Teachers know that effective questions are a major part of inspiring students and facilitating fruitful discussion. Good questions can show where students are in their learning process and can also foster greater curiosity. But designing questions that produce these effects isn’t always intuitive—so where should a teacher start? The following is a quick overview of questions designed for every level of thinking.
Question types and levels
Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom devised a taxonomy of questions that comes in handy here. He breaks questions down into six types based on complexity (we’ve added some brief explanations for each—note that the order is from easiest to most difficult):
1.) Knowledge: This category is for questions that ask for simple information recall. Students respond by stating information they’ve directly observed or learned.
Example: What are the three branches of government?
2.) Comprehension: These types of questions ask that students understand what’s being communicated within a specific context without necessarily comparing other contexts.
Example: In your own words, what did the character mean when she said this?
3.) Application: These questions ask students to use their acquired knowledge—or the techniques, facts, and rules they’ve previously learned—in a new way to solve a problem.
Example: How can we use the scientific method to develop a strategy for our upcoming basketball game?
4.) Analysis: These questions want students to break down complex information into distinct parts, make inferences, and cite evidence for their conclusions.
Example: What are the factors that led to the start of World War II?
5.) Synthesis: These ask students to take two or more different concepts or discrete parts of topics and put them together, creating a new plan or solution.
Example: How would you design a bridge out of recycled construction materials?
6.) Evaluation: Questions here ask students to judge the big picture about a topic, present and defend opinions, or examine the validity of an idea or judge something based on a set of criteria—likely after going through some of the previous levels of questions.
Example: How would you prepare a case for and against a year-round school schedule and determine its value?
Differentiating these types of questions helps students stay organized and focused on specifics. They can also more quickly learn to anticipate the progression of the learning process and the work required to gain the highest level of understanding. With Bloom’s model as a guide, you can structure most class activities with greater impact and deeper understanding for your students.