Questions Provoking Critical Thinking

Varying question stems can sustain engagement and promote critical thinking.  The timing, sequence and clarity of questions you ask students can be as important as the type of question you ask.  The table below is organized to help formulate questions provoking gradually higher levels of thinking.

Thinking Skills


Sample Action Prompts

Example Questions1

Lower Levels


memorize & recall facts

recognize, list, describe, identify, retrieve, name

What do we already know about...?

What are the principles of … ?

How does ... tie in with what we learned before?


 interpret meaning

describe, generalize explain, estimate, predict

Summarize … or Explain …

What will happen if … ?

What does ... mean?

Higher Levels


apply knowledge to new situations

implement, carry out, use, apply, show, solve,  hypothesize

What would happen if…?

What is a new example of…?

How could … be used to...?

What is the counterargument for...?


break down or examine information

compare, organize, deconstruct

Why is ... important?

What is the difference between… and…?

What are the implications of...?

Explain why / Explain how?

What is ... analogous to?

How are ... and ... similar?


judge or decide according to a set of criteria

check, critique, judge, conclude, explain

How does ... affect...?

Why is ... happening?

What is the best ... and why?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement...?  What evidence is there to support your answer?

What are the strengths and weakness of?

What is the nature of…?


combine elements into a new pattern

design, construct, plan, produce

What is the solution to the problem of...?

What do you think causes...?  Why?

What is another way to look at...?

1 From Alison King, “Inquiring Minds Really Do Want to Know:  Using Questioning to Teach Critical Thinking,” Teaching of Psychology 22 (1995):  14.

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