Questions and Questioning

Please note: this guide was written before the 2014 National Curriculum and some of the advice may no longer be relevant.

Enquiry lies at the heart of history. Understanding the past involves a process of enquiry, where we examine sources about the past, raise questions and debate their meaning. See the 'Using key questions' exemplar from Roman Britain.

Closed and open questions

We can ask children closed or open questions. Closed questions will test recall and understanding and help children to revise what they know. As such, they have a useful place in a teacher's repertoire.

The best questions, though, are open questions. Open questions in history focus children's attention, rouse curiosity and interest, drive and shape the investigation, elicit views and stimulate purposeful discussion. Open questions promote higher order thinking and so help children to develop their thinking skills.

Key questions

Key questions are overarching questions which give any lesson or topic unity and coherence, driving and focusing the investigation. A key question for a topic might be: Why do we learn about the Ancient Greeks ?what was special about them? and for a lesson within the topic: Was there a Trojan War? Not all questions are key, or important. It is all too easy to ask trivial questions. Good questions challenge us to investigate a topic and help us to develop our understanding of the past.

Children asking questions

Learning to ask good questions is a valuable skill to acquire, and our pupils will become good at questioning if we build in opportunities for them to ask their own questions. In our experience children, properly encouraged, ask a wide range of sensible questions, better than those we might have asked them.

When we invite children to ask questions about a topic, such as the Great Fire of London, we must treat their questions with respect: by recording them, pursuing our investigation of the topic with reference to them and, at the end, reviewing them to check whether we have been able to answer them all? and if not, why not.

Short exemplar lessons


We use questioning in the following lessons on this website:

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