Revisiting Bloom’s Taxonomy: Asking better questions
by Laverne Warner
“After reading about literacy development in children,
I decided to learn how to ask better questions in my classroom,” says
Freda. “But I don’t know where to start.”
“Ever heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy?” asks Joan. “I learned
about it in one of my education classes in college,” she continues. “Ask
your director, or Google™ it on the Web.”
What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?
Bloom’s Taxonomy is a set of question-asking strategies,
starting at the simplest rote level and ending at the highest
evaluation level. It was developed by Benjamin Bloom, an education
professor at the University of Chicago, in the 1950s.
He had observed teachers using similar types of questions over and over in
their classrooms. He thought their questions were mundane and children were
expected to give the “right” answer. He thought teachers needed
to ask questions that would enhance children’s thinking abilities and
broaden their perspectives of their environments. When children move to higher-order
thinking, their responses are more creative and show greater depth of learning.
Bloom (1956) identified six levels of thinking and called them a “taxonomy,” which
simply means a system of classification. The six levels form a hierarchy, from
lowest to highest. Each higher level requires all the thinking levels needed
at the lower ones.
After he published the taxonomy, it gained acceptance as a model for improving
questions in the classroom.
What are the six levels?
Knowledge of content forms the basis of Bloom’s Taxonomy,
no matter where the question appears on the hierarchy. Below
are the levels, with a brief explanation:
1. knowledge (or rote)—remembering basic information.
2. comprehension—understanding the basic information, being
able to phrase it in one’s own words.
3. application—using the information in a concrete way
to solve a problem or complete a task.
4. analysis—breaking apart the information, sorting out
facts, and drawing conclusions.
5. synthesis—putting together knowledge in novel, creative
6. evaluation—judging content based on standards, which
may be set by the learner or the teacher.
Bloom believed that the memory, comprehension, and application levels were
lower-order questions. In his view, higher-order questions began with the analysis
level and included synthesis and evaluation because they required children
to do more intense thinking.
But more recently, another educator (Popham 2002) has proposed that any question
beyond the knowledge level encourages children to do higher-order thinking.
In other words, knowledge questions are at the rote level and require that
children give the correct answer. According to Popham, all other questions
are open, requiring children to show their understanding of knowledge through
responses that indicate they are developing critical thinking skills.
Taking a closer look
Knowledge acquisition is essential to the development of thinking
skills. All thinking is based on content knowledge. Because
the knowledge-level question is the simplest, teachers can
use it to find out what children know.
Knowledge: Answers come from rote
is the color of this apple (holding up an apple)?
Where do apples grow?
What is the name of this animal (while holding up a picture)?
What is your address?
If a teacher holds up an orange and asks, “What is this?” an accurate
response shows that a child has an understanding of oranges. If a child answers
incorrectly, the teacher needs to provide the information and give the child
some experiences with oranges for a basic concept to be formed.
Comprehension: Answers indicate how the knowledge is known or how
exists about the topic.
If six children are eating snack, how many napkins do they need?
It’s daytime right now. How do we know it’s daytime?
Name some animals that could be pets.
Tell me everything you know about the American flag.
Just knowing that the American flag is a flag shows that a child can identify
or name the object. To determine how much information children have about the
topic of flags, the teacher will need to ask the question in a way that children
can elaborate on their knowledge. For example, the teacher could ask, “What
do you know about the American flag?” Or she could ask, “Name another
country that has a flag. Do all countries have flags?”
Application: Answers demonstrate the information; that is, a child develops
a product or performs.
Show me how a grasshopper moves in the grass.
Draw a picture showing what you remember about the story.
Use your manipulatives to show how much two plus three is.
Pretend to be your favorite character in the story of Goldilocks
and the Three Bears.
At the application level, children will show their knowledge with a product
of some sort. Examples include drawing a picture, doing a skit, moving in some
fashion, building a construction, or performing an action or skill to show
what they know. The teacher might say, “Linus, show me what balls can
do.” Then the child can bounce, roll, or toss the ball to show his understanding
Analysis: Answers require taking
apart knowledge or putting it together in
an organized manner.
Look at this collage and tell how it was put together.
What comes next in this pattern of colors?
Put this puzzle together.
Name all the triangular shapes you can find in the classroom.
A common material in a preschool classroom that requires children to analyze
information is a puzzle. Putting it together requires that children carefully
look at pieces (in other words, analyze the pieces) to determine how they fit
together. Children would use their familiarity with puzzle construction, their
knowledge of colors and shapes, and their previous experience with the items
pictured in the puzzle. The teacher could ask, “How did you know that
the blue puzzle piece fits in that spot? Would another piece fit there as well?”
Synthesis: Answers require describing or developing
a new product based on
information acquired. This is the creative aspect of thinking.
Goldilocks and the three bears are characters in a story you know. Could
you use these same characters to make up a new story?
Let’s make up a new song for Earth Day.
Tell what you think it would be like to be a tree.
Imagine your mother when she was a baby. What do you think she was like?
The synthesis-level question generates a product, just as the application level
does. The difference is that synthesis-level questions result in a novel product,
never seen before. Children must have knowledge to answer a synthesis-level
question, yet each child individually arrives at an answer. For example, children
must know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (knowledge) to create
a new story like Goldilocks Cleans Up Her Mess or Goldilocks
Goes to School (synthesis).
At the application level, children might construct a collage from magazine
pictures. At the synthesis level, the child would design a new object with
a new purpose. For example, the teacher asks a child to use construction paper,
glue, and ribbon to design a ball for the sand table.
Evaluation: Answers require judging
the information one has, taking a position,
and defending the response.
What do you like best about your picture?
Why do people need to know about safety signs?
Why do you think Goldilocks went into the three bears’ house?
Why do you think children need to know how to add and subtract?
According to Bloom, the highest-level question is the evaluation level, but
children need to defend the answer given. If a teacher says, “Mindy,
describe the insect you like best,” the teacher might also ask why it’s
her favorite. If the teachers asks, “Which insect will jump the highest?” a
test needs to be developed to determine the result. Then the child can form
a judgment based on the test.
Go beyond rote questions
Bloom’s Taxonomy meets the needs of most classroom teachers
and caregivers. When adults rely only on rote-level questions,
they fail to capture the creativeness of children’s minds.
Their classrooms are humdrum, and their teaching styles risk
Popham recommends the use of higher-order questions to add zest and enthusiasm
to classroom learning. Asking better questions allows children to develop their
minds and discover new knowledge and concepts.
Bloom, B.S., ed. 1956. Taxonomy
of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational
Goals: Handbook I, Cognitive Domain. New York: Longmans, Green.
Popham, W. James. 2002. Classroom
Assessment: What Teachers Need to Know. Boston: Allyn & Bacon Inc.
About the author
Laverne Warner is a retired professor of early childhood education
from Sam Houston State University’s Department of Language,
Literacy, and Special Populations. She lives in Huntsville,