Always the beautiful answer
who asks a more beautiful question.
– E. E. Cummings

While higher-order thinking processes are effective for all learners, research in the education of gifted students shows that the power of inquiry is crucial for promoting their learning (VanTassel-Baska & Brown,  2007). Effective questioning as a deliberate strategy enhances gifted learners’ thinking, provides the means for exploring novel possibilities and meaning making, and challenges them to learn about their world in more rich and complex ways (VanTassel-Baska, 2014).

The abilities and attributes of gifted learners, outlined below, indicate that they understand the potent appeal of questioning that challenges their thinking:

  • Highly inquisitive and curious (Clark, 2013; Renzulli et al., 2002; Rotigel, 2003) 
  • Abstract and conceptual thinkers (Feldhusen, 1986; VanTassel-Baska, 1989)
  • Outstanding ability to solve problems in diverse ways (Clark, 2013; Kanevsky et al., 1994)
  • An unusual capacity to integrate and synthesise information or skills (Kanevsky et al., 1994)
  • Greater metacognitive ability (Barfurth et al., 2009; Davis et al., 2011).

Thus, asking thoughtful, rigorous questions is critical to engage gifted learners and elevate their thinking.

There are many useful questioning models such as Guilford’s Model (1967), Maker Model (1982), Williams Model (1986) and Paul’s Reasoning Model (1992). I shall discuss three questioning frameworks below that range from hierarchical to more divergent approaches for engaging gifted learners: revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, three levels of feedback (Hattie, 2012), and “Describe/Disrupt the Territory” framework (Dyer et al., 2011).

The revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson et al., 2000) uses a hierarchical approach and is commonly used for framing questions from lower to higher-order levels. Gifted learners should be challenged with higher-order questions and learning tasks. Refer to Table 1 which contains a few suggested action verbs for framing questions as well as sample question stems. Using this framework, the students can intentionally engage with higher-order thinking and learning with their peers.

 Table 1. Framing Questions using the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson et al., 2000)

Thinking Processes

Action Verbs
for Framing Questions

Sample Question Stems 


(Put together in a new or different way)

compose, combine, conceive, construct, create, design, imagine, invent, synthesise, transform

  • How would you design…?
  • Why not compose a poem about…?
  • How many ways can you conceive…?
  • Can you create new and unusual uses for…?
  • How can you transform…?


(Judge the worth or value based on criteria)

assess, conclude, decide, determine, estimate, evaluate, judge, prioritise, rate, recommend

  • How would you judge the value of…?
  • Can you determine your position about…?
  • Do you rate…. to be a good or a bad thing?
  • What changes to… would you recommend?
  • How effective are…?


(Examine critically)


analyse, categorise, classify, compare, contrast, differentiate, distinguish, examine, investigate, separate  

  • How was this similar to…?
  • Can you distinguish between…?
  • Compare and contrast…
  • Can you analyse the issue of…?
  • Why did changes occur in…?


(Use what you have learned)

apply, demonstrate, display, incorporate, illustrate, implement, make, model, present, report, show, solve, use

  • Can you apply this method to…?
  • Demonstrate the uses of…
  • Make a diagram to illustrate this event…
  • How can you implement…?
  • What would change if you incorporated…?


(Show your understanding of information)

describe, explain, express, generalise,  indicate, locate, paraphrase, restate, summarise, translate

  • Can you explain the main idea…?
  • Restate the problem in your own words.
  • Summarise the main events of…
  • Paraphrase this poem about….
  • Describe the setting of…


(Recall facts and information)

arrange, cite, define, duplicate, label, list, match, memorise, name, order, recall, recite, tell

  • What happened after…?
  • How many….?
  • Who was…?
  • What is…?
  • Which is true or false….? 

Effective questioning through feedback (i.e., how is the student is going?) and “feedforward” (i.e., where to next?) enriches student learning. Hattie (2012) refers to three levels of feedback (Table 2): (a) task feedback, (b) process feedback, and (c) self-regulation feedback. I have composed sample questions based on Hattie’s framework. The questions related to self-regulation/metacognition particularly appeal to gifted learners.

 Table 2. Question Prompts for Feedback (Adapted from Hattie, 2012)


How are You Going?

Where to Next?

Task level 

What have you done well?
Where do you go wrong?

How can you demonstrate your deep understanding of concepts related to the task?

Process level 

What strategies did you use?
What is the explanation of the correct response?

What are the relationships with other parts of the task?

Self-regulation level

To what extent does your task/project meet the success criteria?
What learning goals have you achieved?

What do you need to learn further?
What would you do the same and what would you do differently next time?

