There are two sorts of questions that can be asked: high level cognitive questions and low level cognitive questions.

High level cognitive questions: require the student to piece together learning; answer with reasoned evidence; often open-ended; require interpretation and are inquiry based. For example, “Does this remind you of Romeo and Juliet?”

Low level cognitive questions: more simplistic; recollection of facts or word-for-word retrieval; closed; measurement of knowledge. For example, “How is this book like another you/we have read?” This question encourages students to make connections and see analogies.

Introducing high level questioning to your classroom can benefit both the teacher and the student yet we often rely on low level questioning to help shape our lesson and provide an indication of the class’ understanding of the subject or topic. When used effectively, questioning also provides many with an engagement tool to keep distracted minds on task or as an indication of their enjoyment of the lesson.

Too often however, teachers are unsure of the time required to answer a question and discriminate against lower ability students in the class. Research indicates that, despite a low level question being answered, higher ability students are given more time than lower ability students to answer the question. It somewhat indicates that teachers are expecting the brighter student to offer a higher level answer to a lower level question.

Questions that open dialogue to and between the class will offer many opportunities for the higher level questioning. Why is this the case? As students are questions that don’t know the answer too. Too often, teachers only ask questions that they know the answer too as they feel the need to be the expert in the room.

The classroom environment plays an important role in assisting higher level questioning in the classroom. Students, and teachers, need to know that it is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to ‘ask the obvious question’. It is okay to clarify previous learning. Through managing the environment, students will feel more able to answer higher level questions and more able to ask higher level questions.



  • Introducing higher level questioning in to your classroom
  • Pay attention to the time you give to students to answer the question
  • Use questions that open dialogue in the classroom
  • Develop a classroom environment where it is okay to make mistake
  • Ask questions you don’t know the answer to



  • ‘The classrooms are dominated more by student than teacher questions’, John Hattie (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers. London: Routledge. p83-84