10 Questioning Strategies to Differentiate Instruction

Differentiating instruction can often feel like an overwhelming obstacle. It doesn't have to be with these 10 questioning strategies that get kids thinking!


Please welcome Lauren Poinier to the blog today! She’s sharing with us her questioning strategies for differentiating instruction and reaching all learners in the classroom. She understands the challenge of meeting the needs of all learners and wants to help all teachers make their instruction accessible!
Differentiating instruction can often feel like an overwhelming obstacle. It doesn't have to be with these 10 questioning strategies that get kids thinking!
Differentiating to meet the needs of struggling learners and Special Education mandates can seem like an impossible task when you are managing a classroom of 25-35 students. However, you do not need to waste time creating extra materials or complicated lesson components. You will more effectively differentiate lessons and scaffold content by using these ten questioning strategies. Watch struggling learners succeed when you incorporate these effortless techniques into your teaching repertoire.


Differentiating instruction can often feel like an overwhelming obstacle. It doesn't have to be with these 10 questioning strategies that get kids thinking!

1. Prior Notice

The simplest and most effective strategy to help students succeed is to give them extra time to process. Do this by giving prior notice before cold-calling. Assure specific students that you will never “cold-call” them and will instead let them know ahead of time when they will be asked to participate. How? During independent practice or bell ringers, privately tell a student, “Your answer to number one is perfect; I’m going to ask you to share it when the timer goes off,” or “After Bobbi and Jake read, you are going to read paragraph three aloud.” Many students who struggle academically act invisible or act out to avoid public academic failure. Giving prior notice is a great way to reduce anxiety and misbehavior.


2. Extra Time

Don’t repeat yourself or slow down. Provide a printed copy of teacher notes or PowerPoint slides. If you say or project anything to the class, odds are you have it written down on a computer. Simply print out 3-5 copies of the slides or lecture notes and give them to the 5% of learners that need visual cues or extra time to process. Most students with learning disabilities struggle with auditory learning and fail to keep up with fast-paced questions and directions. Providing printed versions of your notes will prevent students from falling behind and giving up.


3. Break It Down

Verbalize the internal thought process that leads to a final answer by breaking one big question into many small questions. Unbundle the logical steps that lead to a final conclusion. Ask many students small questions on different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Whenever possible, ask students, “What’s next?” For example, ask, “What is the first step, Jack? The second step, Kate? Then what, Chuck? Finally, Claire?” Make it sequential and engaging by popping unpredictably from student to student. Every student becomes involved in finding the final answer, and the process is differentiated.


4. Broken RECorD

If students do not immediately know the answer, provide or ask for a rule, example, context, or definition. For example, if you ask a student to identify an adjective and he/she gives you an incorrect answer, provide examples of adjectives instead of giving the definition. Then, let them try again. On the other hand, you can ask another student to provide examples or a definition, and then give the original student a second chance to answer.


5. Process of Elimination

To get students on the right track without over-explaining, narrow or eliminate false choices. For example: “We know it is not a verb because…” or “Why is it not answer choice A?” By explaining why one option is incorrect, you get students on the right track without feeding them the correct answer. By asking students why one question is incorrect, you give them chances to participate and succeed, even if they aren’t ready to explain the correct answer.


6. First Step

Before students begin working on their own, get them started on the right track by providing the first step. If a student is already answering a question incorrectly, pause them to tell them the first or missing step. Giving students the first step is often enough to get them on track. One way to do this is to make a half statement. For example, “Similes and metaphors both compare two things, but…Tyler?” Provide one part of a thought, and let a student finish it.


7. Identify Point of Error

Instead of blanketing an entire response as incorrect, simply ask about the point of error. Direct students to the exact point at which misunderstanding occurred. Ask why one step or point of logic is incorrect.


8. Instant Replay

Teachers often waste time explaining, correcting, defining, etc. Remember that students (and all people) can quickly realize their mistake if they hear an instant replay of what they just said. Simply repeat a student’s answer back to them so they can hear their mistake and correct it.


9. Feign Ignorance

Another simple way to reduce teacher talk time and keep the ratio of critical thinking on students is to feign ignorance. Whenever you start to explain something, remember to give higher-level students an opportunity to explain for you: “The easiest way to solve for Pi is…I seem to have forgotten. Emily, help me out.” Alternatively, “Let’s see, theme is tricky to define; who thinks they can do it?”


10. Stretch It

How are you differentiating for strong learners? Ask how and why questions to push thinking further. Ask students to cite more evidence or clarify reasoning. Ask one student to rephrase or add onto another student’s response. When one student provides an answer to a question, ask another student to explain how to determine the answer or why they agree or disagree.


Differentiating instruction can often feel like an overwhelming obstacle. It doesn't have to be with these 10 questioning strategies that get kids thinking!
As a Special Education Coordinator, I struggled to help overburdened general education teachers differentiate their lessons and materials. I didn’t blame them for lacking the time or management skills to handle differentiated components of a lesson. When I realized the effectiveness of these simple question strategies, I was excited that teachers could scaffold and differentiate materials without extra planning. You can also break down higher-level questions into multi-step logic and keep the ratio of critical thinking on students, even when they need high levels of guidance. Try my Staff Development Bundle to give yourself, your staff, and your students the tools they need to succeed!

Lauren Poinier of Common Core English with EaseI’m Lauren Poinier, and I taught English and History to students with learning disabilities for five years. As the teacher-author of Common Core English with Ease, my passion is to create CCSS-aligned inspirational activities that empower students to follow their passion, reach their highest potential, and positively impact the world! My TpT Store has allowed me to share these resources and to found the Early Literacy Non-Profit, Word Rebel, that connects low-income parents to the resources they need to build vocabulary from birth and close the achievement gap BEFORE it starts.

Find free inspirational activities, behavior management strategies, teaching ideas, and work-life balance tips at my blog, Facebook and Pinterest page.

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