Hinge Questions

These don’t appear in the Assessment for Learning slides – but I heard Dylan Wiliam talk about them at length about two years ago. Here’s the idea:

A hinge question is a carefully designed question that enables you to determine whether your class is ready to move on to a new topic/subtopic.

There are a few key rules.

i) It must be solvable in under 2 minutes

ii) you must be able to assess the students’ answers within 30 seconds

iii) the answers the students give must provide you with information that tells you straight away what their line of thinking is – so you can better fix it.

For example:

Where does y = 3x – 5 cross the x-axis?

A 5/3

B -3/5

C – 5

D 5

E -5/3

F 3/5

G none of the above

Get students to work on their own, write their answer on a mini-whiteboard and then put it face down on their desk. After two mins get everyone to hold up their answers. Students should be able to solve it quickly and the answers they give give you good clues as to what they are thinking. If all or nearly all the class get it right – you move on and deal with the few individually. If they don’t you need to look at the different answers they’ve given and deal with whatever misconeptions have arisen.

Because you insist on students working on their own and not showing anyone their answers till the end it means there’s a bit more pressure. I don’t try doing these until I’ve built up their familiarity with showing work on whiteboards and feel fairly comfortable making mistakes in front of their peers. I also usually do a couple of Numbered Heads Together or Think-Pair-Share activities before I do a Hinge Question to try and reduce any anxiety that they might otherwise feel.

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. If you make some good ones, please share!


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