Questioning

Introduction

Geography teachers are preoccupied with questions, whether they are asking them or answering them. Questions are pivotal to good teaching and learning.

Researchers at the University of Mexico videotaped primary school teachers in  an attempt to analyse effective geography teaching. They found that the most accomplished teachers:

  • used question and answer sequences to guide the development of understanding
  • used problem solving strategies, and encouraged the children to articulate their thoughts
  • treated learning as a social communicative process using students' contributions as a resource to develop 'common knowledge' within the class.

This illustration of practice looks at examples of exemplary practice in geography classrooms, and presents some evaluation and analysis of different types of questions, a list of instructions about questions, and some examples of higher order questions in the geography classroom.

Classroom application

The Geogstandards website is a very useful resource for teachers of geography, designed to offer a basis for professional learning. Video clips of geography lessons with supporting information are provided to demonstrate exemplary geography teaching. Three examples are listed below. While there are a number of interrelated resources on each web page which can support teaching, the videos show actual lessons being conducted. Watch the videos and reflect on the teaching techniques:

  • Preparing to work in expert groups: The Olympics (duration, 02:07). In this video the teacher uses questioning with his Year 3-4 class at a primary school in rural Victoria. 
  • Cyclone Nargis (duration, 05:44). The teacher engages her Year 8 class in a medium sized non-government coeducational school in non-metropolitan Victoria. 
  • Population growth: Brainstorming (duration, 07:23). Here the teacher uses questioning as he develops the brainstorming activity with a Year 12 class in a medium-sized non-government girls' school in metropolitan Adelaide. 

Many geography teachers have been introduced through judicious questioning into the mystique of being a geographer, rather than a person that merely studies geography. Rhodes Scholar, Zoe Morrison, outlines her recollections of her school geography classroom:

 

In Year 7 our geography teacher had an incredible ability to have the whole class on the edge of their seats.

She'd ask a question of the class, one of those why or how questions that, if you think about, with a bit of luck, you can work out. She'd pick people in the class to have a go at giving the right answer, until someone finally got it. The supreme satisfaction at having been the one to work out why something in the world was the way it was, became addictive.

So explorations and explanations to real world phenomena was what initially attracted me to the study of geography.

Morrison, 2001. 42–43. 

Geography educators over time have classified and framed questions in a number of ways. The resources below provide a variety of information on questions and questioning:

  • Types of Questions (PDF, 243 KB) provides a framework that can be used to analyse the various types of questions that can be asked in the Australian Curriculum: Geography (Years 7-10). 
  • Questions students might spontaneously ask (PDF, 260 KB) provides examples of the richer, more interesting questions that can be asked in a geography classroom.
  • Exploring questions further (PDF, 274 KB) includes a list of instructions about questions in the geography classroom and a short list of some more interesting questions that can be asked about the Australian Curriculum: Geography (Years 7-10).
  • GTIP Think Piece – Questioning provides some thoughtful insights about the importance of questioning in geographical inquiry. There is an interesting section on Socratic questioning which includes a worksheet for students about the pattern of land use in cities. 
  • Questions involving critical thinking outlines a framework for developing questions based on critical teaching and logical analysis. Lists of questions have been produced relating to the Australian Curriculum: Geography (Years 7-10). 

Questions for discussion

  1. How effective is the use of video taped teaching practice in illustrating the types of questions that are posed in the geography classroom?
  2. How can we engage students in the 'mystique of being a geographer'?
  3. What kinds of questions do you ask in the geography classroom? How can they be classified?
  4. How can Socratic questions be best developed?
  5. How many of your questions stimulate critical thinking?

Questions for reflection

  1. To what extent do Bill Marsden's 'good questions' refer to a classroom where exposition is the dominant mode of teaching?
  2. What sorts of questions best stimulate interest and awaken curiosity?
  3. How can you encourage students to 'think aloud' with their questions?
  4. How can you encourage students to support each other in questioning?
  5. To what extent does the diagram Bloom's taxonomy – learning in action assist in the formulation of questions?

Resources

Books and articles:

Carter, R. (Ed.). (1991). Talking about geography: the work of geography teachers in the national oracy project. Sheffield: Geographical Association, p. 4.

Gilbert, R. (1988). Critical skills in geography teaching. In R. Gerber & J. Lidstone (Eds.). Developing skills in geographical education. Brisbane: IGU.

Marsden, W. (1995). Geography 11-16: Rekindling good practice. London: David Fulton, p. 94.

Morrison, Z. (2001). Good geography teaching - Where can it lead? Geographical Education 14, pp. 42–45. Reproduced with permission of Geography Teachers Association South Australia, South Australia Geographer.

Roberts, M. (2003). Learning through enquiry: Making sense of geography in the key stage 3 classroom. Sheffield: Geographical Association.

Walford, R. (1998). The questions they ask … Teaching Geography 23(30), pp.139-141.

Website:

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Australian Curriculum: Geography. Retrieved May 2013, from: www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Geography/Rationale

Other relevant resources are contained in the sections above.