Questioning, a teachers guide.

By Alex More

I often get asked ‘what’s the best way to question students?’. There is no silver bullet but what follows is a short guide on how to structure your questioning to ensure you reach all learners.

I am going to use Benjamin Bloom’s famous taxonomy framework to present some ways to engage students in purposeful questioning. If you are not familiar with his work here is a Bloom’s taxonomy for learning.

Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity.  The models were named after Benjamin Bloom, who chaired the committee of educators that devised the taxonomy.

Bloom’s model has it’s critics but I feel it has more in common with our current structure for extended answers used by exam boards in the majority of GCSE and A Level specifications, which presents like this;

AO1 – Knowledge and Recall of facts

A02 – Applications and examples 

AO3 – Opinions and Conclusions 

If you correlate Bloom’s taxonomy with the current AO1 – AO3 and AO4 in some subjects, it’s easy to visualise our government with a copy in hand when devising this new system of examining. The good news is that the two work well together. In this blog, I am going to use Bloom’s as a tool to show how you challenge through questioning can be easy and accessible to all teachers. 


Personally, I have a problem with the terms LA (Low Ability), MA (Middle Ability) and HA (High Ability). Whilst I accept the need for such terms I dispute the thinking that students should be grouped on academic ability alone. What about their creative muse, ability to communicate and physical ability. In the UK, we are rooted in the school of epistemology that celebrates academia. The reasons for this are obvious but that doesn’t mean they are right!

How about this as an alternative way to think about the students we teach?

Students who require more support to learn – a term stolen from by mate Nige but a good one nonetheless! Student A

This group of wonderful students require more 1:1 input and time from the teacher and will struggle with the freedoms associated with guided discovery and peer led teaching.

NON (Not Often Noticed) AKA Middle Ability – Student B

This group cruise under the radar of conventional teacher focus as they are neither LA or HA, just the group in the middle. If you look at UK Statistics released from Gov UK (2018) this groups represents 56% of the students, so the majority of students’ we teach. I came up with the term ‘Not Often Noticed’ as a protest to the fact that we largely assume this group are happy nestled somewhere between the students who require support to learn and those that don’t. Surely, this group need more attention?

Students who will fly whatever we do – Student C

I appreciate the above term is not that catchy in a profession laiden with acronyms, but if Prof Plomin’s work on Genetics (2019) is a blueprint for how we should challenge the academically gifted then the best thing we can do for this group is give them the ideas and then get out of their way.

Ok, if you are still reading, you might be wondering where this post is going …

I have introduced Students A, B and C, so now let’s work on how we structure our questioning and challenge for everyone! Let’s imagine the focus of this lesson in on BEES.

Hopefully, this is accessible to everyone so provides a platform to explore Bloom’s and most importantly questioning.

Student A – Start with some knowledge based recall (AO1)

Example Question: What are the three types of bees within a bee colony?

Answer: Queen, foragers and worker bees

This works on the lower, foundation tier of Bloom’s. The benefits are building confidence, recall and providing scaffolding for deeper learning. Teachers should praise the answer and move onto Student B.

Student B – Exploring ideas and conceptual understanding (AO2)

Example question – Explain the reason Colony Collapse Disorder occurs?

Answer: CCD is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few bees to nurse the remaining immature bees.

In this example Student B has some background knowledge to apply and is able to explain the theory around Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The teacher could extend their thinking and mobe them onto AO3 (higher order) by asking …

Why do you think this happens? 

If you could create a solution to CCD, what would it be? 

Can you think of any other species that abandon their boss in the animal kingdom?

Student C – Increasing cognitive load by asking them to create solutions to problems (AO3)

Example question: Is the bee the organism, or the colony? Justify your answer

Answer:  It’s a tough one! By inserting the word ‘justify’ you are automatically asking students to work on creating and evaluating with a little analysis thrown in. This creates a high cognitive load as it’s hard to process. Students essentially start at Creating and work downwards to justify their response.

Once they feel a response is justified, ask them to present their thinking to the class and invite questions. This creates a climate for challenge and the practice of defending an idea or hypothesis.

To take this a step further, flip Bloom’s on it’s head so the model looks more like this;

Benefits of using Bloom’s for questioning

  • Easy to differentiate questions appropriate to level of class
  • The Bloom’s model matches the A01 – 4 structure of modern exams
  • You can build in SOLO taxonomy into lessons and get students up out of their seats challenging ideas and concepts
  • The model applies to most questioning scenario and you can spend time scaffolding each level if needs be
  • If you take the time to teach students about Bloom’s, they understand the model and can relate to the levels and what’s being asked of them
  • It’s a solid platform for challenge at all levels

I appreciate the Bloom’s model has its’ critics, but, I hope the above examples give an insight into what’s possible when Bloom’s is used as a questioning tool in the classroom context.

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