*Thinking Skills and Questioning*

By Stryder

A while ago, on the Rubicon web site message boards, one of the parents was discussing why his child was having some trouble with a teacher. The child was questioning the teacher and asking for in-depth explanations and justifications of some classroom rules. If you’ve ever met any of the Rubicon kids face-to-face, you know that they are some of the nicest, smartest, well behaved kids you will ever hope to meet. People comment on it all the time. Sure they are well-behaved and self confident - we make sure of that. That’s a big part of the reason people inside and outside the Rubicon community comment on their good behavior. But there is another reason. It is the way they think!

If you spend any time interacting with these kids, you’ll see that they think just a little differently then many other kids. Yes, they are independent minded like their parents. But, they also think at a much "higher level" then most other children. I believe it is because their parents tend to think at a higher level of abstraction and the kids learn it from their parents. What is he talking about, you ask. Well….

Benjamin Bloom created a listing for categorizing the relative level of abstraction of questions and responses that commonly occur in the education of children way back in the 1950s. The higher the level, the more complex and higher level thinking the child is actually doing. The listing provides a way to categorize questions. Parents and teachers characteristically ask questions always within a particular level, and if you can determine the levels of questions that you ask, and move to a higher level, you will be able to increase the level of abstraction and higher level thinking you are imparting to your children. If your kids are not home schooled, then they can even use this list of abstraction levels to learn the type of questions their teacher might ask (again, teachers tend to stay within the same level of abstraction!) and then use it to focus the way they study for tests with that teacher.


Level of Abstraction

Skills Demonstrated


  • observation and recall of simple information
  • knowledge of very specific dates, events, places
  • knowledge of only major ideas
  • mastery of subject matter
  • Question Cues:

list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, examine, tabulate, quote, name, who, when, where, etc.


  • understanding information
  • grasping meaning
  • translate knowledge into new context
  • interpret facts, compare, contrast
  • order, group, begin to infer causes
  • start to predict consequences
  • Question Cues:

summarize, describe, interpret, contrast, predict, associate, distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend


  • use information
  • use methods, concepts, theories in new situations
  • solve problems using required skills or knowledge
  • Question Cues:

apply, demonstrate, calculate, complete, illustrate, show, solve, examine, modify, relate, change, classify, experiment, discover


  • seeing patterns
  • organization of parts
  • recognition of hidden meanings
  • identification of components
  • Question Cues:

analyze, separate, order, explain, connect, classify, arrange, divide, compare, select, infer


  • use old ideas and concepts to create new ones
  • generalize from given facts
  • relate knowledge from several areas together
  • predict from given facts, draw conclusions
  • Question Cues:

combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan, create, design, invent, what if?, compose, formulate, prepare, generalize, rewrite


  • compare and discriminate between ideas
  • assess value of theories, presentations
  • make choices based on reasoned argument
  • verify value of evidence
  • recognize subjectivity
  • Question Cues:

assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, recommend, convince, select, judge, explain, discriminate, support, conclude, compare, summarize

*Adapted from: Bloom, B.S.(Ed.) (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals: Handbook I, cognitive domain. New York; Toronto; Longmans, Green.


As you can see, going up from the KNOWLEDGE level of abstraction to the EVALUATION level of abstraction is a very significant increase in "thinking power."

The knowledge questioning and thinking level is ‘just’ asking questions with simple yes/no, dates, or names and labels as answers. What year did such and such happen? What are the five rules of such and such? What is the gestation period of this animal? What are the names of the parts of such and such? Those are the knowledge types of questions. Very important in the education of children, granted, but not significant in teaching them to ‘think’ at a higher order.

The evaluation questioning and thinking level is the highest level of thinking. At that level, children are being asked questions that allow them to think deeply. They are asked to rank and judge and decide about data that is presented. Do you believe that the gestation period of larger animals is longer than for smaller animals, and if so, why might that be? Of the five rules for such and such, pick the one you believe is the most important and support that choice. Develop and explain a way to remember the part names of such and such device and how to assemble them in order. Those are the evaluation types of questions. You see a very big difference in the level of thinking from the knowledge level. Not just remembering a fact but relating it to life and thinking about it.

Remember the child who was questioning the teacher and asking for in-depth explanations and justifications of some classroom rules? As you can probably see, that child I mentioned at the start of this article was operating at the analysis level. The thinking order was analysis, requiring explanations, comparison and connection with previous knowledge. I am not saying that a child should be allowed to question an adult and act inappropriately. But I think I can understand why one of the Rubicon kids might be thinking at a higher level and not understand how an adult would not be there thinking at that same level of abstraction with them. Their parents operate at a higher level most of the time, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information, not just spitting back facts or rules. Listen to the training debriefs after a team get together and you’ll see synthesis of information at a level many outsiders would find amazing. Look at the analysis level of "peeling the onion" that Warlord asks people to perform on a regular basis or the highest level evaluation he asks us all to do on a regular basis based on our regular news bulletins about world conditions. That’s the way the Rubicon thinks and the way we are raising our children to think.

Use this list to examine your own level of thinking. Use it to help with the design of your home school lessons to ensure higher levels of thinking. Use it to understand the behavior of your kids. And remember – the higher the level of abstraction, the better the quality of the thinking.

Get out and train!


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