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Hinge-point questions

Some Diagnostic Activity Examples
© National STEM Learning Centre

In his blog about The importance of the right questions in teaching, Dylan Wiliam talks about how he used to ask whole class questions:

“I would make up a question right there and then, which I would then ask the class. Typically four or five students would raise their hands, and I would select one of those students for a response. If the answer was correct, I would say, “Good” and move on. In other words, I was using the response of a single student—a single, confident, generally high-achieving student at that—to make a decision about the learning needs of thirty or thirty-five students.”

He goes on to discuss the usefulness of a well-designed hinge-point question in determining next steps. Hinge-point questions are a multiple choice question that you ask your students when you reach the point in a lesson when you need to check if students are ready to move on, and if yes, in which direction.

There are a wide number of ways you can respond as a teacher to the evidence elicited from using hinge point questions. If all the class show they understand the concept, move on in the teaching. If there is a mixture of those that understood and did not understand the concept:

  • move the ones who understood on and do additional support work with those that didn’t understand.
  • get those that understood to work in groups and explain/teach those that didn’t.
  • get those that understood to apply their learning in different contexts/produce their own examples using the idea, whilst supporting those that did not understand.
  • have consolidation/challenging questions ready and regroup the room to allow students to discuss ideas in small groups.
  • use different out of class learning to either consolidate or challenge depending on answers.

If no one understood the concept, plan to teach the idea in a different way to the first time.

Collecting answers

The most important thing is that the students can reply quickly and the teacher can make sense of replies in a very short time so as not to interrupt the learning. There are a range of ideas and all have benefits and limitations. Ideas include:

  • Plickers – a tool that lets teachers collect real-time formative assessment data without the need for student devices.
  • ZipGrade – a tool that lets teachers collect real-time formative assessment data without the need for student devices.
  • Finger voting.
  • Mini white boards.
  • ABCD cards.
  • Socrative.
  • Kahoot.

Supporting course

Our Introducing Assessment for Learning course explains the role of diagnostic questioning and the use of hinge-point questions in more detail.


Above are some ideas for a diagnostic activities that you could use. There are many others – and you will encounter some more in the upcoming steps. Please use the space below to add to a bank of ideas for collecting evidence of students thinking.
© National STEM Learning Centre
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