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Creating a great driving question

Monday 27 August 2018, by JMC

Every project begins with a question that drives subsequent learning. These questions should fulfil a number of criteria.

Driving Questions are:

  • Provocative. Driving questions should be intriguing and thought-provoking. To achieve this, the question should tap into the roots of learners’ interests.
  • Open-ended. A good driving question is complex and does not have a right or wrong answer. It is not “Google-able.” Learners should be able to explore many options and come to their conclusion in many different ways. Often, at the beginning of the project, the teacher themselves may not have a solution.
    Directed Questions have one correct answer, are based on quick facts and are necessary, but not appropriate for a project’s driving question. Open-ended Questions have multiple correct answers, allow learners to approach the question from different viewpoints and require investigation before they can be answered.
  • At the heart of a discipline or topic. Whatever is being studied, the driving question should be based in the core of that topic. The question should be general enough that there are many solutions and paths to the answer, but specific enough that it is rooted in the content.
  • Challenging. As the foundation of projects, the driving question should require inquiry, research, experimentation, and exploration. This question should be challenging to answer and require learners to explore lots of options before deciding on one solution.
  • Authentic. Good questions arise from real-world dilemmas. When crafting driving questions, ask yourself, is this a problem that actually needs to be solved? Is there someone in the world who is or could be working to solve this problem?
  • Consistent with curricular standards and frameworks. This can be achieved by looking at when do these standards apply to “real life” and who is using these standards to solve problems.

A good driving Q should be:
1. Instantly engaging, to hook the learners
2. Feasible
3. Worthwhile
4. Contextualized
5. Meaningful, and
6. Ethical (Krajcik & Mamlok-Naaman, 2006; Krajcik and Shin, 2014).


Krajcik, J. & Mamlok-Naaman, R. (2006). Using driving questions to motivate and sustain student interest in learning science. In Tobin, K. (Ed.), Teaching and learning science: A handbook (pp. 317-327). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Krajcik, J. & Shin, N. (2014). Project-based learning. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd ed.) (pp. 275-297). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.