Intel Designing Effective Projects : Projects to Engage Learners
Characteristics of Projects | Planning Projects | Projects in Action
Project Design

Curriculum-Aligned Questions

Thinking Skills

Project Plan Index

Teaching and Learning Strategies


Questions for Learning

Explore strategies for developing open-ended questions and implementing them in the classroom. 

Using Questions to Promote Learning
Developing Good Questions
Effective Questioning Practices


Asking the Right Questions
Asking intriguing, open-ended questions is an effective way to encourage learners to think deeply and to provide them with a meaningful context for learning. When learners are given questions that they are truly interested in finding the answers to, they engage. When questions help them see the connections between the subject matter and their own lives, learning has meaning. We can help our learners become more motivated and self-directed by asking the right questions. But what are the right questions?

Curriculum-Aligned Questions provide a structure for organizing questioning throughout projects and promote thinking at all levels. They give projects a balance between content understanding and exploration of intriguing and enduring ideas that make learning relevant to learners. Curriculum-Aligned Questions guide a project or unit of study and include Focus and Content Questions.

Focus Questions provide the rationale for learning. They help learners to recognize the "why" and "how" and encourage inquiry, discussion, and research. They involve learners in personalizing their learning and developing insights into a topic. Good Focus Questions engage learners in critical thinking, promote curiosity, and develop a questioning approach to the curriculum. In order to answer such questions, learners must examine topics in depth and construct their own meaning and answers from the information they have gathered. 

Content Questions help learners to identify the "who", "what", "where", and "when", and support the Focus Question by providing an understanding of the details. They help learners to focus on the factual information that must be acquired and understood in order to meet many of the assessment standards and project goal.

Using Curriculum-Aligned Questions
Curriculum-Aligned Questions build upon each other. Content Questions support Focus Questions. The questions below from a civics unit show the relationship between each.

Focus Questions 
  • Which of our community helpers is the most important?  
  • Which community helper would you most like to be?
Content Questions 
  • Who are some community helpers? 
  • What do community helpers do?
Focus Questions: 
  • Are open-ended and invite exploration of ideas that are specific to a topic, subject, or unit of study.  
  • Pose problems or serve as discussion starters. For example: Can we help prevent and relieve famine? 
  • Encourage exploration, provoke and sustain interest, and allow for unique responses and creative approaches. They force learners to interpret the facts themselves.
Content Questions:  
  • Typically have clear-cut answers or specific “right” answers and are categorized as “closed” questions. 
  • Align with the project goal and support the Focus Question.  
  • Test learners’ ability to find fact based information. They usually require learners to address who, what, where, and when. For example: What is famine?
  • Require knowledge and comprehension skills to answer.

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2001). Understanding by design. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.