Building Driving Questions

Driving questions initiate and focus the inquiry and learning throughout a project while creating an interest and challenge for students
86 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, "Using Sheltered Instruction to Support English Learners," 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.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is the time frame for your specific project? Does your driving question allow for the project to fit into this time frame?

  2. Does your driving question allow students to master the learning targets identified in the planning process?

  3. Are there any local businesses or authentic audiences that could support your students in creating a solution or product for the driving question?

  4. Does the driving question have an entry point for all students in your class?

Krystal's Tips for Implementation

Krystal Bankston
BetterLesson Instructional Coach
  1. If you are new to Project-Based Learning or writing driving questions, using the driving question template is a great place to start. It will really help you focus on what your goal is for the students and make the project applicable to real-world problems.

  2. Reach out to local businesses, community leaders, and colleagues. Ask them if they have any problems for which your students could create solutions.

    • For example, when trying to create a driving question, I asked teachers at our elementary feeder school if there were any problems they needed help with. One science teacher said that she always wanted to take her students to the local aquarium, but the low-income school didn't have the funds to accomplish this. My students and I reached out to the aquarium, and they agreed to let the students create 3D virtual reality tours of the exhibits at the aquarium. My students then led the elementary class on a VR field trip of the aquarium. If you're willing to ask others if they have any problems they need help solving, you could have the opportunity to create authentic partnerships and projects for the students.

Tech Tools to Support Implementation

Google Docs

  • Google Docs is an online word processor (part of Google Apps) that allows you store, create and edit documents collaboratively in a web browser.

  • Google Docs can be used to work through the driving question template, to collaborate with other colleagues or students while building the driving question, and to distribute to the intended audience.

Research Base