Guiding Question

Guiding Question:

What is the big idea that, after exploring the topic throughout the week, students will understand and be able to talk about?

A good guiding question:

          • Is focused and specific
          • Captures and communicates the purpose of the rotation
          • Creates interest and a feeling of challenge for students
          • Guides the work throughout the week
          • Helps student answer the question: "Why are we doing this?"

Why put the big idea in the form of a question? Posing a question to the students conveys the expectation that the students will be doing the work to find the answer. A question stokes curiosity, invites participation, and sets the stage for investigation. From ASCD:

“A guiding question is the fundamental query that directs the search for understanding. Everything in the curriculum is studied for the purpose of answering it. As a result of this function, guiding questions can direct the curriculum author's choice of ideas and activities and can transform the often disparate topics from a scattered survey of the subject, problem, or theme, into a logical, coordinated instrument for attaining knowledge.” (Traver, R. (1998). What is a good guiding question? Educational Leadership, 55(6), p. 70-73.)

How to write a good guiding question:

  • Consider your overall topic for the week
  • Consider the resources available at your museum to help students explore the topic (because we want students to be able to utilize museum resources as much as possible, thinking about this can help shape your focus for the week)
  • Review the relevant educational standards: What are students expected to know and be able to do?
  • Brainstorm: write down questions that come to mind. Work with others to generate more ideas and better feedback. Lean towards questions that demand higher-order thinking (e.g. analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction, applying ideas to new contexts) rather than recall alone
  • Evaluate, combine, refine, choose your favorite; hold it up against the checklist below
  • Adjust as needed after testing it out with students

Guiding question evaluation checklist:

  • Is it open ended?
  • Is it feasible to answer in 5 days (but not so simple that it could be answered after 1 day, or could simply be Googled to find the answer)?
  • Does it speak to what you want students to know and be able to do by the end of the week?
  • Does your institution have resources that will help students answer it?
  • [If you want the students to arrive at the same general conclusion] Does it lead to one general consensus? OR -->
  • [If you want the students to develop their own opinions] Does it leave open the possibility for differing perspectives?

Guiding Question Examples and Analysis