Assertive Hinge Questions

It is with some trepidation that I write this blog entry. Not only do I admit to being no expert in this area of teaching & learning, but with all the jargon flying around, I could easily violate my “no bullshit” policy if I don’t tread carefully.


I’d encountered “Hinge Questions” years ago. I always shrugged and passed them off as common sense really. The idea that at key moments in lessons we should judge whether or not the kids “got it” through questioning; well, I just supposed it was something I did automatically.

Hinge Festival

But when I learned a bit more about hinge questions, I realised a didn’t really understand the concept fully. We recently took part in the Cramlington Autumn Staff Conference, run over the two INSET days before October half term. Tricia Wright from CLV delivered a session on Assessment for Learning (or was it Formative Assessment?!) which highlighted the need for quality hinge questioning during lessons.

Tricia’s key messages were simple yet thought provoking; the question posed should be difficult, the question format should be simple (multiple choice works best) and teachers should be able to gauge instantly how many/which kids do or don’t answer correctly. Perhaps the key to the whole concept is that teachers should plan for what happens next depending on possible responses to the question.


I had also been doing a bit of reading about whole-class Assertive Questioning. After INSET led by Geoff Barton (@RealGeoffBarton), I realised I was asking far too many “what” questions in lessons and nowhere near enough “how” and “why”‘s. Assertive questioning involves posing a tough whole-class question; asking students for their responses, listening to and thanking students for their responses and reasoning – but being careful not to give away the answer. After giving students opportunity to identify and discuss similar/contrasting answers, the teacher then asks the class to formulate a whole-group answer upon which they agree. It’s a consensus you’re after as it’ll not always be easy for all the kids to agree with one another. Only when the whole-class answer is agreed do you reveal the answer you were after. The master at this is Ken Brechin at our place. If you’ve ever been in CPD led by him, you’ll know what I mean.

In practice

I tried combining these two concepts during a GCSE theory lesson to start with. It felt like the safe route as one of my groups only has 15 kids in it (puts feet up & smokes cigar); it is relatively easy to do whole class discussion with them simply due to numbers – and the fact they’re good kids.

The lesson was on exercise methods (from the OCR syllabus – not to be confused with the less wishy-washy training methods later on) for encouraging active, healthy lifestyles. After a Connect activity, new info (video input) and a carousel of activities including mix/match, “blag-it”, and a mistake spotting exercise; I decided on the hinge question below:

Which of the following is not a method a SEDENTARY person might use to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle?

a. Going swimming regularly

b. Attending a Spinning class
c. Doing a sprinting session
d. Pilates sessions
Pupils firstly answered this on mini-whiteboards enabling a “show-me” situation. Once they had decided on their own answer however, I asked them to write underneath WHY they had come to that conclusion. As anticipated, some of the kids had simply taken a guess. Others came up with a whole host of interesting theories. I questioned a cross-section of the group as to why they had made their choices and noted down some responses on the whiteboard. These notes then provided the platform for others to challenge or build upon their peers’ responses. Whilst still in “Ken Brechin” character, I just listened to the kids arguing/debating and thanked them for their thoughts. Once they’d all blow-out, I agreed with one pupil on their suggestion that “not”, “Sedentary” and “healthy, active lifestyle” were key words in the question. This then opened up another class discussion, during which I again let the kids hold court.
Hunger Games
Once the discussions had dies down again, I asked the kids to nominate a spokes person – a bit like a “tribute” from the popular, ultra-violent Suzanne Collins kiddies novel “The Hunger Games”. This spokesperson would provide me with the correct answer – but also with an agreed, reasoned justification as to how they got to the correct answer. They chose Jake as the sacrificial lamb, bless him. Two further minutes were allocated for agreeing upon a final answer and the justification.
Although the group did indeed pick “C” as the right answer, their justification was a little shaky. They hadn’t really understood what Sedentary meant or that sprinting was really a specialist type of running suitable for sport-specific training. This meant that although they’d “got it right”, they hadn’t done it through the right methods.
Back to the Drawing Board
I’d got a fall-back slide in my lesson PowerPoint with the definition/example of the word Sedentary and also some pictures of “normal” people at exercise classes/spinning/aerobics etc. I’d also got a few images of Usain Bolt training. This was the first real bit of teacher-led stuff in the lesson as I pointed out who would be most likely to use the exercise methods we had been learning about and pointing out the differences between athletic training and exercise for healthy lifestyle. Through further Q&A, I was satisfied that the kids now “got-it” and moved on.
The process might seem long-winded but to be fair, the whole process took around 15 minutes max and covered the crux of what the lesson was about. Also worth pointing out was the one thing I hadn’t really expected (ish); that the kids would agree on the right answer, but not know why.
Worth trying again? Definitely. As I get better at the questioning techniques, I’m sure it’ll develop into a common feature of my lessons.

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