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Gifted Child Today
Sept, 2000

Questioning TECHNIQUES in the Gifted Classroom.

Author/s: Elizabeth Shaunessy

In order to stimulate creative development among gifted students, the use of questioning techniques has proven to be a successful strategy for encouraging purposeful inquiry (Daniels, 1997; Feldhusen, 1994; Gallagher, 1985; Letzter, 1982; Parker, 1989; Pollack, 1988; Schwartz & Millar, 1996). A variety of questioning strategies is recommended, focusing primarily on the higher end of Bloom's taxonomy to engage students in higher level thinking. Teachers can incorporate questions effectively by knowing the various purposes, types, and intended outcomes; and they must also establish a classroom climate that promotes active engagement, student exploration, and student inquiry to further student achievement.

Why Ask Questions?

To the dismay of many educators and potential employers, it is daunting how few students are able to "draw inferences from texts, distinguish the relevant information in mathematics problems, or provide and defend a thesis in an essay" (Wolf, 1997, p. 10). Researchers indicate that questioning strategies are essentials to the growth of critical thinking skills, creativity and higher level thinking skills (Daniels, 1997; Gallagher, 1985; Letzter, 1982; Parker, 1989; Pollack, 1988; Schwartz & Millar, 1996). Unfortunately, even though this practice can positively affect achievement, most classrooms operate devoid of these types of questions as a regular part of learning (Gallagher, 1985; Patterson, 1973). In reality, "there are many classrooms in which teachers rarely pose questions above the `read-it-and-repeat-it' level" (Wolf, 1997, p. 1). Parker (1989) noted that most classrooms engender factual, convergent thinking questions; divergent thinking is a nontraditional concept and occurrence in most classrooms. To better prepare gifted students for leadership roles and success in the workplace, educators must help students learn to generate alternatives in solving real-world problems by regularly incorporating divergent questions. Maker and Nielson (1996) advised teachers of the gifted to incorporate questioning strategies so that students will learn how to explain, elaborate, or clarify their often abstract ideas. Likewise, Daniels (1997) noted that curiosity is a common characteristic among gifted students, and helping them channel that instinct through questioning can stimulate learners to want to investigate answers to these curiosities. Asking simple, convergent-thinking questions that require little thinking beyond knowledge recall does not foster growth of higher level thinking, which is critical to meet the intellectual needs of the gifted learner (Letzter, 1982).

To become skilled in the art of effective questioning, teachers can look to Bloom's taxonomy to gauge their proficiency and target areas for growth as questioners. Gallagher (1985), Patterson (1973), Pollack (1988) and Wolf (1997) stressed the examination of Bloom's taxonomy to see how to structure questions at each level, focusing on the application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation levels as higher level planes for students to operate (Figure 1). Furthermore, students should be encouraged to develop their own questions at these levels in order to investigate issues of importance to them in the classroom and beyond. Additionally, students familiar and competent in fielding higher level questions and creating their own questions are skilled in metacognition, another area critical to the development of the gifted learner. Patterson (1973) provided a chart to guide teachers in classifying question dues with definitions of each level, as well as examples of lead-in words for the questions:

Application      (problem solving)
                 Requires the student to

Question dues:   "Demonstrate ..."
                 "Use it to solve ..."
                 "Where does it lead
                 "How can you use it?"
                 (p. 49).

Inference Questions

"What do you know by looking at this photograph?" (asks the photography teacher) "What do you know about the character in this selection?"

Interpretation Questions

"How do the descriptions of characters in Inherit the Wind reveal the authors' tones?" "How would the music be different if it was played in a major key, rather than a minor key?"

Transfer Questions

"How would Shakespeare have written about this political scandal?" "How would a modern-day musician interpret this classical piece?"

Questions about Hypotheses

"How might history have been different if Martin Luther King, Jr. had never delivered his famous `I Have a Dream' speech?" "Based on current social and political issues, what do you think future movies, novels, and plays will be about?

