ETP - Using Advanced Questioning Techniques

learning objectives


“Thinking within disciplines is driven, not by answers, but by essential questions. Had no basic questions been asked by those who laid the foundation for a field—for example, physics or biology—the field would not have been developed in the first place. Every intellectual field is born out of a cluster of essential questions that drive the mind to pursue particular facts and understandings” (Elder & Paul, 2009, p. 3).

Learning Objectives

In this module, we’ll discuss advanced questioning practices you can use to:

  • Use a taxonomy to scaffold questions from lower to higher cognitive levels
  • Deepen thinking using question stems from CLOSE-UP
  • Use Socratic questioning to deepen thinking in class or in online discussion forums
  • Use activities to develop students’ questioning skills

Skeletal Outline

Download a skeletal outline to take notes on the key practices included in this module.

Course Demonstration

This video shows instructors effectively demonstrating the evidence-based practices presented in this module. Through this authentic classroom observation, you can begin to consider how you might implement these practices and techniques with your students.

The instructors featured in the video include Gregory Eiselein, PhD, from Kansas State University; Paulette Reneau, PhD, from Florida A&M University; and Lucy Gilson, PhD, from the University of Connecticut.

Download the transcript for this video.

Expert Insights

In this video, you’ll hear Stephen Brookfield, a scholar in teaching and learning, discuss the specific nuances of and the research support for the teaching techniques and practices presented in this module.

Download the transcript for this video.

Common Challenges & Misconceptions

In this section, you’ll read about some common challenges and misconceptions associated with techniques designed to use advanced questioning techniques. Click on each statement to read research-based clarifications and suggestions aligned to each challenge or misconception.

MISCONCEPTION: All of the questions I ask in class or online should be focused on the highest levels of thinking.


It is important that students learn to think critically within the discipline of the course, but as they learn new skills and concepts, they will need first to process information at a more basic level—classified as knowledge, comprehension, and analysis on Bloom’s taxonomy. So-called “lower order” thinking questions should not be seen as inferior; they play an important role in assessing students’ understanding and preparing them to engage with a concept at a deeper level. According to Nilson (2010), knowledge questions can serve as a “mental warm-up,” and comprehension questions can help you “find out whether your students correctly understand the material and can put it in their own words” (pp. 138–139). They allow you to identify and correct misconceptions before moving on to questions at higher cognitive levels. As Nilson (2010) states, “Structured as a hierarchy, Bloom’s taxonomy helps rein in students from leaping into issues they aren’t yet prepared to tackle” (p. 140).

MISCONCEPTION: Higher order thinking questions are less appropriate in remedial courses.


An important goal of higher education is to develop critical thinking skills in students; becoming a critical thinker is a goal that is larger than one course and something students will continue to hone throughout their education. However, this does not mean that students cannot engage in higher order thinking in their first, sometimes remedial, courses (S. D. Brookfield, personal communication, October 27, 2015). For example, in a remedial math course, students can determine if a solution strategy will still be successful if one part of the problem is altered. In a remedial literature course, students can draw conclusions about an author’s intent that are supported by evidence. The content of the courses does not limit the instructor’s ability to pose questions at higher levels.

MISCONCEPTION: Preplanning the questions I’m going to ask is only important if I’m going to facilitate a discussion.


It is important to plan questions in advance to guide a successful discussion, but it is just as important when using other teaching strategies. Planning questions in advance can ensure you have the tools you need to advance student learning toward your intended learning objectives for the day. In addition, planning questions in advance will help you avoid common pitfalls, such as posing ineffective questions, because you’re trying to come up with appropriate wording off the top of your head (Nilson, 2010).


Planning and sequencing questions is critical for effective online discussions (Boettcher & Conrad, 2016).

MISCONCEPTION: During Socratic Questioning, my only input should be to continually pose questions to the class.


At points during the discussion, it is appropriate to guide the discussion with input other than questions. According to Elder and Paul (2006), when the discussion has uncovered new learning, you should take a moment to summarize what has been learned before pivoting in a new direction. Thinking aloud for students as a way of modeling is also appropriate when considering student responses. Finally, it may be necessary to clarify or summarize a student response for the class if it is not well understood.

In an online environment, instructors should conclude a Socratic questioning sequence with a post that synthesizes and/or clarifies the students’ responses (Boettcher, 2018).

