Higher-order thinking questions are questions that you can ask in order to stimulate thinking that requires significant knowledge mastery and data manipulation.
Generally, higher-order thinking involves thinking from the top 3 levels of bloom’s taxonomy: analysis, evaluation, and knowledge creation.
The term “higher-order” is used because these forms of thinking require strong command of information and the ability to work with it to develop complex understanding (Stanley, 2021).
Generally, a higher-order thinking question will be open-ended and require the student to demonstrate their ability to analyze and evaluate information.
Higher-Order Thinking Questions
Below are some useful questions for stimulating higher-order thinking.
Questions for Teachers to Ask Students
- Encourage compare and contrast: How would you compare and contrast these two concepts/ideas?
- Seek alternatives: Can you provide an alternative solution to this problem?
- Apply an ethical lens: What ethical considerations are involved in this situation or decision?
- Categorize and classify: How would you categorize or classify these items based on their shared characteristics?
- Sort by priority: How would you prioritize these tasks, and what factors did you consider?
- Real-world connections: How can you apply this concept to a real-world situation?
- Rephrase and reframe: How would you rephrase this question or problem from a different perspective?
- Identify trends: Can you identify any trends or developments that may influence this issue in the future?
- Seek solutions: How would you design a solution to address this challenge?
- Use evidence: What evidence supports your point of view or conclusion?
- Find relationships: Can you explain the relationship between these two events or phenomena?
- Change a variable: How would this situation change if we altered this variable or factor?
- Compare to prior knowledge: In what ways does this concept challenge your previous understanding or beliefs?
- Identify connections: Can you explain how these two seemingly unrelated ideas are connected or interdependent?
- Re-conextualize: How would you adapt this solution to work in a different context or environment?
- Identifying consequences: What are the potential consequences of this decision or action?
- Evaluate: What criteria would you use to evaluate the effectiveness or success of this approach?
- Interdisciplinary connections: How can you apply principles from another discipline to enhance your understanding of this topic?
- Distil key factors: What factors may have contributed to this outcome or result, and how might they be addressed?
- Identifying bias: Can you identify any biases or assumptions in this argument?
- Find weaknesses: How would you argue against your own position or point of view?
- Steelman: Can you think of likely criticisms of your position and identify ways you would respond?
- Make judgments about best practices: Can you develop a set of guidelines or best practices based on this information?
- Seek next steps: What questions would you ask to further investigate or explore this topic?
- Reflect on process: What did you learn about how you went about this task and how would you make changes next time for improvements?
Questions for Students to Ask Themselves
- K-W-L: What do I already know about this topic, what do I still need to learn, and what have I learned today?
- Compare and contrast with prior knowledge: How does this new information relate to what I already know?
- Identify assumptions: What assumptions am I making, and are they justified?
- Organize: How can I organize this information in a way that makes sense to me?
- Identify trends: What patterns or connections can I identify between these concepts or ideas?
- Think from another perspective: Am I considering multiple perspectives or viewpoints in my analysis?
- Brainstorm implications: What are the potential implications of my conclusions or decisions?
- Hypothesize: How can I use my current knowledge to predict or hypothesize about future events?
- Identify inconsistency: Can I recognize any logical fallacies or inconsistencies in my reasoning?
- Seek new strategies: What strategies can I employ to improve my understanding and retention of this material?
Higher-Order Thinking vs Lower-Order Thinking
|Aspect||Higher-Order Thinking||Lower-Order Thinking|
|Cognitive processes||Analysis, synthesis, evaluation, compare, contrast, judgment, critique, identifying bias, creativity, metacognition (Saifer, 2018)||Remembering, understanding, applying, memorizing.|
|Type of tasks||Often complex and open-ended discovery lerning tasks rooted in real-world contexts.||Simple and straightforward tasks based on bookwork, classroom learning, and repetition.|
|Teaching and Learning Approach||Occurs best when students are active learners in student-centered contexts. Can employ methods like problem-based, project-based and inquiry-based learning. Discussion and debate are encouraged (Stanley, 2021)||Commonly occurs in teacher-centered classrooms where students are passive learners absorbing and repeating information (see: banking model of education). Discussion and debate are discouraged (Richland & Simms, 2015).|
|Learning outcomes||Students are assessed on deep understanding, ability to analyze and evaluate, and ability to draw upon information in creative ways to make sense of new contexts (Ghanizadeh, Al-Hoorie & Jahedizadeh, 2020).||Students are assessed on ability to repeat information, often taking place in standardized testing scenarios. Retention of information is the key focus.|
|Skill development||Critical thinking, creativity, communication skills, adaptability, analytical thinking (Richland & Simms, 2015)||Basic comprehension, memorization, following instructions, speed (Stanley, 2021)|
Benefits of Higher-Order Thinking
Higher-order thinking offers numerous benefits to learners, including:
- Enhanced problem-solving skills: Higher-order thinking develops a student’s ability to tackle complex problems by breaking them down, analyzing different aspects, and putting the information back together to find new solutions. This is highly valued in 21st Century workplaces (Saifer, 2018).
- Critical thinking and reasoning: Students who engage in higher-order thinking are better equipped to evaluate information, question assumptions, and identify biases. This helps them to have better media literacy and enables them to form independent conclusions rather than being easily swayed by flawed information (Richland & Simms, 2015).
- Creativity and innovation: Higher-order thinking fosters creativity by encouraging students to think beyond the obvious. Students are encouraged to explore alternative perspectives and find alternative ways to approach common problems. This creative thinking is highly valuable in various academic and professional fields, including STEM and the arts.
