Archive for category Questioning

Agree, Build Challenge (ABC) Questioning

Not quite a stand-alone CPD session, this post instead contains a resource that I use frequently in my own teaching as well as sharing with my trainees. The technique here is designed to move question away from the traditional “IRF” (teacher initiates, student responds, teacher gives feedback) model and towards questioning that is more centred on the students listening and responding to each other.   I feel that this encourages much more thinking on their part, does not allow them to switch off so easily and I suppose also encourages them to be more independent.

To facilitate this, I use Agree, Build, Challenge questioning:


In essence, instead of the questions being bounced back to the teacher they get passed  between students who need to say whether they agree, want to build on or challenge the previous statement (as well as supplying a reason).  To improve this further, I also insist that students use the above sentence stems when they respond to each other.

This can be further improved through getting students to take notes during the discussion, which I discuss in the ‘Encouraging Attention and Focus During Questioning’ post elsewhere.

The attached PowerPoint contains the above slide, as well as each individual sentence stem on its own slide.  I used this to create permanent display within my classroom that students could always look to during questioning.  This could also be stuck into the back of their book for reference, or – as one of my maths trainee teachers has done – be combined with ABC cards so that the front of the card has the letter and the back has the sentence stems.  I have seen this used to great effect to combine questioning with AfL.

ABC display




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Questioning: student ownership, accountability and attention

The techniques in this post are a combination of three that I ran in my ‘10 Minute Skill Builders‘ sessions for my department, re-posted here as they are on the topic of questioning.  They could easily be formed into a single session, or each expanded out to become a full CPD session in its own right.

Student ownership of questioning

This session focuses on encouraging students to take control of questioning sessions themselves, rather than having the teacher as the locus of control.  It really is worth investing a lot of time in training your students to use these techniques independently; I personally use A,B,C questioning, and, after half a year of training, have got to the stage where some of my classes can run substantial discussions without any input from me at all.

The session contains a procedure to encourage more independent questioning sessions, as well as two different frameworks on which classroom discussions can be built: ‘Clarify, Probe, Recommend’ or ‘Agree, Build, Challenge’.  Finally, it also has a technique for encouraging students to come up with their own excellent questions.  I borrowed the Clarify, Probe, Recommend and the deep questioning tool from David Didau.

10 Minute Skill Builders 7 – Student Ownership of Questioning

Ensuring accountability during questioning

This session responds to what I consider to be the biggest issue with using questioning within lessons: that not all students participate, either actively or even mentally, with the discussion and, as a result, not everyone is learning.  Rather than explain the technique myself, below is a slide from the session which does so:


In particular, I think that it is difficult to overrate the importance of the pose (giving the question before the name of the student) and the long pause in terms of building a sense of the importance of students listening to each other in class, as well as the sense that every student must do the thinking required.

10 Minute Skill Builders- 8 Questioning – Accountability

9. Building attention and focus during questioning and class discussion

In a related session to the previous one, these are techniques for improving the attention that students pay to classroom discussion and questioning, again responding to the issue about maximising learning from questioning sessions.  In this session, I go over three different techniques for helping to build attention and demonstrate learning during questioning.

A favourite of mine from this session is a technique that I call ‘Active Note-Taking’ in which students are trained to take down notes of what is said in a class discussion in a kind of short hand.  I find that it really helps to maximise the learning from a questioning session.

10 Minute Skill Builders 9 – Questioning – Attention and Focus


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Asking Probing Questions

When I ran this session for my participants, I wanted to look at the idea of using questions to  drive learning through probing the students into thinking deeply about an issue and challenging them to advance their thinking.

I will admit that, both in inspiration and design, this session has been entirely pilfered from Tom Sherrington’s fantastic blog ‘Headguruteacher’, in particular from his Great Lessons series. I used a lot of what Tom wrote in his post as part of the session, as well as his list of probing questions as a resource for the participants.  As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I hope that he won’t mind this.

The session:

There really is not very much to this session, apart from reading some excerpts from the above blog:

‘When you walk into a lesson where the teacher is talking and you immediately think, ‘Yes, this is a great lesson’, what is happening? It is this: the teacher is asking probing questions. There is an intensity to it: solid classroom management is securing complete attention from everyone….eyes front, listening intently… and the teacher is probing.’

For more on ‘securing complete attention from everyone’, I have a previous post on some techniques to help ensure this.

I wanted the participants to spend the session actually practicing using probing questions so that these become a routine behaviour for them when they ‘go live’ in front of class.

We used the following list of probing questions and I asked the trainees to get into groups and come up with a five minute mini-lesson on a topic of their choice to deliver to the rest of the participants.


After planning their mini-lessons, groups took it in turns to run these with the rest of the group acting as students.  Teachers had to work their way through the list of probing questions as they taught their lesson, attempting to use as many as possible in the course of the discussion. Following each lesson, student fed back and made suggestions for improvements.  We also gave teachers the opportunity to re-run sections of their lesson if they needed to.

I then asked them to take the list into their classrooms and practice using them with a real class.  In the week immediately after the session, I went on a learning walk to check on whether the techniques were really being used (which they were).

Please find the complete session to download below.


Probing Questions CPD

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Ensuring Accountability and Attention from Students During Questioning

One of the things that I do lots of work on with the trainee teachers at my school is improving the efficiency of questioning sessions.  Questioning is one of our most frequently used tools, yet often is a strategy that fails to reach many – sometimes the majority – of students in a class, who take it as an opportunity to become passengers to the learning, passive and disengaged.

The session in this post is one that I designed to help the participants think about techniques to ensure that every student in the room is mentally accountable during questioning, also improving their ability to pay attention to the classroom discourse in such a way that they are able to learn from it.

The session has three main components:

1) Starter:

The starter encourages participants to reflect on how they feel about questioning, based on whether they agree with one of three fictional statements about its use within the classroom.  The statements move from complete confidence in the efficacy of questioning as a learning tool to a complete lack of confidence.  In my experience, due often to problems in ensuring that the majority of the class pays full attention to questioning sessions, most trainee teachers, especially first years, place themselves towards the latter.  I find that trainees can become disheartened and frustrated when, time and time again, their questioning sessions just do not work.

At this point, the purpose of the session can be discussed, which is in essence about learning techniques which act as a  lever to gain some control of the students’ mind, cognition and attention.


2) The techniques:

The main body of the session is formed through the participants learning four techniques:

  1. Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce questioning
  2. Active Note-taking
  3. Agree, Build, Challenge questioning
  4. Techniques to ensure that students ‘Take a Stand’

Information on the techniques themselves is included in the PowerPoint (attached below), and I used a marketplace strategy to teach the techniques.  Again, instructions on how to run a marketplace are in the slides, but essentially groups take responsibility for different techniques and then teach each other.

3) Microteaching:

Finally, I included a microteaching component, where pairs of students had to come up with an interesting discussion topic and then plan how to run it as a class discussion using as many of the techniques as possible.  Pairs then had to take turns to run their discussion with the rest of the class as students. I used a segment in which the participants have to practice using techniques to help avoid the CPD Paradox.

4) Plenary:

Finally, the participants reflected on what techniques they would take forward into their planning that for week.

The slides for the session are available for download here:

Accountability and Attention during Questioning

P.s. As I looked over these slides before posting, I noticed that a photograph of student work that I included might look a little odd, or at least might look odd without some context. The class were preparing for a controlled assessment comparing Mercutio in the Baz Lurhmann film with the same character in the play.  At the time we were analysing the scene where Mercutio is in drag, hopefully explaining the note about Mercutio looking ‘like a prostitute’.



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