What is a hinge question?
A hinge question is one which checks for understanding at a “hinge point” of the lesson. A hinge question establishes that the students understand the previous content before moving on to the next idea or activity. Think of it as an aid to open the metaphorical door to the rest of the lesson.
It can help you to establish the next step for the lesson based on the knowledge of the students, rather than blindly marching on with the lesson plan. This is something I have definitely been guilty of! A hinge question can let you know if it is appropriate to move on with the material. It can also let you know if you need to do a brief recap of the previous learning. Sometimes it might reveal a significant gap in knowledge that means you have to reteach a particular section.
Creating hinge questions
Better teachers than me may be able to come up with hinge questions on the fly, but I always find that I need to plan them carefully beforehand. The question needs to get information from students quickly in order to allow you to process the next steps of the lesson. You have to know why students have given the answer and that they haven’t reached their answer via an incorrect thought process. This is why I need to plan them, unfortunately my brain cannot function at the necessary speed!
Dylan Williams, the hinge question guru, suggests the following rules for creating a hinge question. They must allow you to:
- Interpret responses
- Reach an answer via one thought process
- Know what rule led to the answer
- Have every rule lead to an answer
Essentially you have to think about potential areas of misconception and as a result create some credible incorrect responses. I would suggest sticking to a multiple choice format to keep things as simple as possible.
Some hinge question examples:
- What is the verb in the following sentence?
“The dog growled threateningly at me”
- How is Slim described in Of Mice and Men?
“Prince of the Ranch”
“He kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs”
“full, rouged lips and wide spaced eyes”
“thin young man with a brown face, with brown eyes and a head of tightly curled hair”
- Planning hinge questions can really make you think about the errors students may potentially make and the thought processes they go through to get there.
- A well-planned hinge question can reveal misconceptions and, ultimately, create a much more effective leaning process for your students.
- Feedback is quick and effective.
- This type of question, initially at least, takes a long time to plan and think through.
- There is a risk of disengagement if the hinge question reveals the necessity to completely reteach a topic or idea.
A final note
I’m still developing my use of hinge questions in the classroom and I think they are more challenging for us English teachers than for many other subjects as our teaching is often far more open ended. Having said this, I find them useful when teaching grammar where a definite example exists or for key quotations upon which a main idea is based.
Here’s a link to Dylan Williams explaining how hinge questions can support formative assessment.