Levels of Questions in Bloom's Taxonomy
The goal of classroom questioning is not to determine whether students have learned something (as would be the case in tests, quizzes, and exams), but rather to guide students to help them learn necessary information and material. Questions should be used to teach students rather than to just test students!
Teachers frequently spend a great deal of classroom time testing students through questions. In fact, observations of teachers at all levels of education reveal that most spend more than 90 percent of their instructional time testing students (through questioning). And most of the questions teachers ask are typically factual questions that rely on short-term memory.
Taxonomy is an orderly classification of items according to a systematic relationship (low to high, small to big, simple to complex).
Although questions are widely used and serve many functions, teachers tend to overuse factual questions such as “What is the capital of California?” Not surprising, many teachers ask upward of 400 questions each and every school day. And approximately 80 percent of all the questions teachers ask tend to be factual, literal, or knowledge-based questions. The result is a classroom in which there is little creative thinking taking place.
It's been my experience that one all-important factor is key in the successful classroom: students tend to read and think based on the kinds of questions they anticipate receiving from the teacher. If students are constantly bombarded with questions that require only low levels of intellectual involvement (or no involvement whatsoever), they will tend to think accordingly. Conversely, students who are given questions based on higher levels of thinking will tend to think more creatively and divergently.
Many years ago, an educator named Benjamin Bloom developed a classification system we now refer to as Bloom's Taxonomy to assist teachers in recognizing their various levels of question-asking (among other things). The system contains six levels, which are arranged in hierarchical form, moving from the lowest level of cognition (thinking) to the highest level of cognition (or from the least complex to the most complex):
Observations of both elementary and secondary classrooms has shown that teachers significantly overuse knowledge questions. In fact, during the course of an average day, many teachers will ask upward of 300 or more knowledge-based questions.
This is the lowest level of questions and requires students to recall information. Knowledge questions usually require students to identify information in basically the same form it was presented. Some examples of knowledge questions include …
“What is the biggest city in Japan?”
“Who wrote War and Peace?”
“How many ounces in a pound?”
Words often used in knowledge questions include know, who, define, what, name, where, list, and when.
Never end a presentation by asking, “Are there any questions?” This is the surest way to turn off students. Instead, say something like, “Take five minutes and write down two questions you have about the lesson. Share those questions and discuss possible answers with a partner.”
Simply stated, comprehension is the way in which ideas are organized into categories. Comprehension questions are those that ask students to take several bits of information and put them into a single category or grouping. These questions go beyond simple recall and require students to combine data together. Some examples of comprehension questions include …
“How would you illustrate the water cycle?”
“What is the main idea of this story?”
“If I put these three blocks together, what shape do they form?”
Words often used in comprehension questions include describe, use your own words, outline, explain, discuss, and compare.
In analysis, you move from the whole to the parts. In synthesis, you move from the parts to the whole.
At this level, teachers ask students to take information they already know and apply it to a new situation. In other words, they must use their knowledge to determine a correct response. Some examples of application questions include …
“How would you use your knowledge of latitude and longitude to locate Greenland?”
“What happens when you multiply each of these numbers by nine?”
“If you had eight inches of water in your basement and a hose, how would you use the hose to get the water out?”
Words often used in application questions include apply, manipulate, put to use, employ, dramatize, demonstrate, interpret, and choose.