Questioning - Bloom's Taxonomy/Document

From OER in Education

Bloom’s taxonomy Bloom’s taxonomy (see the summary of research) is very useful both in planning objectives and in planning increasingly challenging questions. The taxonomy classifies educational objectives into groups according to the level of cognitive complexity involved and kind of thinking needed to meet the objectives.

Bloom assumed that the objectives could be placed in a hierarchical sequence, from knowledge (the least complex kind of objective) to evaluation (the most complex and the one that demands higher-order thinking).

In summary, Bloom’s taxonomy suggests that people first need to acquire knowledge before they can understand the knowledge. They need to be able to understand the knowledge before they can apply it to different contexts. They need to be able to apply knowledge before they can analyse, question or infer from the knowledge. Only when they have done that can people combine different kinds of knowledge to create new knowledge. Finally, when a person is able to combine knowledge in this way, they are then able to evaluate. Moving between these stages demands increasingly complex thinking on the part of the learner.

You can use the steps in the taxonomy to help plan objectives for lessons over a period of time to ensure that lessons are making increasingly challenging cognitive demands on pupils. You can also use them to plan sequences of questions in a lesson. By sequencing questions in this way, you can help pupils to deepen their understanding, to develop their thinking skills and to become more effective learners.

The following chart links the steps in Bloom’s taxonomy with the types of task pupils might be expected to do and the kinds of question that would help them in those tasks. There are many possible generic question stems; just a few examples are given for each objective.

Cognitive objective What pupils need to do Links to thinking Possible question stems
Knowledge Define Recall Describe Label Identify Match Pupils are more likely to retain information if it is needed for

a specific task and linked to other relevant information. Do your questions in this area allow pupils to link aspects of knowledge necessary for the task?

Describe what you see … What is the name for … What is the best one …

Where in the book would you find …

What are the types of graph … What are we looking for?

Where is this set?

Comprehension Explain Translate Illustrate Summarise Extend Comprehension questions require the pupils to process the knowledge they already have in order to answer the question. They demand a higher level of thinking and information processing than do knowledge questions. How do you think … Why do you think … What might this mean …

Explain what a spreadsheet does …

What are the key features … Explain your model …

What is shown about … What happens when … What word represents …

Application Apply to a new context

Demonstrate Predict Employ



Questions in this area require pupils to use their existing knowledge and

understanding to solve a new problem or to make sense of a new context. They demand

more complex thinking. Pupils are more likely to be able to apply knowledge to a new context if it is not too far removed from the context

with which they are familiar.

What shape of graph are you expecting?

What do you think will happen?

… Why?

Where else might this be useful? How can you use a spread-

sheet to …?

Can you apply what you now know to solve …?

What does this suggest to you? How does the writer do this? What would the next line of my

modelled answer be?

Analysis Analyse Infer Relate Support

Break down Differentiate Explore

Analysis questions require pupils to break down what they know and reassemble it to help them solve a problem. These questions are linked to more abstract, conceptual thought which is central to

the process of enquiry.

Separate … (e.g. fact from opinion)

What is the function of … What assumptions are being

made …

What is the evidence … State the point of view … Make a distinction … What is this really saying?

What does this symbolise? So, what is the poet saying

to us?

Synthesis Design Create Compose Reorganise Combine Synthesis questions demand that pupils combine and select from available knowledge to respond to unfamiliar situations or solve new problems. There is likely to be a great diversity of responses. Propose an alternative … What conclusion can you

draw …

How else would you … State a rule …

How do the writers differ in their response to …

What happens at the beginning of the poem and how does it change?

Evaluation Assess Evaluate Appraise Defend Justify Evaluation questions expect pupils to use their knowledge to form judgements and defend the positions they

take up. They demand very complex thinking and reasoning.

Which is more important/moral/logical …

What inconsistencies are there in …

What errors are there … Why is … valid …

How can you defend … Why is the order important? Why does it change?

Table continues

Task 6 Which category? 10 minutes You could try this task by yourself or do it with another teacher.

Look at the list of questions and question stems below and decide which objective in Bloom’s taxonomy each relates to. Write the question numbers under the headings in the first column of the grid above.

1 Which of these three tools would do that most effectively and why? 2 What name did we give to ...? 3 Why do you think the indigenous peoples of what is now South America had no word for ‘season’? 4 Why do you think the indigenous peoples of what is now South America might have no word for ‘season’ in their native languages? 5 What does this style of painting remind you of? 6 What do you think is the main point the writer is making in the second paragraph? 7 Which of these four sources might be most reliable in helping us to …? 8 Now, the difficult bit. Given all the conflicting arguments, where would you build the new refinery? 9 What would happen if you mixed ...? 10 What choices did Harold have when faced with that situation? 11 Which words in this sentence do you already know?12 Given all of the sources we have looked at, where would you now expect these people to have moved to? 13 If we are unsure, how could we set about translating …? 14 Why did the Normans invade ...? 15 What similarities can you spot between the two ...? 16 If this verb looks like this when it follows ‘il’, what would you expect of these verbs? 17 What repeating pattern can you see in the events …? 18 How will you set about remembering what you have learned?

As you will realise, the questions that are asked in relation to the cognitive objectives in Bloom’s taxonomy can be put into two main categories

  • Those which are mainly about factual knowledge and its understanding and application: These questions demand mainly concrete thinking and fall into the first three areas of the taxonomy. Questions in this category will have a limited number of possible answers. They are sometimes called ‘convergent questions’.
  • Those which are mainly about problem solving and the manipulation of knowledge: These questions demand mainly abstract thought and require understanding and use of concepts as well as the ability to see patterns and processes. They fall into the last three areas of the taxonomy. Questions in this category are likely to produce a wide diversity of responses and possible answers. They are sometimes called ‘divergent questions’.

Planning a questioning sequence to promote thinking 1 hour If you have access to the DFES Pedagogy videos, watch sequence 7b, which shows an English teacher working with a Year 10 mixed-ability group. Watch how she increases the demand, moving from concrete questions to abstract ones. Notice also how she increases and reduces demand in response to individual pupils, changing from abstract to concrete if a pupil struggles to respond. Alternatively, see if you can find another video on the web, ask a colleague if you can observe one of their lessons, or think about videoing your own practice to explore questioning techniques.

Note down some of the questions she uses and then use the grid on pages 13–14 to work out which of Bloom’s cognitive objectives each one matches.

Now use Bloom’s taxonomy to plan a sequence of questioning you can use in a lesson that you will teach soon. You might like to plan the sequence with someone in your own department and then both try it out.

Evaluate how effective it was and consider what you might do next time to improve the sequence. You might find it helpful to reflect on some of the common pitfalls to questioning (see Common Pitfalls of Questioning)

Once you have tried this a few times, it is a good idea to build banks of questions into your schemes of work.