- Deeper understanding and retention: Lower-order thinking prioritizes memorization, but because the information is not sufficiently contextualized and learned though knowledge construction, it tends to be lost with time. Higher-order thinking, on the other hand, promotes a more profound understanding of subjects. This deeper comprehension leads to better long-term retention of knowledge and better ability to manipulate information (Ghanizadeh, Al-Hoorie & Jahedizadeh, 2020).
- Greater self-awareness and metacognition: Higher-order thinking fosters self-reflection and metacognition. Students who have learned skills like critique, identifying flaws and biases, and logical analysis, are able to apply those skills to their own thinking to reflect on how they can improve their own rational meaning-making.
How to Stimulate Higher-Order Thinking in the Classroom
- Cultivate inquisitive minds: Encourage students to ask questions – regularly. Create a classroom culture where questioning is encouraged and there are “no wrong questions.” Encourage questions that delve deeper into subjects, challenge assumptions, or stimulate further cuiriosity. This will foster their critical thinking by constantly making them peel back the layers of knowledge on any topic (Yen & Halili, 2015).
- Tackle real-life challenges: Create lesson plans that root the learning content in real-world situations (i.e. situated learning). Require students to apply their knowledge and skills to new situations rather than just on worksheets. By addressing genuine issues that, ideally, are relevant to students’ lives, students can start to work with and manipulate the knowledge they have received in the classroom (Saifer, 2018).
- Encourage collaboration and active learning: Promote group discussions, debates, and cooperative problem-solving activities. Group work helps with higher-order thinking because students are exposed to diverse perspectives and new ways of doing things from their peers. By seeing others’ thought processes, we can enhance our own (Ghanizadeh, Al-Hoorie & Jahedizadeh, 2020).
- Reflect and build self-awareness: Nurture the habit of self-reflection in students. Here, we’re referring to the concept of metacognition which refers to ‘thinking about thinking’. This encourages students to evaluate how they went about learning and continually work on improving their learning process. This plays a vital role in recognizing my strengths and weaknesses and refining my learning strategies (Yen & Halili, 2015).
- Interweave interdisciplinary connections: Combine ideas, concepts, and techniques from various disciplines to encourage a comprehensive understanding of complex subjects. One discipline may shed light on the topic in a way that another discipline is completely blind to. By establishing connections between different fields, students can sharpen their analytical and creative thinking abilities (Richland & Simms, 2015).
Higher-Order Thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy
Higher and lower-order thinking skills are most famously presented in Bloom’s Taxonomy.
This taxonomy is used to categorize levels of understanding, starting from shallow knowledge and ending with deep understanding.
Below is an image demonstrating the Bloom’s Taxonomy hierarchy of knowledge:
As shown in the above image, Bloom distils 6 forms of knowledge and understanding. The bottom 3 (remember, understand, and apply) relate to lower-order thinking that doesn’t require deep knowledge. The top 3 (analyze, evaluate, create) represent higher-oreder thinking.
Each is explained below:
1. Remembering (Lower-Order)
Definition: This is the most fundamental level of understanding that involves remembering basic information regarding a subject matter. This means that students will be able to define concepts, list facts, repeat key arguments, memorize details, or repeat information.
Example Question: “What is 5×5?”
2. Understanding (Lower-Order)
Definition: Understanding means being able to explain. This can involve explaining the meaning of a concept or an idea. This is above remembering because it requires people to know why, but it is not yet at a level of analysis or critique.
Example Question: “Can you show me in a drawing what 5×5 looks like?”
3. Applying (Middle-Order)
Definition: Applying refers to the ability to use information to do work. Ideally, it will occur in situations other than the situation in which it was learned. This represents a deeper level of understanding.
Example Question: “If you buy five chocolates worth $5 each, how much will you have to pay?”
4. Analyzing (Higher-Order)
Definition: This is generally considered to be the first layer of higher-order thinking. It involves conducting an analysis independently. This includes the ability to make connections between ideas, explore the logic of an argument, and compare various concepts.
Example Question: “Based on what you’ve learned, can you identify five key themes?”
5. Evaluating (Higher-Order)
Definition: Evaluating means determining the correctness, morality, or rationality of a perspective. At this level, students can identify the merits of an argument or point of view and weigh the relative strengths of each point. It requires analysis, but steps-up to making judgments about what you’re seeing.
Example Question: “Based on all the information you’ve gathered, what do you think is the most ethical course of action?”
6. Creating (Higher-Order)
Definition: The final level of Bloom’s taxonomy is when students can create knowledge by building on what they already know. This may include, for example, formulating a hypothesis and then testing it through rigorous experimentation.
Example Question: “Now you’ve mastered an understanding of accounting, could you make an app that helps an everyday person manage their bookkeeping?”
Higher-order thinking is a necessary skill for the 21st Century. It promotes those thinking skills that are required for high-paying jobs and allows people to think critically, be more media literate, and come to better solutions to problems both in their personal and professional lives. By encouraging this sort of thinking in school, educators can help their students get better grades now and live a better life into the future.
Ghanizadeh, A., Al-Hoorie, A. H., & Jahedizadeh, S. (2020). Higher order thinking skills in the language classroom: A concise guide. New York: Springer International Publishing.
Richland, L. E., & Simms, N. (2015). Analogy, higher order thinking, and education. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 6(2), 177-192. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/wcs.1336
Saifer, S. (2018). HOT skills: Developing higher-order thinking in young learners. London: Redleaf Press.
Stanley, T. (2021). Promoting rigor through higher level questioning practical strategies for developing students’ critical thinking. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Yen, T. S., & Halili, S. H. (2015). Effective teaching of higher order thinking (HOT) in education. The Online Journal of Distance Education and e-Learning, 3(2), 41-47.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]