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005 Developing the Driving Question

If knowledge is made up of "answers," then what are the questions? Too often students leave school never realizing that knowledge is produced and refined in response to questions and inquiry. Too often the design of a course precludes students from asking and pursuing wonderful questions as they arise in the unfolding work, which leads to less engagement. Shouldn't we try to make coursework more authentic by better revealing how all knowledge is pursued and shaped by questioning? And shouldn't we help the student simulate or recreate some of the processes by which the knowledge was created?

Grant Wiggins

Jay McTighe

The Center on Learning, Assessment and School Structure


What is a Driving Question?

The average teacher asks 350 questions each day. These questions fall into two categories; directed (low-level) and open-ended (high-level).  Of these 350 questions, most are directed.  They have one correct answer. In the problem based learning model we introduce another type of question, the Driving Question


A Driving Question is one that focuses all other questions towards a solution  or product. This question is complex, requires multiple activities and the synthesis of information from numerous sources. Driving Questions serve to organize and drive activities; and these activities result in a series of artifacts, or products, that culminate in a final product that addresses the original question.


Here's a Driving Question from a 6th grade Mesoamerica unit.  The main Driving Question will encompass a multitude of standards in some way.

How did the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica affect our lives today? 

A good driving question has many sub-questions that need to be answered before the problem is solved. Some sub questions for this driving question are:

  • Where is Mesoamerica?
  • Who were the inhabitants?
  • How did they live?
  • What were some of their customs?
  • What inventions did they contribute?


Action Steps

  1. Take the Assessment on writing a good driving question
  2. Complete Principle 2: Craft the Driving Question
  3. Develop 3 to 5 potential driving questions for your PBL
  4. Complete the Module Reflection


Take Assessment on Writing a Good Driving Question

Continuing to use the KWL strategy, take this assessment for Principle 2. Each assessment page has a self checker for you to do prior to moving on to the next assessment part. Take notes on questions you develop as a result of the assessment results. This will be important for later, when you explore the module.

=>Assessment for Principle 2<=


Complete Principle 2: Craft the Driving Question

Let's review a variety of Driving Questions, examine the qualities of a good question, and explore how to make a good question even better. You'll also have the opportunity to test your skill at identifying great Driving Questions.

On the Principle 2 Home page, be sure to watch the short video clip showing students and their views on PBL.  


Principle 2 includes:

Overview: Look at a few driving questions

  • Intriguing Driving Questions are at the heart of effective projects. Learn how to write Driving Questions that spark interest and propel students through the project. The introduction to Craft the Driving Question, videos demonstrating its use in K-12 schools, and Part 2 of the Evolution of a Project. DO NOT MISS VIEWING THESE VIDEOS!

Explore: What makes good Driving Question?

  • Learn how to generate and refine Driving Questions.

Practice: Recognizing good driving questions

  • Take what you have learned from your exploration of "Driving Questions" and apply it here.

Retake Assessment for Principle 2

  • Take this short test again to determine how many of your questions were answered.  Having gone through the module, you may have different questions to explore. 


Completing the module for Principle 2 should reinforce the following concepts:

  • Driving Questions are Open-Ended. We must allow students to adequately answer the question given, yet allowing them to take ownership over the project. Be sure as you design your Driving Question that you think carefully about time, resources and student skills.

  • Driving Questions are Provocative. The driving question must sustain students’ interest during the entire project and challenge students to go beyond the obvious.

  • Driving Questions get at the Heart of a subject area. The driving question can be focused at the heart of an issue, allowing students to investigate.

  • Driving Questions are Challenging. Students should be encouraged, through the use of the driving question, to confront different situations.

  • Driving Questions need to Interest Students. Create driving questions from real-world situations, igniting an interest for students.

  • Driving Questions are consistent with Standards. While driving questions should be challenging, they should also lead students to master the agreed upon content, knowledge and skills that define a course of study.

=>Start Principle 2: Craft the Driving Question<=


Develop 3-5 Driving Questions for your PBL

Begin generating a Driving Question for your PBL Unit.  Again, be aware that this is an iterative process and will likely undergo many revisions before a final project idea and great Driving Question are revealed.

  1. Use the appropriate page in the Project Planning Form to help organize your thoughts as you state the Driving Question for the project.
  2. Brainstorm 3-5 potential Driving Questions
  3. Choose 1 question for your PBL and include at least 10 sub questions that students might need to complete the project.
  4. Enter your work from step 3 into your PBL Template


Module Reflection

Complete the following steps in Reflection 005


  1. Post your brainstorm list of Driving Questions.
  2. Relist the chosen DQ along with the sub questions.
  3. Briefly explain why you chose the DQ for your PBL.
  4. Comment on 2 other participant's DQ answering one of the questions:
    1. How does the DQ show breath and/or depth?
    2. How could the DQ be broaden if needed?
    3. What do you like about the DQ?


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