Questions to Provoke 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 Purpose Sample Action Prompts Example Questions1
Lower Levels      
Remembering 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?
Understanding interpret meaning describe, generalize, explain, estimate, predict Summarize ... or Explain ...
      What will happen if ... ?
      What does ... mean?
Higher Levels      
Applying 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 ... ?
Analyzing 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?
Evaluating 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 ... ?
Creating combine elements into a new pattern design, construct, plan, produce What is the solution to the problem of ... ?
      What do you think causes ... ?
      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.