Reflective Questions

"What about this concept do I still not know?" "What about my work has improved? Needs improvement?" "Where does my work reflect my understanding of this concept? "What does this work say about me?"

Figure 1 A Range of Questions

Note. Adapted from "The Art of Questioning," by D. Wolf, 1987, Academic Connections, 1-7, p. 3, Retrieved July 23, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.exploratorium.com/IFI/resources/ workshops/artofquestioning.html

An example of the application lesson might be: "How can you use your understanding of the realization of the American dream to explain events in Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby?"

Types of Questions

There are several types of questions teachers can use to stimulate creative, critical, and higher level thinking. The most commonly recommended is the divergent-thinking question that probes beyond the convergent, one-correct-answer question to delve more deeply into an idea. These questions generally follow the open-ended format that allows for purposeful, student-centered discussion (Grambo, 1997; Letzter, 1982; Pollack, 1988). Letzter (1982) felt that "teacher questions should be broad or open so that students will be free to respond with their own thoughts ... [And] if this line of questioning is handled well, the students move forward in their own analysis of ... problems and topics" (p. 195). Although the use of "open-ended questions may be somewhat threatening to the teacher because of the lack of guidelines in evaluating children's responses," teachers should still thrive to find meaningful and purposeful opportunities regularly for this line of inquiry to foster a learning environment that values the process of learning to "arrive at answers rather than at the answers [themselves]" (Pollack, 1988, p. 4).

Additional types of questions including interpretation, comparison-analysis, synthesis, evaluation, sensitivity to problems, clarifying problems, are provocative and hypothetical in nature; encourage thoughtful reading, listening, and viewing; and ask students to see new relationships (Feldhusen, 1994). Teachers must be aware of the intended processes they want their students to use when structuring their questions. Hence, Feldhusen (1994) recommended various types of questions to elicit different "types of thinking processes: memory/cognition, convergent, divergent, and evaluation" (p. 173). Similarly, teachers must recognize which situations call for follow-up by the teacher (Maker & Nidson, 1996).

Heuristic strategies are ideal tools for developing creative ideas (Callahan, 1978). Among these strategies is attribute listing, or using questions to stimulate the generation of ideas to improve or change something by listing characteristics, then suggesting how to implement changes. Morphological analysis may also be used to encourage students to consider multiple dimensions of a problem and possible solutions. For both attribute listing and morphological analysis, Callahan included a list of questions to be used during brainstorming to stimulate students' thinking, similar to Eberle's SCAMPER Model (Figure 2; Glenn, 1997):

Other uses       Can it be put to use as is?
Adaptation       What else is like it?
Modification     What new twist could be made?
Magnification    What could be added?
Minification     What could be omitted?
Substitution     What else can do it?
Rearrangement    Can you use a different sequence?
Reversibility    Can you do the opposite?
Combination      Can items be blended?
Transformation   Can you change its form in any way?

Figure 2 Callahan's Questioning

Note. From Developing creativity, in the gifted and talented (pp. 30-31), by C. Callahan, 1978, Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children. Copyright 1978 by the Council for Exceptional Children.

Interpretive questions also challenge students to think critically (Wolf, 1997). Rather than filling in missing information or altering a set of solutions to fit alternatives, "interpretive questions propose that [students] understand the consequences for information or ideas" (Wolf, p. 3). For example, an art teacher may ask a student to examine a portrait and consider how the elimination of a certain object might change the image (Wolf). Asking students to consider how changes would affect a situation would pose an interpretive question, such as considering how their lives might be different if they don't attend college or if they choose to get married at a young age.

Reflective questions encourage students to consider their thinking processes and examine their strategies in a metacognitive fashion. By posing questions during and after learning, teachers can "debrief" students, which can bolster future efforts (Maker & Nielson, 1996). Meaningful idea exchanges during class discussions can occur by using reflective thinking and questioning, during which time the teacher must carefully plan what sort of follow-up questions to ask and ask students to clarify murky ideas (Will, 1987). Reflective questions are also a way to stimulate conversation and examination of basic assumptions (Wolf, 1997). Students must learn to consider how and why their thinking is so and what has led them to their conclusions. In this manner, the teacher focuses learning on the investigation of student ideas to bring about further discussion and turns students' statements around into questions that challenge students to think more deeply about their thinking (Letzter, 1982).


