average teacher asks 350 questions a day. The kinds of questions asked
fall into two categories: directed (also called
"low-level") questions and open-ended (also called
"high-level") questions. Of these 350 questions, most are
By analyzing our own
questioning techniques (e.g., how we ask questions, why we ask questions),
we can find the balance between directed and open-ended questions that
will most effectively encourage the development of higher-level thinking
skills in our students.
Let's look more closely at the differences between directed and open-ended questions.
questions and open-ended questions play equally important roles in
should not be the focus of a project. However, they aid students in
understanding key facts and, therefore, form the foundation of all
are asked in the traditional I-R-E format (Initiate, Response, Evaluate).
The teacher asks the question, a student responds, and the teacher
evaluates whether the student was correct. This process gives teachers a
quick read on where students are in terms of factual knowledge and recall.
In addition, a
teacher can use directed questions to guide student thought. The
information students attain through directed questioning provides them
with a knowledge base from which they can answer open-ended questions.
Students need to know the factual information before they can confidently
answer open-ended questions.
However, the overuse of directed questions might discourage student participation because only one student can be correct. Students may become frustrated when they are not called on or do not know the answer. Interspersing directed and open-ended questions will give all students a chance to participate at their own levels.
open-ended question can be the focus of a project if it provides
the discussion structure that leads students to the key understandings of
a topic. Though not all open-ended questions will help focus a project,
any question that does focus a project needs to be open-ended.
require students to research, investigate, or reflect before responding.
Students are invited to combine their factual knowledge in innovative,
have a plethora of possible answers, which allows all students to
participate and delve deeper into the topic. The answer to an open-ended
question can be a hypothesis, an opinion, a concept, an idea or a series
of research-based facts. In many circumstances, it is not the answer
itself, but the process by which the answer was determined that is
important when responding to an open-ended question.
Open-ended questions can be challenging and exciting to answer; however, students need to develop a foundation of knowledge to be able to answer the questions so they do not become confused, discouraged or frustrated. We can achieve this by asking directed questions to guide student thought as they explore the open-ended question.
Telling the Difference
short, directed questions and open-ended questions can be defined as
However, suppose we
had a directed question that we wanted to make open-ended. Here are some
examples of directed questions that have been modified to make them
open-ended. Notice that the open-ended question subsumes the directed
question, allows for more than one answer, and requires a more in-depth
Expanding Open-ended Questions
asking a combination of open-ended questions and directed questions, we
can effectively draw out deeper thinking in our students while teaching
them key facts. Open-ended questions prompt students to expand the way
they think about a topic, while directed questions guide their thoughts
and encourage them to make connections.
After posing an
open-ended question, challenge students to think about what directed
questions they need to answer before they can answer the open-ended
question. This process not only helps students to organize their thoughts,
uncover areas of research, and develop their critical thinking skills, but
also models problem-solving skills by teaching them to break down a
complex problem into smaller, achievable tasks.
that we have looked at how to ask questions, let's look at why we ask
questions. What is our objective? The kind of question we ask our students
changes depending on how far along we have progressed in a project and on
the mastery level of our students.
As students proceed
through a project, we can identify two levels of progression: horizontal
and vertical. Horizontal progression enhances the breadth of student
knowledge and occurs as students work through different stages of a
project. Vertical progression enhances the depth of student knowledge and
occurs as students gain mastery of each topic. Asking questions allows us
to increase the breadth and depth of students' learning.
The major horizontal
questioning stages encountered in the classroom are outlined below. You'll
notice that the elements of the KWL chart have been integrated into
At the Beginning
of a Project:
Brainstorming: The driving question is posed to get students' juices
flowing about a topic. Follow-up questions are asked to encourage students
to expand their thinking on the driving question and to gather their
thoughts and share their previous knowledge on the topic. (K)
Organization: These driving questions help organize students' gathered
thoughts into several overarching themes. Students begin to generate their
own questions about the topic.
Exploration: The teacher chooses about five overarching ideas (key
understandings) to focus on and asks open-ended questions to encourage
students to expand their thinking on a topic and elaborate on those
thoughts. Students consider what they need to learn in order to answer the
driving question. (W)
Guidance: Teachers ask clarifying questions to guide student
thinking on a topic. These questions are meant to point students in the
right direction or get to them back on track. These questions help
students develop their knowledge base for the overarching themes.
