did you enjoy their lesson? Tell them! Share stunning homework that has taken ages. Phone home. Be over the top. They do not need to bust a gut for you – if they do, feel special and privileged and show them.
  • Share your real personality with them – after all, all the greatest relationships happen when people are being real and being themselves.

Joyti gave us a fantastic insight into what really makes sixth form lessons successful. We all know sixth form can be a challenge: different dynamic, new pupils from different schools and a wide range of abilities. However, Joyti believes there are only a few simple strategies you need to stick to, to create the perfect learning environment:

How doe we create a Conducive Learning environment in Sixth Form?

sixth form

  • Working backwards
  • End goal – BTEC/A Level, University (make them really think about where they need their qualifications to take them?
  • Working smarter- are they independent learners?
  • Be the Facilitator – working together to solve problems and create new and exciting challenges.

How can we instil High expectations from our students?

Joyti believes that making no exceptions on the following areas creates the perfect sixth form student! high expectations

  • Uniform
  • Attendance/Punctuality
  • Behaviour/Focus
  • Homework
  • Equipment
  • Attitude

And lastly, we as teachers, have a big part to play in setting up a great learning environment. We should always as a base level provide the following for our learners:

  • Well resourced lessons
  • Subject expertise
  • Exam technique/practice
  • Regular assessment feedback
  • Personalised learning/flexibility
  • Skills
  • Professionalism
  • Consistent approach
  • Fairness
  • Attitude – Approachable

best teacher

And to end of a lovely quote which Chloe shared with us on Tuesday:

What we learn with pleasure we never forget.

Alfred Mercier

  1. Let’s work together to create high standards across the school
  2. Let’s walk into each other’s rooms and be bursting with pride because of what we see
  3. lastly let’s try our best to get these pupils the grades they deserve.

Blog entry courtesy of:

Emma McGroarty, Chloe Sefton & Joyti Atwal.