Facilitating Leaners to Ask Higher-Order Questions During Class

Michael Yosef, Sophia University

Quick Guide            

  • Keywords: High-order questions, reading comprehension, imaginative inquiry
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: One 90-minute class
  • Materials: Whiteboard, markers, Question Quadrant handout (Appendix B), two stimulus pictures on slides (e.g., My Neighbor, Totoro; Peach Boy)

Many teachers lament that students ask hardly any questions at all during lessons, much less high-order questions. One way to overcome this conundrum is to teach students to ask the sort of higher-order questions we would like them to ask during class. This can be done using an original speaking activity that uses a Question Quadrant graphic organizer (Cam, 2006) to encourage students to evaluate how different types of questions elicit different levels of conversation.


Step 1: Prepare slides with two scenes from any well-known animation movie.

Step 2: Prepare one Question Quadrant handout (Appendix B) for each student.


Step 1: Draw a cross on the board to create four quadrants.

Step 2: Show students a picture and ask them various questions regarding its theme. Start with visual comprehension questions where answers can be readily found in the picture. For My Neighbor, Totoro, for example, “Was the season summer or winter?” (See Appendix A for example questions.)

Step 3: Write the answers students give into the top-left quadrant on the board.

Step 4: Ask students factual knowledge questions, such as, “Who wrote the story, My Neighbor, Totoro?” and “Who are the other characters?” Students can look the answers up if they need to. Write responses in the bottom-left quadrant.

Step 5: Next, ask students a speculative question. For example, “What speed did Catbus travel at?” Students would need to use their imagination to answer this question. Write responses in the top-right quadrant.

Step 6: Ask an open-ended general question. This is an inquiry question where there are no fixed answers (e.g., “What does it mean to be a sister?”) Write responses in the bottom-right quadrant, this time making a note of keywords rather than full answers.

Step 7: Now, write the questions you have asked into the relevant quadrants.

Step 8: Write the headings in the appropriate quadrants: Reading Comprehension, Factual Knowledge, Speculative, and Inquiry.

Step 9: Summarize and review the four question types and the corresponding answer types.

Step 10: Next, make groups of four and give each student a Question Quadrant handout (Appendix B).

Step 11: Show the next picture slide to the class.

Step 12: Tell students to work together to formulate questions for each quadrant making sure to aim for a balance of question types.

Step 13: Monitor and help as required.

Step 14: Put students into new groups so that each group has only one person from the original groups.

Step 15: Tell students to take turns asking and answering each other`s questions. Allow sufficient time for this activity.

Step 16: Ask a few students to write their questions on the board.

Step 17: Engage in a whole class discussion about which questions elicited the most interesting conversations, and why.

Step 18: Finally, encourage students to ask these same sorts of questions from the Question Quadrant in future classes.


This activity aims to get students to recognize the different types of questions they can ask their teachers and each other about things they encounter in class; thereby providing a springboard for deeper textual analysis, further discussions, post-activity writing tasks, and more notably, a common classroom discourse language for teachers to revisit.


Cam, P. (2006). Twenty thinking tools: Collaborative inquiry for the classroom. ACER Press.


The appendices are available below: