The Dynamics of a Great Higher Order Question


Unit 3 Introduction

In the first two units of this course the benefits of active classroom discussion was shown along with the shortcomings of using the IRE model of questioning. On our path to mastering the Initiate-Response-Feedback model of questioning to foster higher order discussion we must now look at the Initiate aspect. The lower level questions such as "In what year was the Declaration of Independence signed?" are very straightforward and quite obvious. Therefore, this unit will focus on initiate higher order questions. For our purposes higher order questions are referring to the levels of cognition as defined by Bloom.[1] A higher order thinking question enables students to think critically about a topic while reinforcing their low level fact recall so higher order questions have a lot of benefits in the social studies classroom. This unit will enable students (classroom teachers) to create higher order thinking questions and utilize them in the classroom.

Unit 3 Objectives

1) In a social studies classroom the student (classroom teacher) will be able to evaluate and explain the dynamics of the components of a higher order thinking question.

2) In a social studies classroom the student (classroom teacher) will be able to create a higher order thinking question.

3) In a social studies classroom the student (classroom teacher) will be able to implement higher order questions at least 5 times a class period to enhance student learning.


Low level thinking quesitons are very simple to come up with and usually have only one right answer, such as checking for a date or name of a person. The class does not get "slowed down" because students either know the answer or do not in a very quick time, so their is no thinking time really needed because only the memory is being tested, not any actual thinking. Also, the majority of New York State Regents tests focus on low level thinking because a large portion of most exams is a multiple choice section, where only one right answer exists. As a result, many teachers largely rely on low level thinking questions in their classroom.

There definitely does exist a place in the classroom for low level thinking questions. It is important for students to remember specific places and people and low level questioning done through the IRE model quickly allows the teacher to check the memory. However, low level thinking questions should only be used from time to time with the majority of questions being geared towards higher order thinking. There are numerous benefits to higher order questions. The first and most important is that it actually allows students to think! Students must analyze and evaluate and compare or do more than throw out memorized facts. Also, since students need to use facts to support their answers the goals of the low level question is normally accomplished through the higher order thinking question. Higher order thinking quesitons engage students and challenge them which greatly increases their understanding of the topic.

Now the benefits to higher order thinking questions are numerous and very clear, but what makes a quesiton a higher order thinking question? The answer can usually be summed up by saying that a higher order question causes the student to think. Low level thinking questions require no thinking. Low level questions are pretty much requiring students to act like the Google Search Engine. Students are asked to recall the date the Declaration of Independence was signed, they essentially scan through their brain to see if they can retrieve the date. If they are successful and they find the date, they do nothing with it other than say it aloud. The date is not analyzed or synthesized, it is merely just stated.

Higher order thinking questions require students to think and evaluate pieces of information. For example, instead of asking students to recall the date of the signing of the Declaration, a teacher could ask a higher order quesiton. If the teacher asked students which event they think is most responsible for the Colonists deciding to sign the Declaration then the quesiton becomes higher order. Not only do students have to compare and evaluate different events, but they will most likely answer the original low level thinking question as well. If a student references the Boston Massacre and states the date of that in comparison to when the Colonies broke away, then not only was the low level question answered but the student was given a chance to think and evaluate. Following are two websites that have the different levels of thinking as presented by Bloom and have question prompts that lead students into thinking at those levels.

Dalton- Teacher Research Skills (Blooms)[2]

Reading and Questioning (Bloom) [3]



Go on to Unit 4 Encouraging Student Responses and Providing Engaging Feedback

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