Module 5: Guiding Questions: Integrating Higher Level Thinking and Discussions

2. Instruction –The teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students.

2.1 Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques
Most of the teacher’s questions are of high quality. Adequate time is provided for students to respond.

Questioning and providing adequate wait time provides teachers with opportunities to regularly assess student learning throughout a unit of study. But how can questioning guide student learning over the course of time? Guiding questions provide teachers with opportunities to promote deeper thinking and discussions in the classroom. Questions should not be quickly devised but well-thought out so that students can present multiple answers and solutions to problems. Guiding questions along with well-planned out lesson units allows student learning to evolve over the course of time. Therefore, questioning and discussion activities present various opportunities for students to not only respond to their learning and to the responses of others, but over time, to question themselves as well.

As described by Drake and Burns (2004), guiding questions help teachers facilitate that students reflect on new knowledge with “higher-level thinking” (p. 74). There are two types of guiding questions, essential questions and topic questions. Essential questions are very broad and can relate to other subject matter, also enabling the teacher to integrate more than one subject area. Topic questions present a broad range of answers but relate more to the subject at hand. Guiding questions don’t necessarily present right or wrong answers; they are more engaging enabling deep discussions and theorizing in the classroom (Drake and Burns, 2004). Figure 1 presents a variety of examples of both types of questions.

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Figure 1: Enduring understandings and guiding questions graphic (Drake & Burns, 2004, p. 76).

When formatting guiding questions for students, it is important that these questions present opportunities to motivate higher-level thinking during classroom discussions. For example, Drake and Burns (2004) state, “A common trap is to ask lower-order questions that only require facts for an answer­… One way to avoid this is to ask questions that begin with “why” and “how” rather than ‘what,’ ‘when,’ and ‘where’ (p. 75). Moreover, involving students in deeper discussions helps provide opportunities for them to develop problem-solving and higher level thinking skillsets. Through classroom experiences and discussions, students are provided with opportunities to argue and discuss topics respectfully and intellectually.

Having observed a science teacher that utilizes this teaching strategy on a regular basis, I was able to see how this person guided students throughout a lesson unit. As questions presented during class were designed to be asked routinely throughout the unit of study, students would change their answers to the same questions over time as their knowledge levels increased. For example, last year, this seventh grade class routinely observed the school pond in order to study and test an existing ecosystem. Working as a team, different students gathered diverse sets data from the pond and charted this evidence over the course of several weeks. For example, as pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature levels changed over the course of time, plant and animal population numbers also increased and decreased. This data was represented on a graphic organizer that the class contributed to as a whole. They would then document the agreed upon data as a personal record in their science journals. Students would hypothesize and discuss these changing populations throughout the course of the unit, answering the same guiding questions presented to them over this period of time. Some examples of these questions are listed below:

  • Could the dissolved oxygen levels be affecting the pond’s ecosystem?
  • How does one species or life-form affect an ecosystem as a whole?
  • How does this pond study relate to our local and expanding community?

This project was a curricular unit of study that facilitated deeper levels of thinking over the course of time, throughout the various lessons that were designed around classroom conversations and pond visits. Students were provided with integrated curriculum that also pertained to math, social studies, language arts, and art assignments, broadening their exposure to the subject matter. After the classroom agreed upon a hypothesis that the grass population increasing was contributing to the decrease in some animal populations, they then were to design conceptual and physical models as to how they could resolve this problem. The models were used along with journal entries to assess student learning during the course of this unit.

This project provided real-world evidence of how guided questioning along with experiential curricula can create memorable and meaningful learning experiences. As discussed by Scheuerman (2016), education should be a “…journey rather than [a] point of arrival”. This teacher’s pond study is a great example of how this can be successful. Students I spoke with at the end of the unit verified that they would always remember their pond project.


Drake, S. M. & Burns, R. C. (2004). Meeting standards through integrated curriculum. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Scheuerman, R. (2016). Session V: Integration, academic integrity, and language arts methods [PDF document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Web site:






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