Ask Better Questions with Prompts Inspired by the Hess Matrix

writing prompts, critical thinking, critical reading, literacy, comprehension
Writing prompts that scale learning will meet students where they are as well as push them to dive deeper into their reading.

The British philosopher Francis Bacon famously said, “Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much.”

As teachers we’re in the business of crafting effective questions. The penalty for failure is often the vast silence of a room full of disengaged students.  But coming up with the right mix of questions and tasks is a challenge that can stump even the most expert of teachers.  It’s important to first ask questions that reinforce knowledge and understanding,  and then progress to those that promote higher order thinking.

Dr. Karin Hess of the National Center for Assessment has written extensively about exploring the level of cognitive demand in instruction and assessment.  The Hess Matrix aligns the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy  with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge in order to shed light on the intersection between the type of thinking required and the depth of understanding needed to complete a task.

Last year, at the request of school in the Bronx, LessonWriter created specialized question prompts matched to each part of the Hess Matrix and added them to Bloom’s prompts, writing prompts, and NJ HSPA prompts.  All of these provide a valuable aid for crafting questions and tasks.  For example, consider the differences between the following questions:

  • In Shakespeare’s Hamlet what becomes of Ophelia?
  • What are the similarities and differences between Juliet’s suicide in Romeo and Juliet and Ophelia’s suicide in Hamlet?
  • In Shakespeare’s Hamlet what events impact Ophelia’s actions? Identify at least two examples of how other characters’ behavior negatively affected Ophelia. Suggest specific positive alternatives to these characters’ actions and predict how Ophelia might have responded.

LessonWriter prompts make it easier to compose the right questions in the right sequence.

We hope you’ll check out LessonWriter’s question prompts based on The Hess Matrix. Not only will your questions lead to better instruction and assessment, but you’ll be modeling  better questions for your students.

Ultimately, students generating better questions themselves leads to the most enduring learning outcomes.

And check out these great Karin Hess Resources:

Video Introduction to Cognitive Rigor Matrix
Hess Matrix for ELA
Hess Matrix for Math


  1. Its hard to seek out knowledgeable folks on this topic, but you sound like you realize what youre talking about! Thanks

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