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Effective Questioning

Last updated on 20th April 2023

Effective questioning is a technique that is mostly used in the classroom or a learning environment to open up conversation and debate and promote interaction within the group of students.

Thought and analysis begins by using questions which focus on ‘how’ and ‘why’ rather than ‘what’ which tends to encourage a fact-based delivery. Review and analysis are developed by using effective questioning to encourage students or participants to debate their own thinking and response and evaluate that of their peers or colleagues.

Effective questioning is one of the types of questioning that has numerous benefits:

  • Students think out loud.
  • Students engage with one another in response to vocalised thoughts.
  • Active discussion is promoted.
  • Speaking and listening skills are improved.
  • Effective questioning develops critical thinking.
  • Effective questioning develops respect for opposing viewpoints.
  • A topic can be brought to life with interest and colour.
  • A teacher can check and monitor the understanding of the group.
Class of students being asked questions

What is a probing question?

A probing question is designed to delve deeply into a topic or subject. Probing questions are designed to access subjective viewpoints, so taking the debate on to the next level and into the area of personal thoughts and feelings. Probing questions can develop a topic and everyone will have something to contribute.

Probing questions do not usually elicit a fact-based answer but are more likely to bring forth an opinion which is totally unique to the responder’s feelings and personal experiences. On a one-to-one basis, this can provide valuable insight and information, and within a group situation it can open up the debate with often quite varying opinions and contributions which naturally drive forward the discussion.

What is an open question?

Open questions are used extensively in a classroom-based setting for students of all ages. An open question digs deeper into students’ understanding and requires reflection and evaluation over facts or scenarios. Open questions encourage debate and require meaningful input from the audience or participants, so they are a good way to engage students who may be otherwise disengaged or disinterested.

An example of an open question surrounding a piece of literature or a poem might be, “What do you think the writer is trying to achieve in the last verse/chapter?”

Open questions enrich the learning experience by inviting valid participation from every student in the room. Open questions recognise and value individuality. Open questions also allow the teacher or tutor to evaluate how much the students understand the subject.

Effective questioning includes asking open questions

What is an closed question?

A closed question is characterised by either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer or a very short and limited reply. Some examples might include, “Are you feeling good today?” or “How many wives did Henry VIII have?” or “What day is it today?”

Closed questions perform a different function to open questions; they are a great tool for fact checking after previous sessions or revising detail before a test or exam. However, because the answer to a closed question is inevitably correct or incorrect, it can discourage shy pupils or participants and reward confident students even if their answer is wrong.

Closed questions are by definition limited and do not encourage debate or expansive thinking, but closed questions can have a value in establishing fact and paving the way for different types of questions later on.

What is a TED question?

‘TED’ stands for ‘Tell, Explain, Describe’ and this technique is often used in conjunction with a probing question.

Some examples might include:

  • Tell me the impact this accident has had on your daily life.
  • Explain to me how hard it was to go back to work after the lockdown restrictions were lifted.
  • Describe to me how you feel about your life at this moment in time.

TED questions have a relevance beyond the classroom and are used in mentoring scenarios and as part of coaching techniques, counselling sessions, improving customer service in a business environment and even to help with writing victim impact statements in a court case.

TED questions prompt the recipient to slant the answer in a certain way so it is directive, but it is not as influential as a leading question which can often prompt or encourage the answer that the questioner wants to hear. This is why leading questions are not allowed in a court case; the duty of the questioning barrister is to probe and draw out information not to slant the answer or ‘lead the witness’ to his own advantage.

TED questions can help victims in court

What is a funnel question?

Funnel questions – the clue is in the name! Funnel questions start from a particular point and either broaden or narrow the debate by using a set of question sequences or types of question. The conversation may be narrowed by using closed questions or widened by using open-ended questions.

Funnel questions are important because they form part of a directional questioning strategy and they change based on the answer to the preceding question. Funnel questions can add value to a number of different types of scenario, and here is how:

  • Obtaining a high level of detail – The progression of questions can harvest specific information and increase the level of detail with each answer, layer upon layer.
  • Making a person feel more comfortable – Funnel questions can break the ice and make the atmosphere more welcoming and relaxed. Starting with simple questions like a person’s name, questioning can develop which draws out that person so they feel more relaxed – this is a popular technique at the beginning of an interview or in a counselling session where people can be tense or nervous.
  • To calm a tense atmosphere – Funnel questions can provide the questioner with more detail about a person and why there appears to be a problem situation. Funnel questions set the scene and help the interviewer or questioner understand what has happened before moving forward into more detail and possible solutions to the problem. Funnel questions can portray the questioner as receptive to that person’s concerns.

