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Graduate Student Guides

Writing Effective Discussion Questions

Discussion questions guide conversation most effectively when the leader:

  • Plans goals for the discussion in advance 
  • Creates questions with these goals in mind
  • Sends questions to participants in advance so they can come prepared

There are several types of discussion questions with various uses:

  • Knowledge: simple questions, test for content knowledge of subject matter
  • Comprehension: ask students to explain, interpret, give examples, and/or summarize
  • Application: require the application of knowledge
  • Analysis: require the application of principles in new settings
  • Synthesis: require combining ideas
  • Evaluation: require making a judgement

There are also a few types of questions a leader will usually want to avoid:

  • General opening questions begin discussion abruptly and too broadly to answer well
  • Filler questions—ex. “Does this make sense?”—rarely get a response because it’s difficult to admit to not understanding something
  • Questions with one-word answers do not sustain discussion
  • Multiple questions asked as one can be too overwhelming to answer coherently

Tips for the best discussion: 

  • Analysis, synthesis, and evaluation questions lead to long and in-depth discussions
  • Start with a simple, knowledge-based question to “warm up” participants for discussion
  • Use a question and task design wheel to formulate the best questions for your goals:


Improve your writing and study skills! Book an appointment with a writing advisor and/or academic coach on OSCARplus.  Questions? Email


“Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Faculty Center, University of Central Florida, 

“Bloom’s Taxonomy Question & Task Design Wheel.” Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, 16 April 2013,

“Effective Questions for Leading Discussions.” Educational Development Centre, Carleton University,  

“Facilitating Effective Discussions.” Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo, 

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