One of the most successful and frequently mentioned questioning models emanates from the Junior Great Books (JGB) program, which follows a reading and discussion format by a teacher who leads discussions through questions (Figure 3). Parker (1989) cited the JGB program and the Great Books program as ideal models for using questioning techniques through "shared inquiry,... a qualitatively different approach to the teaching of literature, [which] is extremely well-suited for use with gifted readers" (p. 192). The JGB program uses three types of questions: factual, evaluative, and interpretive. Factual questions are convergent questions that can be answered "directly from information supplied in the story" (Parker, p. 192). The answers are not debatable. Evaluative questions ask students to consider their personal experiences and attitude. The question relies on the students' knowledge of the story, but they need not refer directly to the story to respond. Interpretive questions, the type emphasized and used the most in the JGB program, require divergent thinking by "using the reader's intuitive powers and information from the story" (Parker, p. 192) that are supported with evidence from the story. The program has guidelines for conducting discussions, beginning with teacher-developed dusters of basic, interpretive questions to generate debatable discussion among students. It then moves to follow-up questions that ask students to

   explore implications of the basic questions, support a response, correct
   factual error, elicit additional responses or opinions, encourage
   discussion, clarify a statement, develop the most important idea in a
   response, encourage a participant to examine his/her response, [or] return
   a discussion to the reading. (Parker, p. 193)
Factual questions


Evaluative questions

    What do you think about this story?
    Do you disagree or agree with ...?
    Would you have made the same decision in these circumstances?
    Have you ever experienced the character's feelings? When?
    What did you think this story was going to be about?
    What do you think about the ending?

Interpretive questions

    Can you support your opinion with a reference to the text?
    Where else in the passage does the author also suggest that ...?
    According to the author of this passage, should ...?

Figure 3 Junior Great Books

Note. From Instructional strategies for teaching the gifted, (pp. 192-193), by J. Parker, 1989, Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Copyright 1989 by Allyn and Bacon

Since this is a challenging program to initiate, the JGB offers beginning and advanced workshops to help teachers gain competency in these techniques.

Winocur and Maurer (1997) cited IMPACT (Increase Maximal Performance by Activating Critical Thinking), a comprehensive program designed for teachers of the gifted to use across the curriculum by developing students' abilities to transfer thinking skills and gain competency in the use of thinking tools to realize increased achievement (Figure 4). Through the use of open-ended questions, students enhance their thinking abilities; and, in one school, the principal reported an elevated cognitive level of engagement due to the ongoing nature of the students' reflections about their thinking processes in the IMPACT program (Winocur & Maurer).

Enabling Skills


     * Observing
     * Comparing/Contrasting


     * Grouping/Labeling
     * Classifying/Categorizing


     * Ordering
     * Sequencing
     * Patterning
     * Prioritizing



     * Fact/Opinion
     * Relevant/Irrelevant Information
     * Reliable/Unreliable Sources


     * Inferring
     * Meaning of Statements
     * Cause-Effect Relationships
     * Generalizations
     * Predictions
     * Assumptions
     * Point of View


  Logical Reasoning

     * Inductive
     * Deductive


     * Judgement
     * Decision Making

Figure 4 IMPACT: Universe of Critical Thinking Skills

Note. Adapted from "Critical thinking and gifted students: Using IMPACT to improve teaching and learning," (p. 311), by Winocur, S., & Maurer, P., 1997, In N. Colangelo & G. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (pp. 308-317). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Copyright 1997 by Allyn and Bacon.

