The famous Yogi Berra’s quip, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there,” points to the importance of purpose. Teachers need to keep asking “why do this rather than that” when they are planning.


Purposeful questioning

One essential pocket of excellence will be the teacher questioning students. The purpose of this task will come from answering the question, “Why do we question?”

The first purpose is to develop students with a “can-do” work ethic and confidence. This is more than just “keeping on keeping on.” It is about developing a mindset where the student has the confidence to tackle new tasks with persistence, flexibility and the discipline to search for alternative approaches.

The second purpose is to develop students’ critical thinking skills. The right questions can help student develop a flexible, innovative approach and openness to others’ ideas and teamwork.

The third purpose is closely associated with the second. Teachers prepare students for life-long learning by helping them develop their own questions. The one certain thing we know: students are going to have to cope with change, and that requires finding the right solution, which starts with asking the right question.


Question bundles

Teachers should prepare actual questions. Leaving them to chance is gambling with the students’ learning. Creating a package of related questions, referred to as Question Bundles, is an effective and efficient way of planning. Integral to this is Anderson’s revision of Bloom’s hierarchy of thinking skills (remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating}. In keeping with this hierarchy, the Bundle is organised in a progression.

See the chart that shows this progression, and the related questions teachers can ask. Asking these questions gives the teacher immediate feedback as to the need for any re-teaching or individual attention. When a teacher reaches the expert stage, he or she might reverse the hierarchy by beginning with a creative question.



We usually think of rubrics as something for students. However, if teachers are serious about their professional development, they need to know where they are going or they might not get there. The Bundle rubric is the route map to achieve success using question bundles by detailing how the teacher’s personal practical knowledge developed from novice to expert.

Keep the purpose when answering student questions
Normally students only ask questions to prompt their memory. These questions are in the fixed mindset category where the student feels stuck and inadequate. In this sense such questions are a coded message indicating that the student believes they do not have the intelligence to proceed without teacher help.

If the teacher provides the answer, she stealing the learning from that student and confirming the student’s view about his limits. The teacher should answer with a higher-level thinking question that acts as a prompt for the student to stretch and solve the problem. That way, the learning experience is not stolen and the student is not encouraged to think he has a fixed and limited intelligence.

An example of how you can do this: Say you are discussing possible book titles to read with a student. After the student expresses an interest in a book, you might be tempted to give an imperative sentence instruction: “Buy a notebook on the way home tonight and write the title in.” You’ve stolen the learning and subconsciously reinforced the coded message that teacher has knowledge and not the student.

Instead, say something like this, “OK, think up two or three ways that would be good for you to remember the titles we come up with, and then tell me which the best one would be.” No learning has been stolen. You have led the student to use higher-order thinking skills, particularly analysis and evaluation, and guided him to a growth mind-set, a belief that he has the intelligence to work out things. The coded message will be “I can do.”



Level Of Development

Characteristics Of Each Stage

What Would See

What Would Hear

Expert –

Personal practical knowledge is such that intuitive action occurs

  • Personal practical knowledge has developed to the stage where intuitively asking the right level of question in formal and informal situations both in class and out of class situations.
  • Periods of flow
  • A shared high expectation by both students and teacher
  • A variety of student centric questions supplementing the class questions as the needs of each student dictates. 

Advanced Learner –

Personal practical knowledge is such that the teacher knows what works in a given circumstance and what does not

  • Routines and rituals in place so that all lessons are accompanied by Question Bundles.
  • Becoming more critical of own questions through self, peer and student reflection
  • Establishing categories and examples of exemplary questions
  • Teacher: modifying prepared questions as the lesson progresses
  • Students: giving more complex and more logical answers; starting posing their own higher level questions 

Competence –

Sufficient personal practical knowledge and the associated confidence to experiment with own interpretations

  • Experimenting with routines and rituals
  • Becoming aware of the role of syntax and vocabulary in multiple level questions
  • Reflecting on question ritual and routines being used
  • Student feedback from their weekly items in their metacognition note books.
  • Collaborative discussion with other teachers.
  • Some minor changes in the level of student questions

Advanced beginner –

Developing some personal practical knowledge for given circumstances

  • Making a sporadic start by preparing a limited number of
  • “Bundle Questions” for occasional one off lessons
  • Pre-preparing questions for some lessons when prompted or when sets time to do so
  •  This takes longer than I thought, but I have made a start

Novice –

Lacking personal practical knowledge – apprehensive and unsure

  • Apprehensive and unsure.
  • Prefers to stick with present practice Lacks personal practical knowledge of what to do.
  • Sticking to what has always done.
  • Rarely using a higher level question but off the cuff – haphazard and random
  • I’ll try this next time. I’m too busy now.



Anderson’s Revision of Bloom’s Hierarchy

Question Bundle for narrative above

Creating :  Adding to by composing further constructs

Can you add other purposes for questioning?

Evaluating: Assessing and recommending

Which of the above 3 purposes would be the best one to start on with regard to your class?

Analysing:  Examining and/or investigating strengths and weaknesses: how parts fit

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having definitions of why we question?

Applying:  Translating into practice

How would you go about introducing purposeful questions into your lesson planning?

Understanding:  Restating and summarising

Put these purposes in kid language?

Remembering:  Recalling information from memory

Recall the purposes of asking questions?



Alan Cooper BEd. BA. Dip Tchg. ANZIM, is a formed teacher and principal, now education consultant specializing in Thinking Skills, Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences, Habits of Mind, Emotional Learning, Professional Development Portfolios, Organisational Culture.  He is based in New Zealand.

This article appeared in Teacher’s Matter, February 2013, reprinted by permission of the author

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