Written By Lee Crockett
Need some purposeful questions? Here are over 300 examples by category. Dive in and discover them now!
Grant Wiggins and his colleague Jay McTighe did so much to bring an awareness of how to create meaningful purposeful questions in education. They knew as we do now, that the questions we ask our students matter. From Wiggins himself:
“The big-idea questions signal that education is not just about learning the answer, but about learning how to learn.”
A purposeful question is one that leads us to explore the problem and choose from plans and strategies to generate an applicable solution. It’s much more than that, though, as you’ll discover from perusing the 300+ questions we've listed in this article.
What makes an effective purposeful question? We believe that a true purposeful question:
Has no definite or singular answer
Requires justification or support
Is beyond topic or skills
Triggers the hydra effect (investigate one question, and more appear)
Is timeless and naturally recurs
Can be elemental or foundational if within a discipline
Stimulates critical and continual rethinking
Engages a deeply personal connection
How To Use These Purposeful Questions
All the questions are broken down into the following categories: Social Studies, English Language Arts, The Arts, Mathematics, Science, Ethics and Morality, Health and Wellness, The Global Community, and Personal Development and Responsibility.
Here are some ways you can use them with learners.
Build a lesson or full unit around one or more similar questions
Offer a daily or weekly wake-up question challenge
Pick one question a week to focus on and build a defining project around
Use them in groups for exploring assumptions and openly sharing opinions
Encourage learners to develop more specific or “herding” questions
They are the kinds of questions that can drive us, haunt us, and move us to search for answers. So off you go—explore, ponder, and never stop asking questions.
How can one individual’s experience reflect the struggles of a nation?
How does our understanding of the culture of a people help us communicate with them most effectively?
How do we overcome prejudice and social bias?
Why do we study and examine our past, present, and future?
How do you define the term “perfection” in contrast to how it is portrayed in our pop culture media?
How do we form an identity that remains true and authentic for the individual in a culture full of ideas and images of what we should be?
Why do we sometimes oppress each other when we gain power?
Is there a price to obtaining freedom from oppression? If so, what is it?
How do we determine the ideals that should be honoured in a model society?
How can we help people struggling in underprivileged regions lead better lives?
How does conflict lead to change across varying levels of society?
Are the benefits of progress worth the costs?
What is “social justice”?
What are the benefits and consequences of challenging authority?
Should the majority always rule? Why or why not?
Why do revolutions happen?
How does the study of history help us realize that ideas and actions of individuals and groups have consequences and shape events?
How can we be sure of what happened in our past?
At what point does progress become problematic?
Should our freedom have limits? If so, what should they be and why?
Is there such a thing as a “just” war?
How do war and conflict lead to change?
How does conflict influence an individual’s decisions and actions
How are prejudice and bias created? How do we overcome them?
How can we determine if there is bias in our accounts of history?
How should nations interact with each other to solve issues between them?
How do patterns of cause and effect manifest themselves through history?
How far should we extend our trust to those that govern us?
How do climate and geography affect how people live and work?
What does it mean to be “civilized”, and what is the ideal civilization?
What is the balance between rights and responsibilities?
How can we keep our governments accountable to the needs and interests of those they serve?
What is oppression and what are the root causes?
How do things acquire value?
What strategies can you use to make writing come alive for a reader?
Why do cultures and individuals create narratives of their experiences?
What makes a story effective for its purpose?
Why do we read and write?
What is the real power of language?
Is writing an adequate measure of wisdom or intelligence?
What moves us to communicate through digital and non-digital media?
What would happen to our society if none of us could read?
What’s the relationship between popularity and greatness in literature?
How do style and structure reflect the theme and meaning of a story?
How does language influence the way we think, act, and view the world?
What makes writing worth reading?
How does what you read influence how you should read it?
How can fictional works reveal truths about human nature?
How do I determine what to write?
How does an author create meaning in a text, and what makes it valid?
What are the characteristics or elements that cause a piece of literature to endure?
How do I choose evidence to support my opinions in my writing?
What is your favourite story, and how has it influenced you?
How do I convince my reader that my position is valid?
In what ways can we express ourselves when we don’t know another’s language?
What can fiction do better than nonfiction, and why?
Who is the best writer in world history and why?
How can we use story writing and storytelling to help solve everyday problems?
