Tag Archives: AfL

Developing hinge questions in geography

Developing hinge questions in geography

Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with the use of hinge questions in geography. So far I have found they have acted as an exceptionally useful and quick diagnostic tool which identifies student misconceptions so I can make timely interventions before we move onto another task or phase within our learning sequence.

I thought it might be helpful if I shared some of the hinge questions I have been deploying and, to provide some context, what the learning intentions were behind each question.

Context – Year 8  – Why is Svalbard so cold?

Learning intention – Why does air temperature vary across the world?

In this phase of lessons on Fantastic Places, inspired by Noel Jenkins, students carry out an investigation into the physical and human characteristics that make Svalbard a unique and fantastic place. Our phase of lessons starts with a quick detour into interpreting climate graphs and also addressing why air temperature varies across the world.

Some of the geographical data we ask students to examine includes,

Atlases to locate Leicester and Svalbard,

Climate graphs of each location, Svalbard + Leicester

Diagrams of global air temperature difference across a year,



This diagram from an Interactions textbook,

interactions image

Students complete a range of learning activities in relation to these resources and are guided to extract some meaning from the data. Before we reflect on what has been learned and its wider significance, the deployment of a hinge question at this point in the learning is a useful diagnostic tool.

Essentially, at this point I need to know if students can appreciate that the shape of the Earth, the fact that it is a sphere, helps explain why it is that places by the Equator are warmer than places near the Poles. In my experience, while Y8 students usually know that locations near the Equator are warm and Polar regions are colder, they are often not able to, or have many misconceptions about why this is the case. Hence the learning intention behind the key enquiry question for this lesson.

The Hinge Question…

I ask students to use their mini whiteboard to respond to the following question.

The main reason air temperature varies across the globe is because…

A- The Earth orbits the sun

B- The Earth orbits the sun at an angle

C- The Earth is a sphere

D – The Earth has a hot core

This question was developed because the distracters A, B and D have all been offered as explanations as to why air temperature varies across the world in the past by students. As a result, the distracters in this question really require all students to think carefully about which response is the most appropriate answer to the question posed. If I get a class of C responses I can be reasonably confident that the students can appreciate that the shape of the Earth has a significant impact on differences in air temperature across the globe.

In the reflection stage, to develop student thinking, we discuss some of the air temperature anomalies which exist on the air temperature map and briefly explore what the reasons for these might be. Although this provides an additional degree of challenge in their thinking, we don’t get too caught up in these anomalies at this point as the units of work we complete in Y9 offer opportunities to extend their understanding to explore the interactions between global climate, the atmosphere, ice and oceans.

I’ll post up a few more hinge questions we have used over the next week.

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What are hinge questions?

To move on, briefly recap, or completely reteach? The most important decision a teacher makes on a regular basis. Would you agree?


How about these two ideas…

“If we spend time generating high quality questions we can potentially administer, assess and take remedial action regarding a whole class in a matter of minutes, without generating a pile of marking.”

“Sharing high quality questions across different schools, authorities, cultures, even languages may be the most significant thing we can do to improve the quality of student learning.”

When I read these two passages in Dylan Wiliam’s recent book, Embedded Formative Assessment I thought this was an interesting idea but from a practical point of view, almost impossible. Then he outlined the rationale behind hinge questions and I was hooked.

What are hinge questions?

On his reflective blog, history teacher Harry Fletcher-Wood describes a hinge question as a technique which allows the teacher to check for understanding at a ‘hinge-point’ in a learning sequence, because of two inter-linked meanings:

1) It is the point where you move from one key idea/activity/point on to another.
2) Understanding the content before the hinge is a prerequisite for the next phase of learning.

The core concept behind posing hinge questions is that they allow you to gather information on what all students are thinking so you can then make adjustments or timely interventions which offer an opportunity to address learners inevitable unintended misconceptions.

I find hinge questions quite challenging to create before I teach a particular part of a learning sequence. Despite my best pre-emptive efforts, I’m often surprised by the misconceptions some students experience. However, designing an effective hinge question requires you to have a clear understanding of both your learning intention(s) and the potential misconceptions that students might experience.

How do you create an effective hinge question?

(1)    Focus on the critical aspects of learning intentions as opposed to ideas that are not essential for further progression.

(2)    It is preferable to be able to obtain the information from all students immediately. Ideally students should respond within one minute and teachers be able to view and interpret responses within thirty seconds. It is a quick check on understanding, rather than a new piece of work.

(3)    There should be ample time for you to respond to the information presented to you. This could be at the start of the lesson, with specific tasks to follow. Or in the middle of the lesson to modify or clarify an emerging understanding or at the end of a lesson, to help inform you of what to do in the next lesson.

(4)     Ideally, it must be impossible to reach correct answers using an incorrect thought process (that is MUCH easier said, than done!)

In the next post I’ll share some of the hinge questions we have generated to date and the learning intentions that sit beneath them.


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Introducing experiments with Hinge Questions and the Quick Key App

I had been wondering for a while… Is it possible to develop better systems of assessment, which offer more opportunities for teachers to make learning interventions and save teachers marking time?

Over the next few months I’ll be blogging about a project I have secured some funding for which I hope will help our geography department achieve that elusive goal! Better assessment items, less time marking, more time addressing misconceptions.

The project is really about synthesizing AfL techniques and technology. In simple terms the project has two main threads…

(1) Working collaboratively as a geography department to develop high quality assessment items primarily through the use of hinge questions.

(2) Making use of the Quick Key app to mark, store and analyze student responses.

To get the technology aspect up and running, I have managed to secure some funding for 7 iPads for my geography team through a DigiLit project fund. If you have not come across it before, the DigiLit project aims to support teachers to make the best use of technology across Leicester schools and is headed up by the digital learning visionary Joise Fraser. I’m very grateful to her and her team for their support! You can download the bid I submitted here.

Incidentally, they have produced an excellent framework for digital literacy development for school staff. Well worth a look.

In the next post I’ll share some of our current thinking around hinge questions and their use in the geography classroom.

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