Taxonomy is just a big word for “putting things in order based on their relationship to one another”—small to big, low to high, close to far away, simple to complex. Bloom’s Taxonomy, developed in the 1950s, is still an incredibly useful tool for anyone who is in a position of educating others. Simply put, Bloom’s Taxonomy puts types of questions in order according to the level of thinking they require.
Benjamin Bloom proposed six levels, a taxonomy, of questions: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Once you grasp the order and structure, you’re able to plan, design, assess and evaluate the learning experience more effectively. Bloom’s Taxonomy identifies learning from one end of the spectrum—short-term base of regurgitating information—to the other end of the spectrum—long-term when the learner is able to evaluate and form an opinion about something based on what has been learned. Questions are classified in order to move the student from the lowest level of learning to the highest, most complex level.
Your questions have great power! They can be used to make sure the kids are getting the facts … or they can be used to see if the kids can apply the concept to their lives … or questions can be used to motivate someone to create a solution to a social problem. Too often, we use our questions to see if the kids got the facts about a Bible story correctly. Where did God want Jonah to go? What were James and John doing when Jesus called to them? Who climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus? Those are important, very important! Kids need to know what the Bible says before they can start understanding, applying and evaluating its content. But, let’s not get stuck there! Knowledge-based questions rely on short-term memory, and without the higher level questions, the brain sees no use for the knowledge if it’s not being used.
Here’s something that should rattle you a bit. Once kids know what kind of questions you’re going to ask, they read and listen based on what they anticipate you asking them. If they know that you’re only concerned with the who, when, and where, then that’s what they’ll listen for. But if they know that you’re going to ask them to create something out of what they are hearing and reading, then they’ll listen and read with that in mind. Subconsciously, they’ll be asking themselves what happened here and how can I make something similar happen? Or, how do I feel about that? Do I really believe that?
Our challenge is to move away from asking questions just to test students, and instead ask questions that will teach, motivate, and challenge them to go deeper. So, let’s look at these six levels of questioning from lowest level to highest.
Knowledge questions is the level that we fall into so easily. We give the children information and we ask them to give it back to us. We get gratification by knowing they listened well enough to spit back the facts. They listened to me! Yeah! I’m not saying that we trash this level. No, no, no! Knowledge is the base upon which the other levels are built. Make sure you’re building on it, though, and not staying at this level solely. At this level, kids recall dates, events, people, and places.
Knowledge questions often start with words like: identify, name, who, when, where, tell, describe, label, list, recite, and define. Examples of knowledge questions are:
- Define patience.
- Name the 12 disciples.
- Who wrote the book of Acts?
- Quote John 3:16.
When you teach with this kind of question, there’s no room for you to say, “Do you have any questions?” Of course they don’t have any questions … all they have are answers.
Comprehension is when the student can take the information that you’ve given him and organize the pieces—putting them in categories, grouping them together, or comparing them in some way. Comprehension questions let you know if the students were able to grasp the meaning of the information you gave them. It leads them to be able to put the information into a new context and predict consequences. It’s recalling various pieces of information and finding similarities or commonalities between them.
Comprehension questions often start with words like explain, compare, contrast, estimate, summarize, discuss, describe, interpret and put in your own words. Examples of comprehension questions are:
- Discuss what happened in the book of Acts.
- Which New Testament books are about the life of Jesus?
- What was the message Paul had in every town he went to?
- Summarize the parable of the sower.
- What’s the difference between the Pharisees and the woman who gave her last 2 mites?
At the next higher level of questioning—the application level—students are asked to use the information they’ve been presented. This is where problem-solving comes in. They use the skills and knowledge that they’ve learned in the knowledge and comprehension levels to determine a new method, concept, or theory.
Application questions often begin with: predict, classify, experiment, demonstrate, complete, illustrate, show, solve, dramatize, choose, and interpret. A few examples of application questions are:
- Act out the reaction of some of the people when the man was let down through the roof.
- You’re being harassed by a bully on the bus. How are you going to handle the situation the next time it happens?
- Zaccheaus climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. What’s another way he could’ve solved his problem?
When a student is asked an analysis question, they are challenged to see patterns, notice meanings that seem to be hidden, and organize and identify the parts of something. Analysis questions push the students to identify the reason or causes behind a fact. They are asked to figure out the motive—the “why”—behind what is known. From that, they’re able to reach a conclusion or generalization.
Words that initiate an analysis question are: take apart, explain, classify, what conclusion, diagram, survey, and select. Some examples of analysis questions include:
- What are some of the factors that caused Nicodemus to come to Jesus at night?
- Select six people from the Old Testament who you believe had the most faith in God, and tell why you chose them.
- Why are the Arabs and Jews at war today?
As we progress to higher levels of questioning, it gets a little more difficult to integrate them into lessons and it also may be a little more uncomfortable for you, because there are no right and wrong answers. But, keep working at it! The higher the level of questions, the deeper their faith becomes. Synthesis questions take old ideas and encourage kids to create new ideas. They predict what will happen and draw conclusions from what they have learned. Unlike the knowledge questions where there is only one correct answer, synthesis questions should always have a variety of responses. Everyone doesn’t come up with the same new idea, so each person’s creativity comes through in response to synthesis questions. Original thinking kicks in big time at this level.
Common words that are part of synthesis questions are: create, design, construct, compose, rearrange, rewrite, plan, invent, and what if. A few examples of synthesis questions are:
- How would history be different if Jesus had not come until 2008?
- Rewrite a Psalm so that it reflects life today.
- Use these words (blood, fly, race, glare, blank, ache, grind, cough) to retell the story of the woman caught in adultery.
Analysis and synthesis sometimes feel very similar, but remember that analysis questions are when you’re asking the students to take something apart and synthesis questions challenge them to put something together.
The highest level of questioning is evaluation where the student is asked to make a judgment about something or to have an opinion. This is where their values come into play. Is that a good idea? Can I agree with what they believe? Do I consider that a workable solution? Is that worth my time and money? This is where the child decides what is right and wrong for them, and everyone does not come to the same conclusion.
Words that signal an evaluation question are: decide, defend, grade, measure, support, evaluate, select, criticize, convince, judge, recommend, and explain.
- Why do you think Jesus chose Peter, James and John to go with him up the mountain?
- Recommend a candidate for President.
- Support your stand on abortion.
- Recommend a book of the Bible for someone to read who’s never read any of the Bible?
A wonderful thing about this taxonomy of questions is that it is not targeted at one particular age group. As long as the material being covered is age-appropriate, students at all ages can be encouraged with higher level questions. Little ones can create something out of materials they are given, as long as it’s not a guided creation. They can have their opinions on what is right and wrong. Parents and school teachers will love you for enhancing the brain development in these little ones by incorporating multi-levels of questioning.
So, what does this mean to you as a leader of kids? (If you didn’t catch that, it’s an evaluation question.) Just like with most things, if you do it the same way all the time, it becomes boring and predictable. If you limit yourself to asking only lower level questions, you’re doing your students a tremendous disservice. They come away thinking that getting to know the Bible is a memorization exercise. But, when we continually push them with higher level questions, they start to see how the Bible—God’s story—is relevant to their lives and how they can use it to formulate their own faith.