Creating questions to deepen understanding

Student-centered discussion plays an important role in classroom learning, but teachers play the central role in discussion that takes students to a higher level of content understanding.

Initially a teacher can begin any discussion or topic with fact oriented questions that check for basic understanding

Further, teachers should pose questions that ask “why,”” why not,”” how,” “what if” or “how does X compare with Y” to help student build a deeper understanding of content


  • Emphasize Higher-Order Thinking: It is appropriate to ask lower-order questions when first introducing a new topic to students or when it is necessary to establish meaning in the text prior to analysis, but the goal is to predominantly ask students questions that require them to analyze, evaluate, compare and contrast, and create new knowledge. These higher-order questions are essential to deepening knowledge and helping move students from superficial learning to depth and transfer.
  • Require textual evidence: Questions should require students to construct knowledge from their reading rather than relying purely on their own experiences, prior knowledge, or external resources such as the Internet. If students can answer the question without actually reading the text, then the question is not textually dependent.
  • Follow a logical sequence: There are many different ways to sequence questions. You can start with an essential question and work your way from larger concepts to the specific mechanics of a text. Or, prefer to first establish meaning through close reading and then expand analysis to broader ideas presented in the text. The important thing is for the questions to follow a logical sequence so that ideas build on each other rather than seeming random.

A few implementations would include:-

A. Develop a learning objective for the reading:
The educator determines the purpose of the students’ reading and what skills or knowledge he or she hopes that students will obtain from the text. This learning objective will guide the questions that the educator asks and will provide a learner a direction for the further concepts.

B. Create a logical sequence for questioning:
The educator determines a logical sequence for the questions. The sequence will depend on the text being read, the students’ skill levels, and the learning objective.

Possible sequences can include:

  • Beginning with an essential question and moving from general ideas to the specific mechanics of the text. This is a particularly effective way to drive engagement.
  • Beginning with a close reading and later expanding to broader ideas in the text. This is helpful for unpacking dense, complex texts or when the learning objective emphasizes close reading.
  • Toggling between establishing meaning in the text and analysis in order to support students’ comprehension while engaging in higher-order learning.

C. Emphasize on higher-order thinking:
The educator emphasizes questions that require higher-order thinking (analysis, evaluation, application, interpretation, and making connections) rather than surface-level questions that merely test recall. Though it is acceptable to include lower-order questions at the beginning of the lesson or at points when students need to establish meaning in the text, students should be spending most of their time thinking beyond the surface of the text

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