Oral Questions


  1. When presenting a lesson, you have many techniques and aids at your disposal. One aid that can be used to stimulate learning and effectively applied to satisfy all seven learning factors is oral questioning.
  2. The actual technique of questioning is a difficult one and is normally one of the most neglected areas of instruction. Good oral questioning requires the ability to think quickly and easily while facing a class or individual student, to shift and change as thought progresses and to phrase questions in clear and simple terms. You must always be mindful of the technique to follow when handling student questions and answers.

Purposes of Oral Questions


  1. First, questions can be used to PROMOTE MENTAL ACTIVITY. You can state a fact and provide visual or verbal support to back it up but the surest way for students to remember is working it out for themselves. Whenever you can use an oral question to make your students think and reason out the fact, you should take advantage of the situation. Example: As students work towards an objective it is often necessary for them to recall pertinent data or knowledge learned previously. A well-worded oral question could provide the required information, thus promoting mental activity.
  2. A second purpose of oral questions is to AROUSE AND MAINTAIN STUDENT INTEREST. Merely making a statement will often result in a "so what" attitude, but asking questions makes students feel they are participating and contributing to the lesson, thereby arousing interest. You can maintain this interest throughout the lesson by the continuous development of facts and ideas. Remember? Telling is NOT teaching.
  3. Another purpose of oral questions is to GUIDE THOUGHT. By using questions you can lead students to think through to a logical solution. Questions can direct students' thinking through a definite sequence or to particular objectives. During discussions you can use questions to guide your student's thoughts back to the objective if they seem to be far afield. An experienced instructor can guide students through an entire lesson by asking the right questions at the right time.
  4. A final purpose of oral questions is to EVALUATE LEARNING for the benefit of both instructor and student. Oral questions may be used after each stage of a lesson to ensure students are following before you proceed to the next stage. At the end of the lesson, they confirm that students have attained the objectives for that particular lesson.

NOTE:  A drawback of using oral questions to evaluate learning is that only random sampling of a class is obtained, since only one student answers each question. This drawback can be overcome by the use of some sort of student response system by the instructor. On a one-to-one basis, as in pre-flight and post-flight briefings, the above is not a problem.

NOTE:  Write your answer in the space provided, then compare your answer with the one on the answer sheet on pages 18 and 19.


How can oral questions promote mental activity?


Why will oral questions maintain student interest during a lesson?


What is a drawback in using oral questions to evaluate learning?

Desired Qualities of Good Oral Questions

4. If Oral questions are to serve the purposes stated in paragraph 3, you must be mindful of the following desirable qualities of good questions when composing or preparing to use them.

  1. EASILY UNDERSTOOD. Questions should be stated in simple straightforward language; they should be brief, yet complete enough that students have no doubt as to the meaning of the question.
  2. COMPOSED OF COMMON WORDS. Questions should be designed to measure knowledge of a subject, not use of language. The use of high sounding words may give you a chance to display your vocabulary, but adds nothing to instruction. Remember, if students do not know the meaning of the words they will not be able to answer the question. Always keep your vocabulary within the grasp of your student.
  3. THOUGHT PROVOKING. Questions should not be so easy that the answer is obvious to all students. Students should be challenged to apply their knowledge. You should avoid using questions where your student has a 50/50 chance of being correct. Examples of these are the YES/NO and TRUE/FALSE type, unless these questions immediately are followed by a "why" or "how" type question.
  4. ON MAJOR TEACHING POINTS OF THE LESSON. Questions must be built around the main teaching points of the lessons. They must be asked at the proper place so that these points are emphasized.


Consider the following questions: For each one decide if it meets all the qualities of a good oral question. If it does not, state what desirable quality of a good question is violated.

