Bringing rigor and promoting higher order thinking into the classroom through questioning.

Rigor is a buzz word in the education world. If you attend professional development then you have heard this word a million times. In your team or administration meetings you may have discussed ways to bring more rigor into your classroom. One of the easiest ways to expose your students to rigorous task and discussion is through questioning. The questions you are asking will create an understanding of what you are teaching. If we are not asking the right questions then our students may not be thinking the right thoughts. Questions are everything, they guide our lessons, promote discussion and wondering within our students. We have to be their guide, their pathway into knowledge and where we want them to go next.

downloadBackward mapping

When we sit down to plan our lessons we need to start with backward mapping. First look at the standard that is being taught and then ask yourself these two simple questions:

  • What do I want my students to know?
  • What questions will guide them to mastering this standard?

The lesson and assessments that are developed should focus on answering these questions. Throughout the week the teacher will provide instruction tailored to student success. Begin with the end in mind, the final exam that student will take at the end of the unit. On the exam create questions that will expand their knowledge and promote higher order thinking. Use Blooms Taxonomy to help develop questions that will align with the standard being taught. Start here, then it will be easier to create the lessons that will lead up to the exam. Using this strategy will help eliminate any gaps in instruction and will create a clear pathway to success for the teacher and students.


Now think about how you are going to model the skill to your students. What questions are you going to ask them to get their minds thinking? Begin with a simple graphic organizer such as a KWL chart. Students will think about what they already know (K) and what they want to know about the topic (W). By the end of the lessons your students will be able to fill out the last column (L) to write down what they learned.

Remember the mini-lesson is the introduction to everything they will learn throughout the week. You are simply exposing them to a new concept or even a spiral concept at the beginning of the mini-lesson. Take note of what they already know and what you need to teach them. Your exit slip will provide you with the data you need to answer these questions.

downloadSmall group instruction

The goal is to meet with your individual groups and teach the skill in a smaller setting. At this point you will be able to dive deeper into the skill and student comprehension. Begin to expose students to the type of questions they will see later. Start breaking down what they will need to know for the final exam. We want them to be successful so this is the time to teach them everything in between. Small group instruction is the meat of the burger. This is where students are going to grasp the most from what is being taught. This smaller setting is more engaging and requires their full attention. Now is the time to bring in the rigor and ask the right questions.

Just as a lesson plans and a final assessment was created to drive the mini-lesson instruction, you need a small group lesson plan as well. This separate lesson plan will be tailored to each group the teacher meets with throughout the week. The lesson plan should consist of a little bit of modeling and a whole lot of questioning. If the lesson is on character traits, use this time to ask higher order thinking questions about the characters in the story they are reading. Dive deep into the text with your students and have students create visualization to expand their understanding. This is only one example of what you can do in a small group setting. Use this time to teach them everything they need to know to be successful.

Now what?

If we want our students to begin to analyze and think deeper about the topics that are being presented to them, then we have to lead them in that direction. The work we do leading up to our instruction has to be rigorous. If we take the time to use the strategy of backward mapping to create the final assessment, mini-lessons and small group instruction then the material will be executed properly. As the teacher we have to teach our students how to think, we have to create the pathway for them.

What do you do to bring rigor into your classroom? How does the idea of questioning relate to your every day instruction? Comment below and share your thoughts. We would love to hear from you!