The Weekly Teaching Note

From the Cal Poly Pomona Faculty Center for Professional Development

Question Templates

Posted by weeklyteachingnote on February 3, 2009

Isadore Rabbi, a Nobel-prize winning physicist, tells a story of his childhood in the Jewish ghetto of New York.  When the children came home from school, their mothers would ask them, “What did you learn in school today?”  But Isadore’s mother would ask him, “What good questions did you ask today?”  Dr. Rabbi suggests he became a physicist and won the Nobel Prize because he was valued more for the questions he was asking than the answers he was giving (Barell, 1988).

Many questions we ask about our disciplines can be simplified into “templates.” When students do not know how to ask questions about a reading or activity, it may be because they have not realized that “thinking” can follow patterns that are applicable across a wide range of topics or situations.

These question prompts help students to develop critical thinking tools and to frame their own discussion questions.  Developed and researched by King (1992; 1990; 1995), these question prompts or stems are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierarchical way of analyzing levels of thinking.  The nature of the prompt requires students to come up with questions that go well beyond factual recall. Requiring students to email you the discussion questions or to post them to BlackBoard prior to a class session can encourage students to read assigned materials.

Process: Assign outside reading or conduct a short lecture on a topic.  Students use the generic question stems or prompts as a guide for formulating their own specific questions about the content.  You can email the following list to students (or post to BlackBoard), telling them how many questions, all with different prompts or stems, they should submit for discussion.  They fill in the blanks with appropriate content from the reading/lecture material.  You can encourage them to make the questions authentic, ones they truly want to discuss rather than ones they already have a pat answer for.

Generic Question Prompts/Stems:

Explain why ____.  (Explain how ____.)

What would happen if ____?

What is the nature of ____?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of ____?

What is the difference between ___ and ___?

Why is ____ happening?

What is a new example of ____?

How could ____ be used to ____?

What are the implications of ____?

What is  ____ analogous to?

How does ___ affect ____?

How does ___ tie in with what we learned before?

Why is ____ important?

How are ____ and ____ similar?

How does ____ apply to everyday life?

What is a counter-argument for ____?

What is the best ____, and why?

What is the solution to the problem of ____?

Compare ____ and ____ with regard to ____?

What do you think causes ____?  Why?

Do you agree or disagree with this statement: ____? What evidence is there to support your answer?

What is another way to look at ____?

What does ____ mean?

Describe ____ in your own words.

Summarize ____ in your own words.

After using the question prompts a few times, a good classroom exercise is to see if the group can generate more template questions for the discipline.


Barell, J. 1988, cited (p. 59) in Costa & O’Leary, Co-cognition: The cooperative development of the intellect. In Davidson, J.  and Worsham, T (Ed.) Enhancing Thinking through Cooperative Learning.  (Ed.) (1988, April). Cogitare: A Newsletter of the ASCD Network on Teaching Thinking, 3(1).

King, A. (1990).  Enhancing peer interaction and learning in the classroom through reciprocal questioning. American Educational Research Journal, 27(4), 664-687.

King, A. (1992).  Promoting active learning and collaborative learning in business administration classes.  In T. J. Frecka (Ed.), Critical thinking, interactive learning and technology: Reaching for excellence in business education (pp. 158-173). Arthur Andersen Foundation.

King, A. (1995, Winter).  Guided peer questioning: A cooperative learning approach to critical thinking.  Cooperative learning and college teaching, 5(2), pp. 15-19.

Contributed by:

Barbara J. Millis, Director

The TEAM Center

University of Texas at San Antonio

San Antonio, TX


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