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The MASQ project: Making and asking science questions through application of Bloom's taxonomy

Case Study
  • Authored by: Andrew Thomson
  • Status: Approved


What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?

To raise the level of challenge in science lessons by providing a scaffold for pupils to ask higher order questions for other pupils to answer.

Who might find this case study useful?

  • National Strategies consultant
  • Teacher

Key points

Point 1

How do I apply Bloom's taxonomy in lessons to raise the level of challenge through questioning?

Point 2

How do I scaffold the use of Bloom's taxonomy so it is the pupils and not the teacher who is asking the questions?


What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?

  • Science

How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?

Through Making and Asking Science Questions (MASQ), there will be a raising of the level of challenge in questions. This will increase the level of explanation required in response to the questions. In the end this will show in the % of pupils achieving Level 5 in the Year 6 Science Test.

What were your success criteria?

  • an increased % of pupils achieving Level 5 in their Year 6 Science test
  • a take-up of the MASQ project across other schools in the Authority, covering a range of Key Stages and subjects.

PLEASE NOTE this page has three tabs - click 'Next tab' below or use tabs above to see Teaching approaches and CPD approaches

What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?

  • Pupils' work
  • Test results

What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?

  • Collaborative group work
  • Independent learning
  • Use of thinking skills

Describe the teaching approaches you used

Bloom's taxonomy prompt cards (see the link on The MASQ Card Template) were produced which helped to provide structured question stems for pupils to form questions which other pupils (perhaps in the same group or in a different group) would answer. These question prompts were structured into 5 levels according to the Bloom's taxonomy: Knowledge and Recall, Understanding, Applying, Analysing and Evaluation. These categories were classified by a particular colour, so (for example)pupils were encouraged to form 'green questions' (Knowledge and Recall) or 'blue questions' (Analysing). This meant that pupils became familiar with the concept of questions being levelled with different degrees of difficulties and use of thinking skills. The cards with the coloured question prompts (the MASQ cards) were used in different activities and kept centrally at the pupils' bench to increase their functionality and use.

Generally this how the MASQ Cards were used, both in the initial trial and in subsequent lessons with other classes and schools:

  1. The MASQ Card template (see link) is cut up into separate cards and each card is laminated.
  2. The MASQ Cards are pocketed into separate envelopes, according to their taxonomic colour category.
  3. In a lesson the children will be prompted to construct a number of questions from one or more colour categories.

In one example, the Year 6 class at Andrew Humphrey School was studying 'adaptations to life' as part of QCA Unit 6A 'Interdependence and Adaptation'. The class with 16 children, had been placed into 4 groups of 4. Each group studied the adaptations of living organisms to life in a particular habitat or ecosystem. Each group presented their findings to the class. At the end of their presentation, the other 3 'audience groups' were asked not 'if they had any questions' but 'construct 3 green questions, 2 yellow questions and 2 orange questions'. They did this collaboratively and selected what they considered to be good questions within each colour category. With each group constructing questions, the teacher selected green questions from each group to 'fire' at the presenters. She then repeated this for the questions from the other coloured categories. Once the presenters had answered selected green, yellow and orange questions, groups were rotated.

The choice of colour category depends not only on the ability range of the class but the main activity of the lesson. To give another example, at Derby School, the Year 6 class of 24 pupils doing a practical investigation, were prompted in their practical groups of 4 pupils to select orange and blue questions, during the practical planning phase of different experiments to follow on from short presentations carried out by each group on what they were going to investigate. This was repeated at the next lesson with blue and purple questions, once each group had carried out their investigation and could produce results. Like before, the 'audience groups' were prompted to produce '2 blue and 2 purple questions' which could be fired at the presentation group.

In the pilot project, implementation and widespread use of the MASQ cards is developed in three stages:

  1. Familiarisation
    Cards containing question prompts (see Appendix 3) are made available to the children routinely in lessons. These prompts are colour coded into separate envelopes according to their level of challenge. The children are then prompted in various lessons (not just in science) to formulate ‘a green question’ or ‘a red question’ from a subject or presentation.
  2. Structured Use
    After the children became familiar with the use of the cards and the question prompts, specific scientific topics are presented to them in various ways: from group talk presentations to teacher led demonstration. After the input from the subject matter, each group of around 4 children then have to construct a range of questions from the MASQ pack, which the group itself answers.
  3. Booster Intervention
    Regular booster style intervention lessons are organised with delivery in separate activities from the Science Coordinator, the Science Coordinator and two Teaching Assistants. The MASQ card set is grouped according to relevance to the activity being delivered (eg. a scientific demonstration is accompanied by question prompts from the evaluation section). Again the children need to formulate and answer the questions themselves using the prompts.