MISCONCEPTION: It is best to respond to a student’s answer with clear feedback to indicate if it is correct or incorrect.


There are many ways to respond to student responses that can deepen their thinking. You could engage in a form of Socratic Questioning (either to one student or a group of students), where students’ responses are met with additional questions intended to deepen or clarify their thinking. Another strategy is to ask students to cite evidence for their answer, whether they answered correctly or incorrectly, which is part of Brookfield’s mnemonic CLOSE-UP (S. D. Brookfield, personal communication, October 27, 2015). You could also use the opportunity to have students engage with one another to determine if an answer is correct or incorrect (Nilson, 2010).

MISCONCEPTION: Generic questions like “Does everyone understand?” or “Any questions?” provide effective checkpoints and invite students to raise their own questions and concerns.


Questions like “Does everyone understand?” may seem almost automatic and obvious when you are explaining a new concept. However, these questions may not invite students to participate in a meaningful way (Nilson, 2010). Students may be embarrassed to raise their hand and announce they do not understand something. They may not even realize they don’t understand what you had planned for them to learn.


 In order to use questioning as a tool most effectively, foster active student participation and pose questions that allow you to determine if the students are learning, rather than depending on them to self-report (Nilson, 2010).

Observe & Analyze

In the Observe & Analyze (OA) section, you’ll view the video(s) depicting developing practice, where an instructor implements some of the module techniques effectively while other techniques may need slight adjustments or improvements. As you analyze the video(s), you will gain a deeper understanding of the module techniques and gain insight into some common pitfalls.


Download the transcript for this video.

Download the transcript for this video

Implementation Resources

  • Instructional Practices

  • Online Instructional Practices

  • Additional Resources

This section includes resources and handouts to support your implementation of the techniques and practices presented in the module.

Download all of the implementation resources for this module.

Implementation Resources

Download or print the following resources to practice using advanced questioning techniques:

The module learning objectives and aligned online practices are listed below. Each resource offers step-by-step instructions and examples of effective online teaching in text and/or video..

Plan questions to prompt critical thinking

Use Socratic questioning to deepen thinking in online discussions

Design discussion forums to engage your students in a Socratic questioning process to help them grapple with and build understanding of complex topics or readings.

Download a resource for using Socratic questioning in online discussion forums.

Design activities and assignments to engage students in creating questions that elicit critical thinking

Use activities to develop students’ questioning skills

In an online learning environment, asking good questions helps students contribute to interesting and meaningful online discussions and provides instructors with insights into students’ understanding of course concepts.

Download two online discussion forum activities designed to develop students’ questioning skills.


Judith V. Boettcher, PhD
Online Learning Consultant and Author
Designing for Learning

Kirsten Heinz
Instructor of Communication
University of Arkansas, Pulaski Technical College

Below are additional resources to further explore the module topics.

Resources for Further Reading

  • Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2016). The discussion book: 50 great ways to get people talking. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2006). The thinker’s guide to the art of Socratic Questioning (4th ed.). Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Consult a comprehensive list of references for this module

Community Connections


Gregory Eiselein, PhD
Donnelly Professor of English
Department of English
Kansas State University

Lauren Brickman
Adjunct Lecturer, Theatre & Speech

Lucy Gilson, PhD
Professor & Department Head
School of Business
University of Connecticut 

Paulette S. Reneau, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida A&M University

Stephen Brookfield, PhD
John Ireland Endowed Chair
University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

Boettcher, J. V. (2018).
Socratic questioning sequence. Unpublished manuscript. Designing for Learning: Tallahasse, FL.

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R.-M. (2016).
The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956).
Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, NY: McKay.

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2016).
The discussion book: 50 great ways to get people talking. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Chase, B., Germundsen, R., Cady Brownstein, J., & Schaak Distad, L. (2001).
Making the connection between increased student learning and reflective practice. Educational Horizons, 79, 143–147.

Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2009). 
The thinker’s guide to the art of asking essential questions (4th ed.). Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Lemons, P. P., & Lemons, J. D. (2013).
Questions for assessing higher-order cognitive skills: It’s not just Bloom’s. CBE Life Sciences Education, 12, 47–58.

Nilson, L. B. (2010).
Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (1997, April).
Socratic teaching. Retrieved from

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2006).
The thinker’s guide to the art of Socratic Questioning (4th ed.). Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.