How can we use knowledge of the structure of language to write more persuasively?
How can you make a convincing case about an issue that inspires people to take action?
How do stories contribute to the quality of our lives?
How do you personally discern between “good” and “bad” writing?
What are some strategies for building practical oral communication skills?
How can storytelling be used as a teaching tool?
When does writing become harmful?
What do good readers do, especially when they don't comprehend a text?
What is the relationship between fiction and truth?
Should a writer’s freedom of self-expression ever be censored? Why or why not?
How does a song, piece of art, or dance communicate with us?
Why do we create art?
What is “art”, and why do individual cultures place so much value on its continuing evolution?
How can the arts communicate a cause or message that is important to a group of people?
What is creativity, and what is its importance for the individual / the culture?
What conditions and behaviours support creativity and artistic thinking?
What inner and outer factors influence how we express ourselves artistically?
What is the real point of artistic expression?
What kinds of responsibilities does an artist have to an audience or a consumer?
What responsibilities come with our freedom to be creative?
What is the most important reason for “artistic license”?
When does art become harmful to society?
From a creativity standpoint, is there such a thing as an “original” idea?
Why do artists choose particular tools, techniques, and materials to express their ideas?
Do audiences and consumers have any responsibility towards artists and what they produce? If so, what are they?
How is art used to impact the views of a society?
What are the fundamental differences between a “thoughtful” and a “thoughtless” critique?
How does engaging in creating art enrich the lives of others?
Why do artists follow or break from established traditions?
What do we mean when we refer to music as the universal language?
How do one’s experiences influence artwork?
Do you believe art should have boundaries?
Do artists have a responsibility to society? Why or why not?
How can we use the arts to inspire positive action?
Have you ever created a piece of art that you later wished you hadn’t? What would be the consequences of this?
What would the world be like if we weren’t able to artistically express ourselves?
How does art imitate life?
What makes art offensive to some people?
What can the art forms of other cultures teach us about ourselves and life?
How do we decide when creative works are ready to share?
If art is personal, why and how is it critiqued?
Should artists be more influenced by subjective perception or outside opinion?
Should critics be allowed to control what art forms are shared with the public? Why or why not?
In what ways do we use math in everyday life?
Where do mathematical ideas surface in the world?
How can I best represent a pattern using mathematical principles?
How could we use mathematics to create a better world?
How do pictures, graphs, tables, and data “paint a thousand words?”
How does mathematics help us understand our world?
Why can mathematical problems conceal as much as they reveal?
How can number lines and diagrams represent solutions to real-world problems?
Why are mathematical rules necessary?
How is mathematics used to quantify and compare situations, events, and phenomena?
How do I communicate mathematical ideas?
How do I recognize what strategy to use for a specific problem?
How do we identify patterns and use them to predict what will happen next?
How can we compare the sizes of objects when we can’t place them next to each other?
When and how has mathematics played pivotal roles in our world’s history?
How can we use numbers as a communicative language?
When is the “correct” answer not the best solution?
Why is it important to use models to represent mathematical ideas?
How do we know where to begin when solving a problem?
How do mathematical problems challenge us to recognize change?
When is estimation more appropriate than finding an exact answer, and why?
How do we use mathematical language to show relationships in our world?
How is mathematics used to measure, model, and calculate change?
How can the patterns in the information we collect be useful?
When solving multi-step problems using charts, tables, and graphs, how can you tell if the information you provide is sufficient?
How do we make connections between mathematical ideas?
What constitutes mathematical proof, and when should it be challenged?
How is math related to other subjects?
How do we move between mathematical abstraction and physical reality?
What do effective problem solvers do when they get stuck?
How does what we measure influence how we measure? How does how we measure influence what we measure?
What does mathematics tell us about human nature?
What tools can an individual use to judge the difference between illusion and reality?
How do we determine what is genuinely “real” and what is not?
How can we predict what life will be like 30 years from now?
When can we be sure that estimation is more appropriate than finding an exact answer?
How can patterns be used to predict results and solve problems?
How do we know if something is unexplainable by science?
Why is understanding cause and effect important to your life?
How can I represent a large object accurately on paper or in a miniature model?
What is energy, and what does it mean for it to be conserved?
How can I make more prominent representations of small objects?