Clarification: Student ask questions to clarify a point or a concept.
or at the End of a Project:
Discussion: Now that students have begun developing a knowledge base,
the teacher asks a question to solicit student ideas and opinions and to
promote debate and discussion. Students may also ask questions that
promote debate and discussion. Discussions help wrap up a project by tying
up loose ends and aiding the class as a whole to draw conclusions, where
Evaluation: Driving questions assess students' understanding of the
essential learning and core concepts of the project. Students can evaluate
their own progress using this technique. These questions can be directed
(e.g., a multiple-choice test or I-R-E questions) or open-ended (e.g.,
essay questions or discussion-type questions). Students reflect on what
they have learned. (L)
questions and directed questions are sometimes referred to as
"high-level" questions and "low-level" questions,
respectively. This categorization is derived from the hierarchy of
educational goals, known as Bloom's Taxonomy.
(see chart below) addresses the vertical progression of knowledge. As
students master a topic, their ability to make use of the material
increases. When students first encounter a topic, they approach the
material by memorizing key facts; however, as they master the material,
they become able to analyze the information and use it in new and creative
address the first two levels of learning: knowledge and comprehension.
Open-ended questions cover the next four stages. By being aware of the
different stages of learning, teachers can become more successful at
enabling student learning by skillfully asking a combination of directed
and open-ended questions.
A Quick Reminder
The Driving Question
driving question focuses all other questions in a project. To
better understand the relationship between the driving question,
open-ended questions, and directed questions, imagine the relationship as
allow students to build a knowledge base of factual information. They
occur in the greatest numbers, but their answers are the least complex.
Students then combine these facts to form concepts, which
allow them to answer open-ended questions. Finally, the culmination of
these concepts will lead them to answer one or two driving questions, the
answers to which are the most complex and encompassing.
you think about the sheer amount of learning that needs to take place in
order to answer each question type, then the pyramid would be inverted.
way to think about the relationship is through the metaphor of a forest.
If the driving question is a forest, then open-ended questions are the
trees in that forest, and directed questions are the leaves on the trees.
The driving question subsumes the open-ended questions, which, in turn,
subsume the directed questions. To further extend the metaphor, the five
key understandings would be the five different species of trees in our
forest. Now you can see the forest for the trees!
Now that we understand what a driving question is, what makes an effective driving question?
Effective Driving Questions
questions are also called essential questions, project questions, and
umbrella questions. Effective driving questions include the
open-ended. Driving questions lead to debate and discussion, and
therefore, are motivating to students
2. Are objective.
Driving questions do not imply whether something is good or bad,
better or worse.
3. Focus and
drive the project. Students use the question as a springboard to
formulate their own questions. All learning and research in the project
are geared toward answering the driving question.
4. Focus on key
understandings. Generally each project will have about five
overarching ideas; the driving question subsumes all of them.
answerable. With diligence and dedication, students are able to answer
the driving question. While it should not be an easy process, it should be
research, investigation, and reflection. Driving questions may have
yes-or-no answers; however, your students need to support their answers
with the research and knowledge they have acquired throughout the project.
7. Call on a
student's previous knowledge and help students apply their learning to
8. Link basic
skills and concepts to students' lives and the real world. Students
are more motivated and involved when the topic they are studying is
relevant to their lives and to the real world.
standards from a variety of disciplines. Interdisciplinary lesson
plans promote teamwork among colleagues and encourage students to make
connections between disciplines.
10. Encourage multiple approaches to problem solving. Driving questions allow for more than one way to solve a problem and express the solution.
Our Driving Question
the driving question we posed at the beginning of this module? How do the
10 features of an effective driving question relate to our original
"How can we motivate students, increase
participation, and encourage deeper thinking in our classroom?"
Each feature relates
to all three parts of our driving question; however, some features relate
to specific parts in more obvious ways.
From these tables, we can see that by employing the ten features of effective driving questions, we can make our questions more motivating to students, increase student participation, and encourage deeper thinking.
Checklist: Questions to Consider
do we know if our questions employ the 10 features of effective driving
questions? By comparing our questions against this chart, we will be able
to see if they meet the criteria.
look at some questions that didn't meet the criteria and the reasons why.
Mapping Out a Driving Question
know now what effective driving questions are, but how do we use them in
our classroom? How can we take one driving question and use it as the
basis for an entire project? If a driving question is effective, it will
provide a springboard for you and your students to formulate many related
open-ended questions, questions that need to be answered before the
driving question can be tackled. Furthermore, as you explore these
open-ended questions, you will discover even more directed questions that
will have to be answered first. Let us take a look at the driving question
for this module and think about how to map it out.
1. How can I
How can I increase participation?
How can I encourage deeper thinking in my classroom?
Sample Driving Questions
Guidelines for Writing Effective Driving Questions
are guidelines that will help you write your own questions Try to write at
least ten questions. If you get stuck, you may reference this list
As you write driving
questions, remember these steps:
Driving Question Starters Worksheet
you get stuck trying to create an effective driving question, here are
some starters to get you going. While many of these starters are
open-ended, some can be answered with yes or no. In those cases, students
need to provide written evidence to support their answers.