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Hinge-Point Questioning

What is a hinge question?

A check for understanding at a ‘hinge-point’ in a lesson, so-called 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 chunk of learning.

A hinge point is a place in a lesson where there is a natural pause or slight change of topic, which can offer you a good opportunity to check, by asking certain questions, if pupils have understood what has been taught so far. The responses to these questions can guide you and your students towards what they need to do next.

As the name suggests, it is a question that can take a lesson in at least two different directions - usually forwards or backward. The direction of the lesson is dependent upon the teacher's assessment of understanding. The hinge question comes after the teaching episode and is meant to assess the knowledge or skills which should have been gained during the teaching episode. This could be a key concept or a method for a mathematical concept.

The hinge points can be at various points in the lesson; maybe you could use a hinge question after the initial explanation and modelling of an idea before moving on to guided written practice, or later in the lesson before tackling more extensive independent practice.

Hinge point questions should make the pupils think more deeply; there shouldn’t be a yes or no answer. ‘Does everyone understand?’, for example, is not a helpful question, as students may answer with a yes, even if they don’t understand.

The best hinge-point questions are multiple-choice questions where the wrong answers are common misconceptions. It’s a good idea to encourage all pupils to respond to the hinge point questions so you get a full picture of the class. Students could use mini-whiteboards or voting cards to show their answers, or you could use electronic voting with programs like Kahoot or Quizlet.

Principles of Hinge-Point Questioning

  1. Get a response from every individual student

  2. Do a quick check on understanding, instead of engaging in extended discussions

  3. On the basis of student responses, decide whether to go forward or back

  4. Design hinge questions that elicit the right response for the right reason

Good hinge-point questions:

  1. Fall at the very latest, halfway through a lesson

  2. Should take no longer than one minute to ask

  3. Take no longer than 2 minutes for the students to respond

  4. Have easily quantifiable responses (e.g. multiple choice answers that can be counted)

  5. Enable all students to answer simultaneously (e.g. voting technology, Kahoot, Quizlet)

  6. Make it difficult to guess the answer

Good use of carefully designed hinge questions can enable you to move more quickly through certain areas – and spend more time unpicking and investigating more challenging areas of the curriculum. They’re a really good thing to work on with other teachers – good hinge questions can be used again and again across everyone’s classes.

Hinge-point questions enable you to address any misconceptions or misunderstandings that your students might have and enable you to ensure that your students have fully grasped the concept you are trying to deliver before moving on in the lesson and then later discovering, in an assessment, that your students haven't actually grasped it at all.

Further Reading

Hill, H. C., Rowan, B., & Ball, D. L. (2005). Effects of teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching on student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 42(2), 371–406.

Hunter, M. C. (1982). Mastery teaching. El Segundo, CA: Tip Publications.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75–86.

Osborne, J. (2011, February 11). Why assessment matters. Paper presented at the annual conference of SCORE (Science Community Representing Education), London, UK. Retrieved from

Sadler, P. M. (1998). Psychometric models of student conceptions in science: Reconciling qualitative studies and distractor-driven assessment instruments. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35(3), 265– 296.

Shulman, L. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(1), 4–14.

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