Building Driving Questions

Driving questions initiate and focus the inquiry and learning throughout a project while creating an interest and challenge for students
412 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

The driving question is what you pose to students in order to begin the investigation process of a project. In Project-Based Learning, the driving question helps to begin and prioritize an inquiry approach to learning and problem solving while communicating the purpose and end goal of the project. For the teacher, the driving question helps frame the planning and implementation of the project. For the student, the driving question should spark interest and guide the design process. Every class project should begin with a driving question that is aligned to a specific learning target or goal.

Implementation Steps

30-60 minutes

Follow the steps below as you fill out this template to create a driving question:

  1. List common state standards that you want students to master.

  2. Write a 2-3 sentence explanation of why students need to master these learning targets and how these learning targets help students in the real world.

  3. Create a 3-column table to identify skills and content. In Column 1, list 3-5 verbs that students would utilize in the learning targets (i.e. compare, compute, research, analyze, etc). In Column 2, list 2-3 nouns associated with the learning targets (i.e. narrative essay, scientific notation, consumption, etc). In Column 3, list real-world products or problems that could be created or addressed within these learning targets. (See Example in Resources to Support Implementation).

  4. Select one real-world product or problem from step 3, and 2-3 process skills (verbs and nouns) from step 3. Use these to identify a real world role or occupation that could produce or solve this problem.

  5. Combine the selections from step 4 into a driving question. Use the driving question to launch and guide the project with your students.

Student-Designed Driving Questions

Description of purpose/use:

This use of the driving question strategy allows students to improve their questioning and problem-solving skills, while promoting student ownership of the projects and products that will be created.

Implementation steps for this specific purpose/use:

  1. Identify a topic or focus statement that is aligned to a specific learning target.

  2. Have the students generate questions or problems centered around the topic or focus statement. These questions need to be as open-ended as possible.

  3. Guide the students through the process of narrowing and prioritizing the list of questions.

  4. Refine the final list of questions into a driving question or allow the students to vote on which question(s) they would like to investigate throughout the project.

Project-Based Language Learning

When implementing Project-Based Learning in a language classrooms (i.e. Spanish, Hebrew, Latin, etc), there are some important questions to consider: 

  1. Are you creating a driving question appropriate to students' proficiency levels? For example, students starting out in language classroom are likely learning basic vocabulary and "Who I am" type statements in the new language (i.e. "I am Susan. I am 12 years old.") For students at this level, create a project around cultural inquiry. The driving question could then be centered around the idea of "What is important to know about another person or culture?" Students could then take various approaches to learn about other cultures within the class. See the webinar linked in the resources for more support around this idea. 
  2. For language learning PBLs, it is also important to scaffold and shelter students' use of language. See the article, for more information.
  3. Prior to beginning the PBL, it might be helpful to teach the vocabulary that will be necessary for collaboration and project completion to the students. It could also be helpful to display the vocabulary throughout the PBL using an anchor chart. See the Anchor Charts strategy in the BetterLesson lab for more support around this.