Higher Order Thinking Questions (What is Higher Order Thinking?)

Higher Order Thinking Questions (What is Higher Order Thinking?)


Higher order thinking, often abbreviated to HOT, is a concentrated attempt to reform public education by focussing on what it calls ‘taxonomies’, or classifications.

It has a focus on how you learn, not just what.

This is great news for those who find the traditional ‘write and recall’ system to be ineffective.

Perhaps the best known example of a HOT ‘taxonomy’ in this context is Bloom’s Taxonomy.

This system of classification recommends we see the skills necessary for education as being on a hierarchy.

The skills ‘analyse’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘create’ are at the top of the hierarchy, suggesting that to engage with a topic in any of these ways is to only engage in the most superficial of ways.

In order to truly understand something you must press on to ‘apply’ and ‘understand’, before finally reaching the last step: ‘remember’.

HOT suggests that different types of learning require different levels of cognitive processing.

It encourages a strong focus on critical thinking and problem solving skills, in the belief that this will leave the student with more readily transferable skills and a deeper understanding of the subject.

It does recognise that HOT is harder to learn and harder to teach than many of the alternative methods out there – but insists the benefits are worth the effort.


A HOT question is simply any question that requires a student to fall back on previously digested taxonomies. We’ll stick with Bloom’s for simplicity’s sake.

A HOT question within Bloom’s taxonomy would look something like:

  • Analyse the effectiveness of x
  • Evaluate the consequences of x
  • Create a system in which x can function

These are surface level questions. In order to achieve a deeper understanding and a greater quality of recall, you should explore further with questions such as:

  • Apply your understanding of x to y
  • How does x apply within the context of y
  • Does y change your understanding of x?

These question stems are simple, but encourage the student to actually digest and internalise the information being given to them.


Higher Order Thinking Questions have been demonstrated to achieve greater results than their counterparts.

It is a more difficult style of learning, and certainly isn’t appropriate for the faint-hearted or weak-willed. It requires more dedication and hard work, but the results it achieves speak for themselves.

The benefits of teaching in this style are obvious within the context of ESL teaching.

If you can get your student to engage with the language in the style of Bloom’s taxonomy, for instance, then their capacity to recall the words, grammar, rules and ‘tricks of the trade’ will be greatly enhanced.

It may prove intimidating to new learners or those looking to learn the language casually, perhaps as a hobby; but for those more interested in picking it up quickly and effectively, and willing to climb a steep learning curve, HOT questions are a brilliantly effective system (and an incredibly useful tool in a teacher’s arsenal).

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Or discover more question types for the world of ESL education:

Higher Order Thinking Question Stems

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