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“Are Harder Questions Better Than Easy Questions?” — A New Activity

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I spend a fair amount of classroom time trying to incorporate Bloom’s Taxonomy in my classroom — by incorporating higher levels in my lesson planning and by helping students gain an understanding of it so they can apply them. I have a very extensive lesson/unit plan in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves (and it’s one of my favorite ones) and The Best Resources For Helping Teachers Use Bloom’s Taxonomy In The Classroom is one of the most popular “The Best…” lists I’ve published.

One of my biggest challenges is to help students understand why asking higher-level questions is important (you might be interested in Why Is It Important For Students To Learn About Bloom’s Taxonomy?). Two days ago, we began two days of lessons on the difference between literal and interpretative questions as part of my effort to help students developing their question-asking ability. We haven’t done a full lesson on Bloom’s yet — this was sort of a preliminary introduction (though I do have posters with Bloom’s question-starters on the wall that students can use in writing questions about text and in asking questions of each other).

And I tried something new….

I’ve done the literal/interpretative lesson in prior years — sharing read alouds related to the building of the transcontinental railroad, modeling the two different kinds of questions, and then having students develop their own and teach them in small groups. But it was the introduction to the lesson that was new. It took about fifteen minutes, and it went very, very well.

I began by simply asking the students to write two sentences answering this question:

“Are harder questions better than easy questions? Why or why not?”

Obviously, it’s a bit of a leading one.

After three minutes, I had students divide into groups of three to share their responses with each other and then decide on which answer they thought was the best one.  They then had to choose one person to stand-up and say it when I pointed to the group.  Here were some representative responses students gave in the two classes of English Language Learner U.S. History where we did the exercise:

Harder ones are better because they make you think and learn more.

I think the hard questions are better than the easy question because when you thinking about that and try to find the answer then you can more about it or at least you can remember longer.

Harder are better because people will think you can speak English better and your brain will grow bigger (Editor Note: We’ve done lessons on how learning new things affects the brain — see The Best Resources For Showing Students That They Make Their Brain Stronger By Learning).

Harder is better because you making the other person think more.

Harder questions is better because with hard questions we can get better information.

It is important to ask harder questions than easy because you learn more and you connect your life to the reading.

Harder questions make your brain big.

The harder questions are making people think in their head.

I think hard questions make you thinking more and make you more adult.  Also make you smarter and remember more.

Asking harder questions show that you learned and know more.

Even though my question was a leading one, I really think students were very sincere in their responses. They identified for themselves why this concept was important.

It was a great lead-in to the lesson, and I reinforced their responses by pointing to the Bloom’s poster at the higher levels and explaining that employers are looking for that kind of thinking. I also mentioned that by asking ourselves these kinds of harder questions when we read, it pushes us to think more deeply about the text. Finally, since it was Valentine’s Day, I suggested that it can even be useful when you go on a date — after you leave a movie you can sound more thoughtful. Students suggested in response that I should leave dating ideas to them….

This entire lesson usually goes well, but this year the two days went exceptionally well. I attribute that to my having students identify its relevance to their lives instead of my doing it for them. Of course, I had laid some of the groundwork earlier in the year — it didn’t all just happen by magic!

A few minutes can go a long way….

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

3 Comments

  1. At the risk of revealing my own ignorance, I have never studied Bloom’s Taxonomy and so don’t really know what you mean by “harder questions.”

    Do you mean questions with multiple facets and parts (i.e. complex questions) or questions that are difficult to answer regardless of their complexity?

    Example: The classic psychiatrist question, “How does that make you feel?” is extremely simple, yet can be very difficult to answer and educational.

    This might, of course, be what Bloom says. I just figured I’d ask the question instead of researching it myself. Which of those two options is better, I wonder?

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