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Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation

Content: Better Questions


If we are teaching something, we ought to value students’ thoughts, right? In fact, when we ask students for their thoughts and listen carefully to what they say, we show them that we value their thoughts. Indeed: students are more likely to value our thoughts as well! 


The purpose of this tool for the field is to introduce a set of questions—and question types—you can use again and again to help students think and learn better. And there are tips for developing the skill and art of asking better questions. There are also activities that will help you to develop the skill and art of questioning with on-the-job practice. 

This list is intended to provide you with the “flavor” of a good question by letting you see some examples (other examples appear in the webinar). The point is to get students talking about their thoughts about the math problem. Many of these questions are what might be considered “high-level questions” that encourage students to think and reason and provide more than 1 or 2 word responses. 

  • How could you start this problem?
  • Does this problem remind you of any you’ve done before?
  • Can you rephrase what (another student or the textbook) said?
  • What questions do you have about this topic?
  • How could you check whether this answer is reasonable?
  • What do you need to know how to do in order to be able to solve this problem?
  • Why?
  • How do you know that?
  • How did you get that answer? (This is a good question even when the original answer was correct, especially if it appears that the student guessed!)
  • Can you explain that a bit more for me?
  • What steps did you take to get that answer?

The Best Questions are not questions at all…

  • Tell me what you know about this problem (or topic).
  • Tell me what you are unsure of with this problem (or topic).

These questions are the most common in math classrooms. Of course, there are indeed times when a quick drill-type question makes a lot of sense. But, then, it is also helpful to follow up most of these questions with a more open-ended question. Good questions elicit thinking. That’s what we want in math. Many of these questions are okay to use occasionally – they are referred to as low-level questions. Low-level questions are brief checks for understanding, but you don’t get a lot of information about student thinking from these low-level questions.  THE FOLLOW UP to these questions should always be something from the list above of GOOD QUESTIONS.

  • What’s the answer to number five?
  • Here’s where you’d use the Pythagorean Theorem, right?
  • This one’s an easy one. You know the answer, don’t you?
  • Is this a right triangle? (This might actually be a good question if used as a hint. For example, it could be asked if the student is trying to use a right triangle rule on a non-right triangle.)
  • Do you want me to go over that another time?

Developing the Capacity
to Ask Better and Better Questions

Using better questions on the job will be an adventure! Don’t be too hard on yourself. You will improve. Paraprofessionals are in a good spot to ask good questions since, in a one-on-one or small-group setting, students will not worry so much about what their classmates might think of their answers! 

Here are a few tips to help you improve the skill and art of asking better questions. 

Working on the Skill of Asking Better Questions 

  • Any skill takes a lot of practice. Otherwise, it’s not a skill! The learning of math requires a lot of practice.
  • Like most of us, you probably just naturally ask questions like Mr. Samson asked.
  • Make a list of question starters that flow naturally for you… Starting with Tell me… is always a good bet.
  • Pause and think some before asking. Give yourself “wait time”!
  • Practice—don’t give up! Become skillful at how you ask questions.

Developing the Art of Asking Better Questions 

  • Skillful questioning leads to artful
  • If we want kids to think more deeply we need to give them a series of good questions.
  • Your questions can be around what you learn about the challenges the lesson has for students’ thinking.
  • Becoming artful requires practice.

Putting it All Together

Developing the skill and art of questioning probably seems overwhelming. 

The components of good questioning are:

  1. to know when to ask a good question,
  2. how to craft a follow-up question that will take a student to a deeper level of understanding,
  3. how to recognize when a student is emotionally in need of some hints or reassurance rather than another good question. 

Mr. Samson would do better if he could read the material and listen to the webinar in this unit. After all, he really cared about his students’ performance. He did care what they thought—he just didn’t know how to get there. Or even how to start. You know how to start. 

And you can get started immediately. Practice with your own kids or grandkids or children in the neighborhood. It’s an adventure in thinking! It’s fun! 


  • Re-read the list of better questions. For each question, ask yourself, “Why is this a good question to ask?”
  • Re-read the list of not-so-good questions. For each question, ask yourself, “Why is this not a very good question to ask?”
  • Come up with three good questions and three not-so-good questions of your own. Explain (to yourself or to a small group) why your questions are good or not as good.
  • Why is the second list of questions titled “Not-so-Good Questions” instead of “Bad Questions” or “Stupid Questions”? See this link for some thoughts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_such_thing_as_a_stupid_question

Watch the Acoustic Levitation Video Again…


Think through or find some good questions that could come forth through this activity … Use the Good Question Cues to think this through.

  • What could Destin as the American Idol team?
  • What could the team ask Destin?

Module: Helping Students Do Math

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