Edward de Bono (1970) advocated the "Why?" Technique, whereby students are encouraged to challenge assumptions through lateral thinking. This strategy is intended to create a "discomfort with any explanation"; hence, learners grow through attempting to view concepts differently by reconstructing the pattern of thinking and perceiving. Ultimately, the goal is for students to challenge assumed boundaries by asking, "Why?" (de Bono, p. 102).

Classroom Climate

In order to help students grow through the use of questioning, a teacher must first ensure that a safe, nonthreatening, encouraging, mutually respectful environment is established in the classroom (Feldhusen, 1994; Gallagher, 1985; Letzter, 1982; Maker & Nielson, 1996; Strasser, 1967). Strasser (1967) found that the learning environment is strongly affected by the teacher's behavior during his or her use of questioning. In addition to the concept of respect, Strasser advocated some ground rules for teachers to follow.

* probe beyond simple, convenient, yes/no questions;

* consider the specificity or vagueness of the questions and purpose;

* divvy up summarizing and concluding responsibilities among students;

* respond to student responses in an encouraging way;

* wait for responses to questions with adequate student think time given;

* pose a variety of types of questions;

* address students by name during questioning; and

* avoid judgements, criticism, and condescension (pp. 207--209).

Tone of voice, facial expression, body language, and other nonverbal cues must be appropriate to learners so as to foster an inviting and stimulating atmosphere that encourages risk taking through divergent thinking.

Creating the student-friendly environment is essential to the success of an inquiry-based class. Therefore, teacher-student relationships must be of a supportive and respectful nature. Maker and Nielson (1996) urged teachers and students to form open relationships to create an atmosphere appropriate for the investigation of challenging ideas through purposeful, well-timed questions--asked by both teacher and students. A key to recognizing whether this climate has been established is how the student reacts to the line of inquiry. Defensive responses indicate that mutual respect and openness have not been established, in which case the teacher must continue to develop that environment and make it less threatening to the student.

Teacher reaction is also of importance, as the reaction should be appropriate to the purpose of the question. To continue development of student responses, teachers should avoid "canned" reactions to student responses, which may send messages to students that devalue their input. Conversely, careful attention to when and how the teacher responds can send students messages that their ideas are "worthwhile, significant, pertinent, or sincere" (see Figure 5). If the purpose of a line of questioning is to generate many student responses (i.e., brainstorming responses to a question) teachers should be careful not to evaluate, and defer judgement. A response from the teacher that indicates a "right" answer undermines the open climate established for generating ideas, which suggests that the teacher had a preconceived response, which should not occur in this type of activity and could inhibit future student participation and limit thinking (Maker & Nielson, 1996; Strasser, 1967).

Acceptable Reactions               "Canned" Reactions

Yes, I can understand that.        Yes.
  I see what you mean.             I see.
I hadn't thought of that before.   Okay.
 That makes a lot of sense.        Fine.

Figure 5 Teacher Responses to Student Messages

Note. From Curriculum development and teaching strategies for gifted learners, (p. 48), by C. J. Maker & A. Nielson, 1996, Austin, TX: PRO-ED. Copyright 1996 by PRO-ED.

A Classroom Example

One lesson that became more challenging through the use of questioning techniques involved the study of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. The unit of study involved examining persuasive and rhetorical strategies, and we analyzed political discourse as one of the areas of communication. The Rev. Jesse Jackson recently visited our state capital, and students examined news clippings about his trip for rhetorical strategies and persuasive techniques in our advanced placement language and composition class. A few days later, we took a field trip to see and hear Jackson speak and to compare his rhetorical strategies, persuasive strategies, and effect to Dr. King's famous address. To facilitate in-class discussions, students in small groups of three shared their homework: summaries and responses to Dr. King's speech. I sat with each of the groups separately while the remaining groups worked together and discussed their homework (see Figure 6 on pp. 20-21). In the first group, after I listened to three students share their reactions to the speech, I asked one student a follow-up question, which she answered by explaining her value system and justifying her decision.

Teacher: What made Jackson get a two and King get an eight?