When and how do scientific theories change?
How can we be sure that the universe beyond our world is truly “infinite”?
How do humans impact their environment?
Is new technology always better than what it replaces? Why or why not?
What is survival, and how do surroundings affect a species’ ability to survive?
How do we make predictions for the future and ensure that they have validity?
What is our place in the universe?
How do scientists think about the world in which they live?
How do we create, test, and validate a scientific model?
How can we use the scientific method to find answers to problems?
Why is it essential that we recognize universal patterns existing in our world?
Is human progress necessarily beneficial to the Earth?
What is the connection between structure and function?
How do we measure change?
What are the characteristics of a scientific problem that is worth investigating?
Do we have a moral and ethical obligation to preserve the Earth?
At what times is it necessary to question science?
What kinds of processes change the Earth and its resources?
How can we effectively safeguard our environment?
If someone told you something wasn’t real, what would you do to either verify or refute that claim?
How can the study of science help us connect continuity and change?
How do we decide what to believe about a scientific claim?
Is aging a disease?
What is morality, and what are the factors that have an impact on its development?
What is the relationship between decisions and consequences?
Why do we choose to use labels in society, and when can they be harmful?
How do individuals develop values and beliefs?
What is the difference between truth and fact?
What does it mean to be morally right or morally wrong?
How is our perception of good and evil shaped by our films, books, and video games?
If you could choose one rule for the world to live by, what would it be and why?
How do you know what’s true or what’s a lie?
Are there actions you believe are always morally wrong? Why or why not?
Are civilization and order necessary for survival? Why or why not?
Why is having values and beliefs essential, and how can we form them independently?
Is humanity inherently “good” or inherently “evil?” Why do you feel this way?
What is more critical—laws or our sense of right and wrong?
What is authentic leadership, and what are its responsibilities?
Can a war ever be considered ethical? Why or why not?
What is power, and who should have it?
How do different cultures shape our definitions of good and evil?
What should be the biggest goal of humanity?
How do you define the idea of justice?
Why is it crucial to consider the effects of our words and actions on other people?
What are the attributes of heroism, and how could they change?
Is it ever OK to lie? If so, under what circumstances?
What is conscience?
Can a good leader have immoral or destructive private morality?
What is the ethical power or temptation of self-interest?
How far should self-interest go?
Is free will real or just an illusion?
If you could teach everyone one concept, what would have the most significant positive impact on humanity?
Is it more important to help yourself or to help others?
What is a “universal truth”? How should we decide what they are?
If you could see 24 hours into the future, what would you do with this ability?
Should we aim to rehabilitate prisoners or punish them for their crimes?
Do our social media platforms control us? If so, to what extent?
What does it mean to be truly healthy?
What do we need to know to make good decisions and stay healthy?
Why is it necessary for long-term health and wellness to achieve balance in our lives, and how can we achieve it?
What would be the short- and long-term effects of all living humans striving to understand each other?
How do we define “happiness” for ourselves, and how important it is in our lives?
Why (and how) does choosing activities we enjoy contribute to our whole-being health?
What are the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle?
How does one form an identity that remains authentic for themselves?
What causes some to thrive while others fail in the face of a challenge?
What personal qualities do you have that help you deal with conflict, challenge, and adversity?
In what ways does where you live influence how you live?
What are the factors that may influence wellness?
What is “vitality”?
What is the difference between “surviving” and “living”?
How does what we eat impact our health in both the short and long term?
How can I incorporate physical activity and fitness into my lifestyle?
How does being healthy affect our relationships with others?
What is unique about how you deal with personal conflicts and change, and how could this help someone else?
Why is it so vital for us to ensure that our lives have “meaning”?
What can we do to avoid or reduce health risks?
How can we make healthy food more accessible?
How can we support people who feel alone and are uncertain about themselves due to social and psychological factors?
Is well-being just self-pampering?
How does stress impact your health?
How can consumers be more involved in reducing food waste?
How can you deal with stress?
How can time management skills improve your overall wellness?
What influences our behaviours and decisions?
How can goal-setting enhance and improve our health?
How can communication improve our health and relationships?
What is changeable within ourselves in terms of health and wellness?
How can we evaluate the validity and reliability of health information?
How do one’s choices affect those around them?
What one thing would make society healthier as a whole?