What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?

  • Coaching
  • Demonstration

Describe the CPD approaches you used

In the initial phase, I demonstrated the use of the MASQ cards in a lesson with Year 6 children. This allowed the teacher to develop confidence and see context for their use. Since the launch with the pilot projects, at meetings which focus on 'Gifted and Talented', whole school staff INSET, 'Subject Leader Development' or 'Thinking Skills', the cards have been shown to participants with a description of their use in the pilot project,to allow teachers to come up with a lesson in a particular unit where their use would be incorporated. This has got them started with the MASQ cards. When confidence is gained in using them, their incorporation becomes more extensive and across more curricular areas.

Since November 2008, 3 Leading Teachers within the Agency, have adopted the MASQ cards to develop with the work they are doing in their portfolio focus areas.

What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?

  • Teaching and Learning in 2020: Part 1 of the 2020 Vision Document: Report of the 'Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group' 2006, London.
  • Lukinsky and Schachter (1998) Questions in Human and Classroom Discourse. Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.
  • Bloom, B.S (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Longmans.
  • The MASQ Card set (available electronically from the author)
  • Keogh B and Naylor S (2006)_Access and Engagement for all. ASE Guide to Secondary Science Education (ed. V Wood-Robinson), ASE.
  • unit on 'Questioning'.http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/96041

Who provided you with support?

  • Senior management

How were you supported?

After discussions with senior leadership teams at the participating schools, the MASQ project was introduced through a consultant support plan. This would involve teacher-consultant planning time, classroom observations where the MASQ project was implemented followed by evaluations.
Across the Local Authority agency of Service Children's Education, MASQ cards are used in primary, middle and secondary schools in many curricular areas.


What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?

There has been a significant improvement in the Level 4+ and Level 5+ standards data for the Year 6 Science Test. Anecdotal evidence at the moment suggests this represents a real improvement in achievement at the two schools where the MASQ project was applied.

There has been a widespread uptake of the MASQ project across the Authority. From having been piloted last year with 2 schools in 2007-2008 (1 primary, 1 middle), in 2008-09 senior leadership have adopted this now at 4 primary, 1 middle and 5 secondary schools.

The uptake has extended beyond its use in Science. At Authority wide Gifted and Talented meetings, its use has been applied in Mathematics, Geography and History.

The MASQ project is now used from Key Stage 1 (where the question prompts are presented as 'Bloom's Bubbles') through to Key Stage 4.

In a recent 'pupil voice survey' [December 2008] carried out through the medium of http://www.quia.com anonymously, a Year 7 class at King's School in Guetersloh, Germany, which had been using the MASQ Cards as part of a project being implemented by the lead teacher Natalie Stressing, attitudes to MASQ were analysed. In this Y7 upper-middle science set with 20 pupils, it showed:

  • 80% found the unit 'very enjoyable', 20% 'enjoyable'.
  • 95% felt that their questioning skills had improved.
  • 85% responded that the MASQ cards had enabled their learning to progress.
  • 95% felt the cards enabled them to ask harder questions for other people in the class.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

As well as impacting on the level of achievement shown in the participating schools, the MASQ project has been assimilated very easily by many different teachers because of its user-friendliness and the diverse ways it can be applied. Teachers have commented how it puts the emphasis on the pupils to 'apply the Bloom's' (raising the thinking order or level of questioning) not on the teacher.

Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Test results

Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Observation outcomes

Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning

Improved questioning by pupils has led to improved answering, thereby raising the level of challenge presented to pupils in the lesson. This has impacted upon raised percentages in the Level 4+ and Level 5+ in the Year 6 Science Test.