Martha: I thought he just used it more effectively.

Teacher: Used what more effectively?

Martha: The repetition; I think he [King] used it more effectively. The repetition in Jackson's speech just got to me. It seemed like he was just repeating things over and over. The way he did it was annoying. It didn't support what he was saying. It was more critical and more demanding, whereas Martin Luther King [Jr.] was just emphasizing his goal. And I don't see him screaming out and stuff, and his tone doesn't seem as harsh, which makes me not take offense.

Teacher: Sarah mentions in her response to your reading that she sees King's audience as more than African Americans. How can you tell this is true from looking back at the text?

Martha: Well, I didn't pick up on that.

Teacher: That's okay. Sarah, will you share with us what indicated this to you? What did he say that also appealed to all Americans?

Sarah: I can't remember exact words, but I think the metaphors he used were helpful because they appealed to a wide audience.

Teacher: Which metaphors are you thinking of?

Sarah: I don't know.

Lindsey: I see what she means. He uses "Americans, God's Children, Citizens." He doesn't say "Negroes" to separate them out.

Sarah: And we noticed in Jackson's speech that he chose words that suggested division like Black and White, whereas King used words to include people and bring them together.

[Another group]

Derek: [reads question slip] Are there any Americans today who capture people's imaginations of what could be?

Britton: Such as King?

Teacher: Such as King or anyone else who has a positive image about the future.

Kim: Does he?

Teacher: Does he in his speech? Does he give a positive outlook?

Derek: I'll tell you who's not the one: Jesse Jackson. He's not positive.

Teacher: Okay, well, before we answer this question, maybe we should back up and address Kim's concern. Does King present a positive outlook?

Kim: I didn't think he did. He says all these things that happened in the past. He's just picking at old wounds. I didn't think he sounded positive about much.

Britton: But he wants his kids playing with kids of former slave owners and sitting at the table, the table of something ... the table of freedom.

Kim: But he brings up all these injustices. That's not positive.

Teacher: So, Kim, you see King focusing more on the negatives than the positives?

Derek and Kim: Yes.

Teacher: So you agree, too, Derek?

Derek: Yes.

Teacher: Well, tell me more about this opinion since you are agreeing with Kim.

Derek: Well, mainly what I liked about his speech was that he does say that the Blacks should just accept life and not fight back with violence. You see, if he'd have given this speech back in, say, 1870, it would have been good. If he gave this speech in say 1875, then it would have been a great time since slaves had just been freed. Then their freedom would have been more important.

Britton: But, in the '60s, it was also a good time because he wanted them to be able to eat in the same restaurants as white people, so it's also timely.

Derek: Yeah, I guess so. But, he was saying how we owed them for past injustices, but he was never a slave.

Teacher: So, what do you think he was saying they were owed?

Kim: I think one time it [the speech] said, "In the Constitution `All people are created equal' but you know, we weren't treated that way." And then he turns around and sort of waits for someone to say, well, we'll take care of that. He just keeps talking about things that happened.

Britton: In the beginning, he talks about Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. And then he says, "We still have segregation." And, at that time, that was true. They were still segregated.

Teacher: So, if we compare what this group is saying, Kim says King says "You owe us, and here's why you owe us." You don't think that supports his [King's] point?

Kim: No, I think it just angers people.

Britton: [to Kim] No, he just wants equality. He's not saying they want special treatment, like Affirmative Action or something. He just wants equality for all races.

Figure 6 Transcript of Small Group Instruction Using Questioning

Note. From [Videorecording of small group instruction for National Board for Professional Teacher Certification], by S. E. Shaunessy, 1999, Unpublished raw data.

Then I turned the discussion questions to Sarah and Lindsey, the other two students in the group, and asked them to re-examine their text with evidence from the speech to support her idea.

As I continued my line of questioning by moving from one group to another, I gave a slip of paper to other groups. I had prewritten pointed questions on the slips for students to discuss without me while I finished with another group. I frequently listened and questioned one group while simultaneously observing the pace and direction of other groups, distributing question slips as needed.