What does the term “global community” mean to you, and why is sustaining it essential?
What are the advantages of being part of a global community?
Are there universal characteristics of belief systems that are common across all cultures?
What are an individual’s ideal responsibilities in any community?
What are the challenges individuals face in responding to their global moral duties?
How does a global community best address significant challenges?
How could we ensure and sustain enough food, water, and clothing for every living person on Earth?
How has the meaning of citizenship evolved?
To what extent is global poverty caused by the global economy?
How has technology transformed how we see ourselves and others? Is this good or bad?
What is happening in our community to preserve culture and natural resources?
How do our personal choices affect our global community?
What communities am I a part of, and what do I do in those communities?
Should the needs of one group in a worldwide community be prioritized over the needs of another? If so, when and why?
How does the health of a community influence its future?
In what ways has our global community changed over time?
How can small actions eventually change the world?
What is your vision of a “perfect society”, and how would you describe it?
How do we decide if the world today is better or worse than in the past?
How does what we know about the world affect how we view ourselves?
Why does it often seem to take a global disaster or crisis to inspire us to help each other?
What personal contributions and changes can we make to help reduce the effects of global warming?
How can we ensure we preserve our world for future generations?
How can we improve how we live and interact in a global community?
What needs do both a local and a global community have?
Why is human dignity so little discussed in international development circles, and how can it be integrated in a meaningful way?
What can different communities learn from each other working together?
In a global community, how are citizens affected by a single change?
How might one person’s idea of a global community differ from another?
What do you believe should be the primary focus of any global community?
What is the future of our global community?
How can we ensure that global community development remains sustainable and ethical for all individuals?
What is personal responsibility, and why is it important to practice?
If you were to leave behind your legacy for future generations, what would it be and why?
How do one’s choices affect their life?
How can we ensure that personal conflicts lead to constructive change and a positive outcome for everyone involved?
What qualities and make a person “mature” and “responsible”?
How does my personal development benefit others in my life?
Why is it important to be grateful?
What role do I play in defining my future?
What do you need to learn that you don’t want to admit?
How do we form and shape a personal identity for ourselves?
How do our relationships with others change us?
What’s your number one priority right now, and why?
How is useful failure beneficial to our personal development?
What is the difference between management and leadership, and which is more important?
How do we maintain our self-image in a culture where other people are trying to define us?
What are the elements of true friendship, and how might these change or grow over time?
If you woke up tomorrow with no fear, how would you live your life?
What makes you special, unique, and talented?
What’s your most outstanding achievement to date?
Do you have a role model for personal development? Who is it, and why?
Which matters most—others’ opinion of you or your opinion of yourself?
Is trust more important than love, or is it the other way around?
In a single sentence, how would you like to be remembered?
How can I improve my relationships with others?
What are my responsibilities to myself and others in a time of crisis?
Why is lifelong learning necessary for personal development?
How can I be more helpful?
What one piece of advice would you give yourself as a child?
If you could spend ten minutes with your hero, what would you ask them?
What scares you about your future, and how do you think you could overcome that?
What personal responsibility skills should be taught in school, and why?
Is it your responsibility to make yourself "equal" to others, or is that the government's job?
What is our responsibility to others when dealing with a global pandemic?
How far should our sacrifices for others go, and why?
Do you agree with social models for defining success? Why or why not?
The Power of Purpose
These above lists will provide you with plenty of thoughtful fodder for creating some of the most compelling and beneficial learning experiences your learners could ever have. That’s because purposeful questions have always held a remarkable power within the classroom, serving as guiding beacons for learning and exploration.
Thought-provoking, open-ended inquiries such as these encourage critical thinking, foster curiosity, and spark meaningful discussions. By posing purposeful questions, you’ll invite learners to delve deeply into a subject, encouraging them to make connections, analyze information, and develop their own understanding. You’ll ignite a thirst for knowledge within them and empower them to take ownership of their learning journey.
So in closing, think about how you can use these questions in your practice moving forward. Where could you fit them into activities and lessons? How could you get creative with them? And what questions of your own would you add to these lists?
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Author and keynote speaker, Lee works with governments, education systems, international agencies and corporations to help people and organisations connect to their higher purpose. Lee lives in Japan where he studies Zen and the Shakuhachi.