Designing Effective Projects : Curriculum-Aligned Questions
Developing Good Questions


Generating Questions that Target Higher-Order Thinking
Developing good Focus Questions takes practice. Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, co-authors of Understanding by Design (1998), suggest that in order to develop learner understanding and engage and focus learner inquiry, teachers should build their projects around the questions that gave rise to deeper understanding. This means a look at the key ideas, the broad themes, and the overarching concepts that get at the heart of the subject.

A good place to start is by looking at your assessment standards and thinking about general themes in the subject. Then begin formulating questions that require learners to make a decision or plan a course of action related to those key ideas.


Action Example
Look at key issues or ideas Entrepreneurs are people who take the risks of organizing productive resources to make goods and services. Profit is an important incentive that leads entrepreneurs to accept the risks of business failure.

Identify the general subject theme(s) related to the project

Taking risks
Brainstorm questions related to the theme that require a decision or plan of action Decision: Are risks worth taking? Why should we take risks?

Plan of Action: How can we reduce risk?

Make sure each question will take time to fully understand and answer. Don’t worry about the mechanics and language in the beginning; concern yourself more with whether it requires higher-order thinking skills. Remember that truly good Focus Questions motivate learners, promote inquiry, target higher-order thinking, and get to the heart of what it is that you want your learners to learn and do.

Once you have developed your questions, put them to the test. Use the following list to assess whether or not each question is open-ended and will incite learners to really think.

  • Can the question serve as a discussion starter or problem poser? 
  • Will the question generate curiosity, invite an exploration of ideas, and hold learner interest?  
  • Does the question pose a reasonable challenge and does it require learners to construct their own meaning and support it with information they have gathered? 
  • Would different people answer the question differently and does it allow for creative approaches and unique responses?  
  • Does the question require learners to answer how and why? 
  • Does the question help to uncover the subject’s controversies? 
  • Does the question in some way connect to learners ’ lives?  
  • Does the question require learners to dissect their thinking?

Once you have evaluated your questions, modify and adjust them as necessary. Remember to word them using language that will appeal to your learners. Let your questions evolve over time and when appropriate, let your learners develop the questions themselves.

Finally, give your Focus Questions a try. When you do, you are likely to discover that your lessons have purpose and depth that you had never planned on and authentic learning that you did not know could exist. If you can draw your learners into an interactive form of learning stimulated by effective questioning practices, you are likely to foster life-long learners.

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J . (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.