After working with this group, I moved to the next group, where I found that Kim, Derek, and Britton were answering a question I had given them on a question slip. I listened to their discussion and meaning making for a few minutes before I posed a question that followed the direction of their conversation. Each of the students in the group expressed their opinions, and then they continued to explore the message of the speech. When I sensed from students a particularly divisive stance on the issue of the message, I waited for a pause in their discussion and asked Kim if I understood her position by restating her intent. She confirmed my understanding, so I asked her to support her contention with evidence from the text.

Asking students to show evidence for their opinions by referring to the text is a method I learned from the Great Books Foundation in-service. Whether we are reading fiction or nonfiction, I have found the questioning techniques useful in helping students make meaning from what they have read, and, in this case, also comparing two political addresses from prominent African Americans. By posing a variety of questions, the teacher is essentially modeling the inquiry process for students, which is designed to help them imitate this process for future, independent inquiries. Teachers must analyze the purposes for, types of, and reactions to questions posed. The ultimate goal in this process is to encourage students to proceed to ask meaningful, higher level thinking questions of their peers and themselves within and beyond the classroom. While my personal reading of the texts often differs from the students' readings, the point of the activity is for them to examine their thinking patterns and stretch their critical thinking skills. A great deal of listening is required for the facilitator, which was an area that I had to work on over the years. Formulating good questions is still a challenge, and the questioning process often involves the students questioning the assumptions inherent in my question, which I like because I am learning to pose better questions that eliminate my assumptions. This is true when I asked the second group about the positive images and intent of King's speech, which Kim considered and then questioned.


Question strategies can be used from the elementary through the college levels to stimulate higher level thinking skills, which are critical to the cognitive development of gifted students. Many questioning models are available for adaptation to a particular lesson, ability level, or subject area. Through the modeling of questioning and appropriate behaviors, educators and parents can encourage students to move into the role of facilitator, which is essential to the development of lifelong thinking skills and growth as an independent learner who ask questions about texts, research, and life.


For more information about Junior Great Books, call (800) 222-5870 or visit http://www.greatbooks.org.


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Daniels, S. (1997). Creativity in the classroom: Characteristics, climate, and curriculum. In N. Colangelo, and G. Davis, (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education. (pp. 300-301). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

de Bono, E. (1970). Lateral thinking: Creativity step by step. New York: Harper and Row.

Feldhusen, J. (1994). Thinking skills and curriculum development. In J. VanTassel-Baska, (Ed.), Comprehensive curriculum for gifted learners (pp. 301-324). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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Letzter, F. (1982). Meeting the special needs of the gifted and creative student in the world history classroom. Social Education, 46, 195-199.

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Schwartz, B., & Millar, G. (1996). You are what you ask--the power of teaching students' questioning skills for enabling thinking. Presented at the Annual Sage conference proceedings: Faces of excellence. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Centre for Gifted Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 408 744)

Shaunessy, S. E. (1999). [Videorecording of small group instruction for National Board for Professional Teacher Certification]. Unpublished raw data.

Strasser, B. (1967). The use of questions as an aspect of a teacher's behavior. In J. Gowan, G. Demos, & E. Torrence (Eds.), Creativity: Its educational implications (pp. 207-209). New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Will, H. (1987). Asking good follow-up questions. Gifted Child Today, 10(4), 32.

Winocur, S., & Maurer, P. (1997). Critical thinking and gifted students: Using IMPACT to improve teaching and learning. In N. Colangelo & G. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (pp. 308-317). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Wolf, D. (1997, Winter). The art of questioning. Academic Connections 1-7. Retrieved July 23, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www. exploratorium.com/IFI/resources/wo rkshops/artofquestioning.html

Elizabeth Shaunessy, M.A., is a teacher of advanced placement English at Oak Grove High School, Hattiesburg, MS. She may be reached at 201 Blue Gable Rd., #216, Hattiesburg, MS 39401.

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