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Graduate Exam Questions

Leslie Owen Wilson, 1997, updated 11/07

Newer Views of Learning- 

TYpes of Questions


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There are five basic types of questions:

Factual; Convergent; Divergent; Evaluative; and Combination

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The art of asking questions is one of the basic skills of good teaching. Socrates believed that knowledge and awareness were an intrinsic part of each learner. Thus, in exercising the craft of good teaching an educator must reach into the learner's hidden levels of knowing and awareness in order to help the learner reach new levels of thinking.

Through the art of thoughtful questioning teachers can extract not only factual information, but aid learners in: connecting concepts, making inferences, increasing awareness, encouraging creative and imaginative thought, aiding critical thinking processes, and generally helping learners explore deeper levels of knowing, thinking, and understanding.

As you examine the categories below, reflect on your own educational experiences and see if you can ascertain which types of questions were used most often by different teachers. Hone your questioning skills by practicing asking different types of questions, and try to monitor your teaching so that you include varied levels of questioning skills. Specifically in the area of Socratic questioning techniques, there are a number of sites on the Web which might prove helpful. Simply use Socratic- questioning as a descriptor. Don't forget to hyphenate the term.

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1. Factual - Soliciting reasonably simple, straight forward answers based on obvious facts or awareness. These are usually at the lowest level of cognitive or affective processes and answers are frequently either right or wrong.

Example: What is the name the Shakespeare play about the Prince of Denmark?

2. Convergent - Answers to these types of questions are usually within a very finite range of acceptable accuracy. These may be at several different levels of cognition -- comprehension, application, analysis, or ones where the answerer makes inferences or conjectures based on personal awareness, or on material read, presented or known.

Example: On reflecting over the entirety of the play Hamlet, what were the main reasons why Ophelia went mad? (This is not specifically stated in one direct statement in the text of Hamlet. Here the reader must make simple inferences as to why she committed suicide.)

3. Divergent - These questions allow students to explore different avenues and create many different variations and alternative answers or scenarios. Correctness may be based on logical projections, may be contextual, or arrived at through basic knowledge, conjecture, inference, projection, creation, intuition, or imagination. These types of questions often require students to analyze, synthesize, or evaluate a knowledge base and then project or predict different outcomes.

Answering divergent questions may be aided by higher levels of affective functions. Answers to these types of questions generally fall into a wide range of acceptability. Often correctness is determined subjectively based on the possibility or probability. Frequently the intention of these types of divergent questions is to stimulate imaginative and creative thought, or investigate cause and effect relationships, or provoke deeper thought or extensive investigations. And, one needs to be prepared for the fact that there may not be right or definitely correct answers to these questions.

Divergent questions may also serve as larger contexts for directing inquiries, and as such may become what are know as "essential" questions that frame the content of an entire course.  

Example: In the love relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia, what might have happened to their relationship and their lives if Hamlet had not been so obsessed with the revenge of his father's death?

Example of a divergent question that is also essential and divergent:  Like many authors throughout time, Shakespeare dwells partly on the pain of love in Hamlet. Why is painful love so often intertwined with good literature. What is its never ending appeal to readers? 

4. Evaluative - These types of questions usually require sophisticated levels of cognitive and/or emotional judgment. In attempting to answer evaluative questions, students may be combining multiple logical and/or affective thinking process, or  comparative frameworks. Often an answer is analyzed at multiple levels and from different perspectives before the answerer arrives at newly synthesized information or conclusions.


a. What are the similarities and differences between the deaths of Ophelia when compared to that of Juliet?

b. What are the similarities and differences between Roman gladiatorial games and modern football?

c. Why and how might the concept of Piagetian schema be related to the concepts presented in Jungian personality theory, and why might this be important to consider in teaching and learning?


5. Combinations - These are questions that blend any combination of the above.

More details and suggestions on this topic see - This rough magic by Daniel Lindley

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There are other authors who talk about the art of asking questions. One is H. Lynn Erickson and she talks about 3 types of questions as being factual, conceptual, and provocative.

If you look at the listing above, it should become apparent that these are the same types of categories. Erickson's factual are still the ones that are easily answered with definitive, and comparatively simple answers. These are the questions you find on the show Jeopardy. Unfortunately they are also too common in schools and on tests.  

Her conceptual questions might be ones that are convergent, divergent, or evaluative in construction -- ones that delve deeper and require more sophisticated levels of cognitive processing and thinking. 

Her provocative ones are ones that entice and ones cannot be answered with easy answers. They are questions can be used to motivate and frame content or are essential questions. In the initial categorization above they would be either complex divergent questions or more sophisticated combination questions like divergent/evaluative ones. 


Erickson, H. L. (2007) Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom. Thousand Oaks, Corwin Press.

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Links to other sites on questioning

On-line questions - Based on Bloom's Taxonomy