Using Bloom's Taxonomy to Ask Critical Thinking Questions
“Good learning starts with questions, not answers.” – Guy Claxton
Critical thinking is required in the workplace, in educational settings, and to address everyday challenges. In ESL classes, teachers often ask only factual questions that rely on short-term memory, such as “What did Lee Pa do yesterday?” and “What is the capital of Minnesota?”
While memory is an important skill, teachers should ask questions and plan activities that dig deeper. Even in beginning level classrooms, it is essential that learners are asked questions that challenge them to think critically.
One tool that can be used to incorporate critical thinking questions and activities into the classroom is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification system that is used to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition—i.e., thinking, learning, and understanding.
Bloom’s Taxonomy divides thinking into six categories, with one being the simplest level of thinking, up to six, which is the most complex.
Knowledge: Remembering or recalling appropriate, previously learned information to draw out factual (usually right or wrong) answers. When asking question, use words and phrases such as: how many, when, where, list, define, tell, describe, identify, etc, to draw out factual answers, testing students' recall and recognition.
Comprehension: Grasping or understanding the meaning of informational materials. When asking question, use words such as: describe, explain, estimate, predict, identify, differentiate, etc, to encourage students to translate, interpret, and extrapolate.
Application: Applying previously learned information (or knowledge) to new and unfamiliar situations. When asking question, use words such as: demonstrate, apply, illustrate, show, solve, examine, classify, experiment, etc, to encourage students to apply knowledge to situations that are new and unfamiliar.
Analysis: Breaking down information into parts, or examining (and trying to understand the organizational structure of) information. When asking question, use words and phrases such as: what are the differences, analyze, explain, compare, separate, classify, arrange, etc, to encourage students to break information down into parts.
Synthesis: Applying prior knowledge and skills to combine elements into a pattern not clearly there before. When asking question, use words and phrases such as: combine, rearrange, substitute, create, design, invent, what if, etc, to encourage students to combine elements into a pattern that's new.
Evaluation: Judging or deciding according to some set of criteria, without real right or wrong answers. When asking question, use words such as: assess, decide, measure, select, explain, conclude, compare, summarize, etc, to encourage students to make judgements according to a set of criteria.
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