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Placement PAL Central: Questioning

This is a guide for Placement PAL Leaders.


Open vs. Closed Questions

  • Open questions are used to gain expanded and elaborated answers. They offer opportunity for students to develop their answers and can be used to gain clarification e.g. “What do you mean by that?”; “What makes you say that?”; “Can we think of any other perspectives on this?”


  • Open questions will help make your sessions more interactive because they generate discussion and aid collaboration


  • Closed questions where the answer to the question is simply "yes" or "no" are used to gain concise answers, but can limit responses that may require expansion (which is when you would switch to use open questions)


  • An effective facilitator uses a combination of open and closed questioning

Checking for Understanding

  • Questioning can also be used to check your PAL students understanding of a topic or activity


  • If you doubt your PAL students understanding, use questions such as:
    • “Are we all happy with this?”
    • “Is anybody still unsure?”
    • “Could anyone explain what we’re doing?”

Redirecting Questions

  • Use this form of questioning to ensure you do not slip into the role of teacher e.g. “Does anyone know the answer to that question?”; “Does anyone have any thoughts?”; “Has anyone got any suggestions?”


  • Re-directing questions will get your PAL students more engaged in your session


  • It also helps your PAL students explore and work together to come up with answers for themselves

Pyramid of Questions (Vogt et al. 2003)


Source: Vogt, E.E., Brown, J. and Isaacs, D. 2003. The art of powerful questions [online]. Mill Valley: Wholes Systems Associates.


“By using the words toward the top of the pyramid, you can make many questions more robust. For example, consider the following sequence:

  • Are you satisfied with our working relationship?
  • When have you been most satisfied with our working relationship?
  • What is it about our working relationship that you find most satisfying?
  • Why might it be our working relationship has had its ups and downs?


As you move from the simple “yes/no” questions at the beginning toward the “why” question at the end, notice that queries tend to stimulate more reflective thinking and a deeper level of conversation. A powerful question is one that provokes thoughtful exploration and evokes creative thinking” (Vogt et al. 2003, p.4).