Funnel questions usually start with open questions which could involve describing a situation or event. The idea is to bring forth a detailed answer following which the questioner can ask for more detail or clarification based on the initial response. This may involve more open-ended questions and then the questioner can begin to narrow the funnel and chase down the detail by asking probing questions or more closed questions. This technique can elicit all the information that is required about the issue.

The alternative is to create a funnel in reverse by starting with more closed questions, and then expanding the process through to open-ended followed by probing questions. This can work well in a situation where the questioner or interviewer needs to obtain objective information first such as a police interview or a conflict in the workplace. Once the facts have been obtained, more subjective information can be gathered including opinions and points of view using open-ended questions.

Effective questioning in a business meeting at work

What is the effect of rhetorical questions?

Rhetorical questions are ones that do not expect an answer.

Here are a couple of clear examples of rhetorical questions:

  • What time do you call this then?
  • Do we want our planet to survive?

The intended effect of rhetorical questions is to make a point. So in the first scenario, this person clearly doesn’t want an answer, they are just making the point that the arrival is very late. With the second question, of course, no-one is going to answer that in the negative because everyone wants the planet to survive; the question is there to stimulate how people think about the environment and their own involvement in eco-friendly behaviours. This rhetorical question is a challenge and provocative.

Rhetorical questions are a popular technique in the written context as effectively there is no-one there to answer the question, which is designed to speak directly to the reader. The question is a literary device to prompt the reader to think, to spike interest and encourage the reader to mull over their own response or feelings towards something in the text or story.

In a real-life context, a rhetorical question is often used in a lecture or a presentation to create the same effect; the audience is present but silent and listening – the questioner is not looking for an answer but wants to encourage each individual to reflect upon their own response. In this sense a rhetorical question is more powerful than simply making a statement. Rhetorical questions can be subtle in their effect or directly provocative, so they are a powerful tool.

How to ask effective interview questions

Asking the right types of questions at an interview can make the difference between hiring the right candidate or not. Good interview questions can play a huge role in separating out the applicants and isolating the most suitable person for the role; poor questioning will not always produce a good outcome and make it harder to evaluate the candidates objectively, leading to subjective decision-making.

The best way to create an effective set of interview questions is to start by identifying the qualities, talents and skills that the ideal employee would have. Then devise a set of questions which allow candidates to demonstrate whether they have the right qualities, talents and skills with a scoring process to evaluate different answers.

The list could contain many questions, so highlight the most important and attach a score or value to each question so the candidate can then receive a mark out of ten for their quality of response. Attaching higher values to the more important questions will also help filter out different applicants.

Using scenario-based or occasion-based questions which invite the applicant to tell the interviewer about when they were able to demonstrate a particular talent, attribute or skill, is the easiest way to make an evaluation.

Compare this with asking a closed question like, “Are you resourceful?” or “Are you a team player?” which elicits a one-word answer and gives the interviewer little opportunity to evaluate that person any further unless they continue on to more probing questions. These types of questions make the process of selection more fact-based and less subjective; decision-making is based on the quality of the answer and the score.

Interview questions should always be determined before the interview day. They may need approval by a Human Resources department – in large companies, HR usually prescribe the questions they want used – or agreement within the interviewing panel. Different types of questions can be a huge resource in a job interview and well thought out and well written questions will almost always yield the right applicant if the interview panel follow the system and value that the candidates will give the strongest responses.

Interview went well due to effective questioning

How to answer interview questions effectively

For the candidate, the most important thing is to answer the question directly by linking their reply to the actual question; the connection must be clear and obvious and the answer must be relatable.

Answering interview questions effectively can mean the difference between success and failure. Many interviewers will use scenario-based questions such as, “Tell us about a time when you showed leadership skills” or “Give some examples of when you used your own initiative to solve a problem”. Responses can be drawn from previous experience in the workplace or other situations within a voluntary capacity or from hobbies or personal pursuits.

Pausing to consider an answer is perfectly normal as long as this doesn’t develop into an uncomfortable silence. Always direct your answer to the person who asked the question and make eye contact. If there is a panel of interviewers then usually they will each ask a question in turn, so the candidate can address each individual questioner.

There is plenty of preparation an interviewee can do before an interview, with lots of online tools and guidance to help provide information and test questions to assist in refining answers so they are well prepared and thought out. Practice makes perfect, so mock interview sessions with friends, family members or work colleagues can assist in honing technique and make interview questions less daunting and easier to answer.

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About the author

Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.

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