  1. Andrew Humphrey School, Science NCT results for Key Stage 2
    • Year 2007 L4+ 79%, L5+ 47%
    • Year 2008 L4+ 86%, L5+ 49%
    • Improvement L4+ +7%, L5+ +2%.
  2. Derby School, Science NCT results for Key Stage 2
    • Year 2007 L4+ 87%, L5+ 28%
    • Year 2008 L4+ 94%, L5+ 45
    • Improvement L4+ +7%, L5+ +17%.
  3. King's School December 2008 Pupil Voice Survey Year 7 set 2 (using http://www.quia.com)
    • 80% found the unit 'very enjoyable', 20% 'enjoyable'.
    • 95% felt that their questioning skills had improved.
    • 85% responded that the MASQ cards had enabled their learning to progress.
    • 95% felt the cards enabled them to ask harder questions for other people in the class.

What has been the impact on teaching?

There has been a shift away from the 'teacher asking the questions for the pupils to answer', to 'the pupils asking the questions for other pupils to answer'. This shift has been accompanied by an increase in the level of thinking skills and challenge presented by the question. As research shows, teacher questioning can gravitate towards the 'knowledge and recall' end of the Bloom's taxonomy spectrum. However when pupils are encourage to construct questions from question stems taken from particular hierarchical categories, then they access a higher proportion of questions which are require higher order thinking skills.

Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching

When pupils are presented with the MASQ cards from different teachers or they are used across different subjects, the impact on teaching and learning is greater.

Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching

Since I started using (MASQ Cards) in Science, I've started using them throughout especially with our social studies. I love it. It gets the pupils thinking much deeper on what we are doing. It ties in so nicely with the work we do using the Thinking [TASC] Wheel.

- Ms Pamela Anthony (United States Department of Defense Education Agency), Y6 Teacher, Afnorth School, NATO JFC Air Base, Brunsum, The Netherlands.

Evidence of impact on teaching

  • Evidence from observation and monitoring
  • Evidence from planning
  • Teacher perceptions

Describe the evidence of impact on teaching

The MASQ project is included in the support programmes for 10 schools in the Authority.
Its use has been shared at Gifted and Talented meetings run by the Authority, staff INSET days and with our Lead Teachers' Programme.

What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

The MASQ project has been a 'gelling agent' for cross school collaboration. We are a geographically dispersed Authority, so where schools are in close proximity the SLT have formalised collaboration links with the MASQ project as a central theme. One example, in our Rhein consortium, two primaries are linked with their respective Year 6 pupils delivering lessons to the pupils of the other school, and using the MASQ cards in their deliveries (since both groups of pupils are now familiar with them).

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

If primary schools get together like this (above) to collaborate with each other in producing joint MASQ lessons, it will only be a matter of time when the secondary school in the consortium is brought in and then we have a great transition project in operation as well.

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

Consortium meeting minutes and Year 6 cross-school agreement.
Joint MASQ Project lesson deliveries between Brueggen School and Andrew Humphrey School. (Brueggen School is another school in the Agency's 'Rhein Consortium' which adopted the MASQ project on hearing about its success.)


What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

Having a concrete theme for joint lessons ie improving questioning through use of the MASQ cards, which knitted the teachers and schools involved in the delivery together.

What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?

The MASQ Cards.


What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?

As a resource, the National Strategies unit on 'Questioning'.
Pedagogy and practice: Teaching and learning in secondary schools – Unit 7: Questioning.

If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?

  1. To pilot, begin with one class and one subject for one half term. Once the pupils familiarise with the MASQ Cards in colour and form, you will want to take it further.
  2. Download the MASQ Card template. Cut up cards, laminate and separate into different envelopes, according to colour category.
  3. Prime the class in using them; refer to 'the colour of questions' as a way for learners to conceptualise their taxonomic hierarchy.
  4. Start of light! (One teacher introduced them by referring to making chocolate chip cookies. Pupils were then invited to make questions (from the different colour categories) which they then asked her. Two lessons later, the same pupils were asking other pupils (in groups) about their science investigations on woodlice!

Contact myself for more information or to get contacts from the schools that have implemented the MASQ Project for recommendation.

Post: Andrew Thomson, Service Children's Education(Bielefeld), Rochdale Barracks, British Forces Post Office 39.

Phone: +(49)- 521-9252-3649

Email: andy.thomson@sceschools.com

What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?

  • A continuation in use across key stages and subjects.
  • More dissemination of the project at curricular and leadership meetings across the authority.

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