  1. Was John A. MacDonald the first Prime Minister of Canada?
  2. What goes up the barrel of a rifle?
  3. In the event of catatonic paralysis induced by chronic anxiety neurosis, what is the most efficacious procedure for prevailing upon the gunner to abandon the aircraft?
  • Your students may be confused if questions are asked in a haphazard fashion. The purpose for which a question is intended may be lost. To ensure mental participation by all students, the following procedure is used:
  1. ASK THE QUESTION. You should state the question, applying the qualities of a good question. To do this you must have the question in mind before asking it. If questions are being used to evaluate learning or to confirm attainment of objectives, you should prepare them beforehand and write them in your lesson plan. It is often a good idea for beginning instructors to write out ALL questions until they are accustomed to thinking on their feet.
  2. PAUSE. After asking the question, you should pause for approximately 1 to 5 seconds (depending on the complexity of the question) to allow all students to think it over and formulate an answer. During the pause you should look over the class, being careful not to "telegraph" who you are going to call upon to provide the answer.
  3. NAME THE STUDENT. A problem you continuously have to face is selecting the student to answer the question. Some effort should be made to fit the question to the individual because students will vary in ability and you have to recognize and provide for these differences. Therefore, you should consider giving the more difficult questions to the most advanced students. You also have to ensure that everyone in the class is called upon to provide answers with reasonable frequency. A number of systems commonly used to ensure this have serious drawbacks. For example, if members of a class are called on according to seating arrangement or alphabetical order, it becomes quite easy for students to determine when they will be named to answer; thus the lazy students will not give serious thought to any question until it is getting close to their turn to answer. Possibly the most practical approach is to call upon students in a random order, then indicate by a check mark on a seating plan card each time a student is asked a question. To get a broader sampling of learning and to maintain interest, you should periodically call upon other class members to confirm the answer made by the first student asked.
  4. LISTEN TO THE ANSWER. Often an instructor, after naming a student to answer a question, will immediately begin to think about phrasing the next question and will not be listening to the answer and may say "Right" to an incorrect answer. This could lead to student confusion. You should always listen to the answer.
  5. CONFIRM THE CORRECT RESPONSE. Student answers must be evaluated carefully so as to leave no doubt as to what is the correct answer.


After asking a question, why pause before naming a student to answer?


Handling Student Answers

6. Aside from always confirming correct answers, there are certain techniques you must be aware of when handling student answers.

  1. DISCOURAGE GROUP ANSWERS. When students answer as a group, it is difficult to determine who supplied correct or incorrect answers, thereby leading to student confusion. When given a new class, establish early that you do not want group answers but will call upon a student by name to answer. You may, however, want to use group answers at times to increase class enthusiasm.
  2. DO NOT MAKE A HABIT OF REPEATING ANSWERS. This becomes monotonous to students when you always repeat the answer. If the answer provided is not correct or needs clarification, pass the question to another student. If the students do not answer loudly enough for all the class to hear, have them speak more loudly and repeat the answer.
  3. GIVE CREDIT FOR GOOD ANSWERS. This is especially true for the weak or shy student. When using oral questions to develop points from the class, do not reject answers that pertain to the subject although they may not be exactly what you are after. Give praise and try using a newly phrased question to bring out your point. If you receive a completely incorrect answer, don't embarrass your student by saying "Wrong". Diplomatically state that the answer is not what you wanted and ask a supplemental question or refer the question to another student.


What technique would you use if a student answers a question and all the class cannot hear it?


Why should group answers be discouraged?

Handling Student Questions

7. Never discourage a genuine question pertaining to the lesson. There is an old saying, - "For every student who asks a question there are six others who wanted to ask it". Usually students ask questions because you have not given a clear explanation of the point or fact being queried. Some techniques to follow regarding student questions are:

  1. ENCOURAGE QUESTIONS. Let the class know early in the lesson that you encourage questions at any time the students are not clear on points being taught. If it will not interfere with the presentation of the lesson, it is usually best to allow questions immediately any point arises rather than waiting for a break in the lesson to solicit questions. If you wait for questions, the point of concern may have slipped their mind.
  2. PASS QUESTIONS TO OTHER STUDENTS. Occasionally pass a student question to other members of the class -; this will create interest and get class participation. Do not over-use this technique as the students may get the impression that you don't know the answer and are fishing for help. Above all, never use this technique for any question to which you do not know the answer.
  3. REJECT QUESTIONS NOT RELATED TO THE LESSON. Quite often students will ask a question totally unrelated to the lesson. Politely reject the question being careful not to offend the student and say it is a question you would prefer to discuss after class.
  4. DO NOT BLUFF. No matter how knowledgeable you are of your subject, there will be times you will be asked a legitimate question and not have the answer. If you do not know the answer, say so, do not bluff. Tell the class you will find the answer and ensure you do, then inform the individual who asked as well as the rest of the class.
  5. ENSURE ALL THE CLASS HEARS THE QUESTION. When a question is asked, check that all the class has heard it. When you answer the question, answer to the class and not only to the individual asking it. If a long detailed answer is necessary, the remainder of the class may lose interest and "tune out" if you get into a conversation with one student.


At what time in a lesson should students be encouraged to ask questions?


How would you handle a student's question if it did not pertain to the lesson?


How would you handle a question for which you were unable to provide the answer?