The “Describe/Disrupt the Territory” framework (Table 3) goes beyond the hierarchical progression – moving the learners from understanding a problem to imagining possible solutions, and then working on those possibilities. This progression can also been seen in the creative problem solving processes. Creative mindsets treat the world as a question mark. They ask lots of “who”, “what”, “where” and “how” questions to explore and develop a deep understanding of what currently is. To probe intensely into what might be, creative learners shift from descriptive questions to disruptive ones such as “why”, “what might” and “what if”. The disruptive questions rupture the status quo and uncover counter-intuitive, surprising solutions. I have composed descriptive and disruptive questions based on Dyer and colleagues’ framework. “What if” and “why” become the guiding motifs of gifted learners.

Table 3. “Describe/Disrupt the Territory” Framework (Adapted from Dyer et al., 2011)

Describe the Territory

Disrupt the Territory

How many minutes are in an hour?

Why do we use units of minutes and hour to define a day?

 What is photosynthesis?

 What if one step in photosynthesis process was changed?

 When did the industrial revolution occur?

 When might we encounter another industrial revolution?

 What caused the practices related to Stolen Generation in Australia?

 What might have happened if there were no differences in people’s skin colour? Which events of the past may have been avoided?

 As educators, I believe our role is to become expert questioners, not answer providers. The students can be encouraged to engage in “QuestionStorming” sessions (Dyer et al., 2011) in which they only ask questions about a problem or challenge instead of trying to construct another set of solutions. We can scaffold students’ creative learning by asking open-ended questions to encourage idea generation (Walsh & Sattes, 2005). We can motivate gifted learners, indeed all learners, to develop and nurture disruptive mindsets for life.

Please share ideas about how you engage and inspire your students to ask you a more beautiful question.

Some people see things as they are, and ask, “Why?”
I dream things that never were, and ask, “Why not?”
– George Bernard Shaw


Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., et al. (2000). Taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York, NY: Longman.

Barfurth, M. A., Ritchie, K. C., Irving, J. A., & Shore, B. M. (2009). A metacognitive portrait of gifted learners. In L. V. Shavinina (Ed.), International handbook on giftedness (pp. 397-417). Quebéc, Canada: Springer.

Clark, B. (2013). Growing up gifted: Developing the potential of children at home and at school (8th Ed.). Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Davis, G. A., Rimm, S., & Siegle, D. (2011). Education of the gifted and talented. New York, NY: Pearson.

Dyer, J., Gregersen, H., & Christensen, C. M. (2011). The innovator’s DNA: Mastering the five skills of disruptive innovators. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Press.

Feldhusen, J. F. (1986). A conception of giftedness. In R. J. Sternberg and J. E. Davidson (Eds.), Conceptions of giftedness (pp. 112-127). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Guilford, J. P. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kanevsky, L., Maker, C. J., Nielsen, A., & Rogers, K. B. (1994). A guide to selecting curriculum modifications based on a student’s characteristics. In C. J. Maker & A. Nielsen, Principles and curriculum development for the gifted (pp. 26-27). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Maker, C. J. (1982). Curriculum development for the gifted. Rockville, MD: Aspen.

Paul, R. (1992). Critical thinking What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Sonoma, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Renzulli, J. S., Smith, L. H., White, A. J., Callahan, C. M., Hartman, R. K., & Westberg, K.   L., Gavin, M. K., Reis, S. M., Siegle, D., & Systma Reed.  (2002). Scales for rating the behavioural characteristics of superior students. Mansfield Center, CTL Creative Learning Press. 

Rotigel, J. V. (2003). Understanding the young gifted child: Guidelines for parents, families, and educators. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30, 209-214.

VanTassel-Baska, J. (1989). Characteristics of the developmental path of eminent and gifted adults. In J. L. VanTassel-Baska and P. Olszeweski-Kuilius (Eds.), Patterns of influence on gifted learners: The home, the self, the school (pp. 146-162). New York: Teachers College Press.

VanTassel-Baska, J. (2014). Artful inquiry: The use of questions in working with the gifted. Gifted Child Today, 37, 48-50.

VanTassel-Baska, J., & Brown, E. (2007). Toward best practice: An analysis of the efficacy of curriculum models in gifted education. Gifted Child Quarterly, 51, 342-358.

Walsh, J. A., & Sattes, B. D. (2005). Quality questioning: Research-based practice to engage every learner. Victoria: Hawker Brownlow.

Williams, F. E. (1986). The cognitive-affective interaction model for enriching gifted programs. In J. S. Renzulli (Ed.), Systems and models for developing programs for the gifted and talented (pp. 461-484). Mansfield Center, Connecticut: Creative Learning Press.


The title of this blog is inspired by the following work:
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

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