Designing Questions for Games and Sports Teaching 1 


By Dr Ben Williams, President ACHPER QLD
Senior Lecturer – Health and Physical Education, Griffith University

Why do teachers ask questions? Well, there are lots of reasons. Sometimes we use them to check whether our students can recall the critical elements of a task presentation or the key points of our lesson. Sometimes we use them to challenge students to think critically or to stimulate student interest. Sometimes we use them to guide students towards the solution to a problem. Sometimes we use them to redirect off-task behaviour and manage the class. And sometimes we use them to structure our lesson planning or unit design. This list isn’t exhaustive. If you reflect on your own teaching, I’m sure you’ll think of other reasons, too. In this post, I want to share two frameworks I find useful for designing good problem-solving questions in movement-based learning tasks, like small-sided games.2


What happens when you ask the right questions.

Regardless of the reason a question is used, I want to suggest that “good” teacher questions have three general characteristics. First, a good question is purposeful, by which I mean the teacher asking it (or planning to ask it) has a clearly thought-through reason for doing so. It isn’t an off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment, kind of thing. Second, a good question is aligned to its purpose. For instance, if a teacher’s intention for a question is to check whether her students can recall the definition of key terms taught in a previous lesson, an aligned question would seek to get students to produce from memory (i.e., recall) the meanings of terms taught in the previous lesson (i.e., the definitions). Obvious, right?3; Third, in addition to being purposeful and aligned, a good question is accessible. By accessible, I mean the students understand it – the language it uses, the prior experiences it presupposes, and so on. Ensuring a question is accessible can be difficult, and knowledge of the students and the subject matter is critical here.

The first framework I find useful for designing questions is a little bit “meta,” but bear with me. It’s Peter Goodyear and colleagues’ activity-centred analysis and design (ACAD) framework4. As the name suggests, ACAD positions what students are actually doing during a learning episode as central to what students learn as a result of that learning episode. And ACAD understands what students actually do during a learning episode as strongly influenced by the interaction of the students with (a) the tasks they are set, (b) the tools and other resources they have access to when undertaking those tasks, and (c) what the people around them are doing.

So, what, then, does this mean for planning questions? Well, firstly, it focuses my mind on the idea that questions are designable features of the learning encounter and that how (and whether) students respond to questions is central to what they might learn. Secondly, it prompts me to consider not only the relationship between the questions I might ask and the tasks I might set, but also the resources students could use to attempt to answer those questions and the ways students could work with their peers when doing so. At the very least, the ACAD framework reminds me that when I’m planning questions for a lesson, I have more options open to me than posing questions verbally to the class and seeking to elicit immediate verbal responses back from the individual students that raise their hand and care to share their thoughts. Now with the big picture thinking done, it’s time to come back down to Earth.

The second framework I want to share is Stephen Mitchell and colleagues’ questioning as teaching framework5 . Mitchell and colleagues’ framework consists of five categories of questions, which build on similar work in Games Sense and other tactical approaches to games teaching6. Each category of question in this framework relates to a different question focus. Within the framework:

  • The word what can be used to design questions about tactical awareness (e.g., “What should your primary goal be as a fielding team through the next five overs of this game scenario?”7)
  • The word how can be used to design questions about skill execution (e.g., “How might you prevent the batter from seeing that you’ve changed your grip to bowl a slower ball?”)
  • The word when can be used to design questions about time (e.g., “When during this over might you move a fielder from a catching position to a boundary-riding position?”)
  • The word where can be used to design questions about space (e.g., “Where on the crease should you deliver the ball to maximise your chance of dismissing the batter leg before wicket?”)
  • And the word which can be used to design questions about risks and options (e.g., “Which of these two shots is the safest option for this batter at this stage of the game?”)

In addition to these five question starters, the word why can be used to design questions intended to elicit justification and probe for depth of understanding (e.g., “Why is that option likely to be the most effective in these circumstances?”). Mitchell and colleagues don’t include “why” questions in their framework, but they are consistent with the overall spirit of tactical approaches to games teaching.

Now, this what, how, when, where, and which (not to forget, why) framework is most obviously applicable to pursuing learning outcomes and designing learning tasks related to movement strategies. I mean, that’s what it was designed for. But I think it also has applicability beyond the teaching and learning of movement strategies. Personally, I’ve found the framework useful for planning questions related to any subject matter that has a strategic dimension (what), an execution dimension (how), a temporal dimension (when), a spatial dimension (where), a choice between options (which), and/or a justificatory dimension (why). And when this set of question starters is combined with some ACAD-informed epistemic, set and social design work and baby you got a stew going8. *Chef’s kiss*9. Do try it.

1 I work in a university. University types like me use footnotes. They can’t help themselves. They have too much to say. Forewarned is forearmed. I promise to use them for humour as well as information.

I’m going to talk about the characteristics of good questions and the design of good questions in the next three paragraphs. So, if you’re just here for some concrete advice about designing good questions for movement-based learning tasks, please feel free to scroll past these three paragraphs. I won’t be offended. But you’ll only learn about one framework, not the two I promised.

Arguably not a good question. This was a trick to see if you were paying attention.

If you’re interested, you can read more about the framework here.

Welcome back if you scrolled past the last three paragraphs. They’ll always be there if you ever want to find out what you missed.

The framework I’m referring to is in the third edition of Teaching Sport Concepts and Skills. And if you’re interested in learning about the similarities and differences between this family of approaches, this blog post is a useful starting point:.

The following examples will all be cricket-related, which, if you’re unfamiliar with cricket, will prove my point about the importance of the subject matter-accessibility of a question. However, I can tell that you’re smart (or determined) because you made it this far. So, you should be able to translate my cricket examples into ones from an activity with which you’re more familiar.

It’s never too late for an Arrested Development reference, see

Or another already outdated Internet meme.