Asking Questions: The Bad and the Better

Lesson Content

Inquire: Questions in Class


In class, one of the best ways to learn is to ask questions of the professor. This lesson outlines the role of questions in learning, including when to ask questions, types of questions to avoid, and how to make bad questions better. Additionally, this lesson covers three types of good questions to ask in class. Questions can be one of the most effective learning tools in the classroom. Learning to use them to the student’s benefit is essential to succeeding in college.

Big Question

What is the best way to properly ask questions in class?

Read: Questions in Class


This section focuses on the role of questions in learning, including when to ask questions, types of questions to avoid, and how to make bad questions better.

The Role of Questions in Learning

An effective question helps the audience to deepen their understanding of the topic. Effective questions should do at least one of three things: be constructive, be clarifying, or be leading. Constructive questions allow the presenter to provide a more detailed explanation of material in a presentation. Clarifying questions help the audience to understand a concept from the presentation. If the audience is confused, clarifying questions can clear up that confusion. Finally, leading questions allow the presenter to move from one concept to the next, or to connect two concepts together.

When to Ask Questions

When listening to a lecture or presentation, there are a few key times to ask questions. When a speaker is transitioning from point to point, try to ask any questions before the speaker has moved on. Asking questions during the relevant section of a presentation will keep the information fresh and will ensure that those listening can follow along.

At the end of a presentation, speakers will often open the floor for questions. This is a prime time to ask a question.

Finally, if the speaker tells the audience when to ask questions, the audience should refrain from asking questions until this time.

Types of Questions to Avoid

There are three kinds of questions to avoid asking: common questions, easily researched questions, and questions that have already been answered.

Common and Repetitive Questions

One of the most annoying things that can happen in a class is when one student asks a question, and then another asks the same question right after. Part of learning is listening to questions that others have asked. Repeating questions wastes time that could be better served answering new questions that have not already been answered.

Questions That Can be Answered with Research

Often, questions can answer themselves. Students are quick to ask questions that are answered in a text book or with a quick search online. For instance, asking a professor to define a term is not an effective question. Word definitions are easily found if a student takes the initiative to find an answer. These should not be asked when they would waste time.

Questions That Have Been Answered but the Asker Wasn’t Paying Attention

If a student has not been paying attention to a section of a presentation, they should avoid asking questions about that part of the presentation. This is especially true if there is a PowerPoint slide explaining what the student missed while zoning out. The speaker will have already covered that material, and asking them to repeat themselves is rude and wastes time.

Making Bad Questions Better

Asking questions can be daunting. Often, people don’t know what to ask or how to phrase a question. Some fear that a question might come off as rude or demeaning. There are a few easy things to keep in mind when crafting a question in order to avoid those issues.

First, be direct. Don’t take five minutes explaining the reason for the question. Be direct with the question and let the speaker answer it so that everyone can get on the same page. Ask the question and avoid lengthy explanations. This is the best way to quickly address any misunderstandings or issues.

Second, be concise. In a situation where someone is answering questions, there will inevitably be multiple people with questions. Keep a question as brief as possible to help ensure a satisfying answer without it taking too long.

Reflect: Learning Through Questions


What kind of question best helps you to learn?

Expand: Good Questions


In this lesson, students have learned about several types of bad questions. This section will cover the good types of questions for students to ask.

Good Questions

If a student is confused about the content of a lecture, or if there seems to be new information that contradicts old information, asking about these confusions makes for great questions. Instructors love seeing that students are trying to relate and connect information from past classes to new information. Additionally, if a student is confused, it is very likely that other students are confused as well. Having the courage to admit confusion might seem challenging but it will benefit both the student asking the question and the class as a whole.

The next type of good question to ask is an open-ended question. Do not just ask a professor whether or not something is true. Ask the professor instead to re-explain, or further explain a topic. This allows a professor to clarify and keeps them from being confined to a narrow question.

For instance, asking, “What does the book mean when talking about this topic?” is better than asking, “That is the same as the other thing, right?”

It allows the professor more room for discussion. It also allows the professor to answer the question without those listening being primed to think of something in a certain way in case that certain way is wrong. In the case of the second question, the audience is inclined to believe that the questioner is correct. But, if that person is wrong, it can create confusion among the other students, and that should be avoided.

The final good type of question to ask is one that covers content from the assigned reading, if there is any, but has not been talked about in class. Often, there will be material that a student needs to know or should have read, but it is not discussed in class. Asking questions about that content allows the professor to discuss the information in a way they might not have otherwise been able to simply because of how the class schedule is arranged.

Check Your Knowledge

Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like. Once you are finished taking the quiz, click on the “View questions” button to review the correct answers.

Lesson Resources

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Additional Resources and Readings

How to Improve Listening Skills

A video outlining ways to improve listening skills

The Power Of Effective Questioning

A video that provides tips on how to ask good questions

Effective Listening Skills

A video that provides tips on effective listening

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License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Alexander Amos for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0

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