Earlier in the year I was fortunate enough to attend a session from the IB 2016 Speaker Series – Inquiry Learning in a digital environment: differentiation and the new routines. Dr Erica McWilliam explored many concepts to promote inquiry based learning among students. One that really stood out for me was the 5 Star Questions concept.


Why 5 stars?

This pedagogical strategy explores the concept of students asking questions and as a teacher (or class) we would rate them as either 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 star questions – 5 star being the better questions in relation to how much knowledge needs to be applied. I have been using this strategy with stage 6 students to get them to show me their understanding of both, course content and question/answer structure.  Over the term I have seen a huge change in my students in that they are more comfortable asking questions, some will try to aim for a 5 star straight away where others will go for the 1 to get the ball rolling. There is a lot of room for differentiation which is often self directed. The process also allows for students to reflect and enhance their questioning by trying to improve their question to a higher star rating.


How does it work?

There are several ways in which the 5 Star Question can be implemented, I find that this works extremely well with flipped learning as well as quality questioning scaffolds. I have two scaffolds that I use;

The coloured one below assists students to design questions using the verbs as listed from the Board of studies and helps them determine how they can take their question from a 1 to a 5 star question. Students also use this sheet to help them answer the question, over time they have learnt to know what is required. They know if it is a 3-5 star question they must use examples etc.


qu scaff

This scaffold assists students to answer questions that are asked. This was designed with the students, using terminology that they chose so that they could remember how to answer the question. Initially students always used this scaffold, now most students only use it for 4-5 star questions as these require more planning.



How can the 5 star concept be embedded into the classroom?

Over the term I have developed several ways to implement the 5 star questions, once the students got the hang of it we were able to add a more competitive aspect to it. Remember that all questions designed don’t have to be answered – allow students to decide what questions they will answer depending on their content knowledge, mood or learning ability. See below for some examples.

  • Teacher writes a 1-2 star question on the board and students either individually in groups work out how to improve the questions to a 4-5 star question.
  • Group students and give each group the same focus question from the syllabus – each group must develop a 2, 3 and 4/5 star question and write it on the board – the questions are peer assessed and ‘improved’ before they decide which ones to answer.
  • In the early days, assist students by scaffolding the answers – the first two weeks I tried this, students struggled to answer in their own words or connect concepts. Now they write their own questions and answers – I can’t remember the last time I had to scaffold an answer!
  • Have students collaborate on answers using an online document. I created a word document in which was shared among all students. Students had to create questions for each section of the syllabus and then go and choose a different answer. Once a question had been answered, students were allowed to ‘improve’ the answers using a different colour – this was great for exam preparation.
  • ‘Whacky Questions’ sometimes I have students ask questions which are outside the syllabus – is there something that is in line with content that you would like to know – one of my favorites was a question about altitude training, while it was not in the syllabus it defined their understanding of the role cardio respiratory system for movement efficiency.
  • Questions which have been developed can be used to class quizzes or even end of semester exams. Once students have confidence they enjoy being timed to answer the questions. Always allow time to collaborate on answers though, if they are a collaborative class they will be happy sharing answers.

The WOW factor

I honestly cannot believe the change in my students as a result of this simple concept into their lessons. For me as a teacher I no longer have to think up questions or photocopy revision questions or past papers. I spend less time scaffolding answers and more time 1 on 1 with students to coach them to consolidate their answer without me giving them the answer.

I have seen a huge boost in confidence among my students – I always encourage students to start with a 1 star question if they need – usually most of them do this period 1 Monday morning. The excitement on their face when I say who wrote this one – this one is awesome is priceless.

Greater understanding of content – I have found that if students can write a question which is 5 star quality they must know the content needed to answer the question and where it comes from in the syllabus. This activity shows a students understanding of verbs, syllabus  focus questions and course content.

Students have become sharers – because they are sharing their questions with the class all the time they are happy to share their answers as ‘experts’ or even their theory notes.