What Are Guiding Questions? Examples + Tips

Guiding questions are essential for helping the students grasp concepts at a higher thinking level.

Consider the scenario:

The ESL teacher and the student read a chunk of text and highlight the text’s new words. The student makes sentences and adds new words to a bank of half-learned vocabulary words in their notebook.

They will regurgitate this information in a quiz/test later.

Now consider this:

The teachers ask questions to ensure that students understand the meaning of the keywords and grammar.

They ask questions, such as, is the sentence punctuated properly? Why is this tense used? What is the meaning of this word? They can also ask questions directly related to the reading.

The teacher frontloads the necessary information and provides questions that the students have to find the answer to.

These are called guiding questions.

What are Guiding Questions?

Guiding questions are designed to explore a topic in greater depth and encourage them to elicit understanding by thinking deeply about the topic. Students must use their own judgment to determine the answer.

The student uses what they have learned to form an appropriate answer.

Guiding questions help the students arrive at a particular endpoint by ‘guiding them.’ For this reason, they are not considered very open-ended questions.

Guiding questions are often called the spine of the lesson and the activities are the vertebrae.

A Primer of Guiding Questions by Kathy Glass

Why are Guiding Questions Important?

When teachers create guiding questions, everything else in the section serves a purpose because now the students know what they are looking for.

This will help them understand the lesson from a broader perspective and string what they’ve learned to answer important questions.

The students may think of other questions to ask in response to the guiding question. Students may even have multiple perspectives or answers, but they must have the essential discipline knowledge to answer them.

Guiding questions create a goal for learning. One could try and learn everything and not get anywhere because the goal of learning is not clear.

Examples of Guiding Questions

In History: What is a good life for Vikings?
In Maths: How did you solve the problem?
In Language Arts: What is the meaning of ‘tradition’?
In Chemistry: What caused the combustion?
In Geography: How do the animals adapt to their environment?

Students can truly internalize and understand even more complex tasks by applying guided questions.

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What is the difference between an essential question and a guided question?

An essential question allows the students to delve even deeper with more open-ended questions. There is no final answer, like a guiding question.

The essential questions get to the heart of the matter and are considered critical factors to help teachers facilitate learning.

In Language Arts: How does language shape culture?
In Science: In what ways does exercise and diet affect health?
In Music: What makes a singer amazing?
In Maths: How and when do we use Pythagoras’ Theorem?
In English: What lesson can we learn from this story?

These questions tend to lead students to some critical insights.

Other Questions that are not Guided Questions

Lastly, if we were to ask, “Why is X good/bad” question, we are not asking a guiding question. In fact, we are asking a leading question.

These questions pass judgment by already labeling something. Leading questions are still helpful for the student’s learning but do not provide the same purpose as guiding questions.

How to think of good guiding questions?

Write a list of questions around the common theme or topic you wish to study with the student.

You can ask yourself questions such as “why is the student learning this? Why should the student care? Why does the student need to know this?” when developing the guiding questions.

You can later whittle the list down to just a few questions that are non-judgemental, and open-ended enough to get the student’s thinking caps on.

You can ask questions that require research and analysis.

Guiding questions can then be used to complete some activities or a final project. The projects can showcase that learning.


We don’t want the students’ to just learn the information. We want the students to consume this information to benefit their learning goals.

We want to go beyond surface-level learning, where the students cannot remember what they have learned, to help the students internalize their new learning.

This is why a teacher’s role is so important! Let’s create a productive learning environment for all.


In Conclusion

Guiding questions are a popular and useful technique to aid student learning and build upon their knowledge.

By using guiding questions, we can help the student understanding the lesson or topic as a whole.

Guiding questions are often absent from curriculum design, but the teacher can include them in their teaching. These questions will guide the student toward a particular learning goal.

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I'm an Irish ESL teacher and blogger. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain and online. You will find tons of resources to help you start teaching online, grow your income, and learn and teach languages on this site. Please show some love and support by sharing this article with others. Thank you!

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