Ten critical questions

15 January 2014

Question mark

At Think Global, we work to support critical and creative learning about our complex, interdependent world. A global learning approach recognises a range of perspectives on any situation or issue, questioning and exploring why different individuals and organisations hold the views that they do, the evidence on which those views are based, and the values that underpin them.

We’ve developed a set of 10 questions which illustrate what this critical questioning looks like in practice. Through applying these questions to a global situation or issue, and seeking answers, a student (or teacher, or any learner) will be a global learner, exploring issues of power, voice, equality and the impact of actions.

The questions can be applied to any issue or situation – from malaria, to child trafficking, to bitcoins. (The example below uses the issue of food waste, but you could slot in whatever issue is relevant to your lesson.)

10 questions for global learning

1. Where is [food waste] an issue?

2. What are the effects of [food waste] on people/environment/jobs etc. (as appropriate)?

3. What things can people do in relation to [food waste]?

4. Who has the power to make decisions about [food waste]?

5. Who does not have the power to make decisions about [food waste]?

6. Are there people who will benefit from [food waste]?

7. Are there people who will lose out from [food waste]?

8. How does your life/work link to [food waste]?

9. How do we talk about [food waste] in our community?

10. How can the effects of [food waste] be shared equally?

Of course, teachers use questioning as part of formative assessment and good classroom practice all the time. And there are a whole range of existing resources and teaching methods based on critical and philosophical questioning, such as Philosophy for Children and The Little Box of BIG Questions. If you already use approaches like these, or you’d like to, our 10 questions offer a flexible way to support global learning on any issue, and an easy way to get started.

We already know of teachers using our questions in the classroom, as a way to explore Typhoon Haiyan. Where is the Philippines and what do you know about it? What are the effects of the typhoon? Will anyone benefit from the typhoon, who will lose out and how? How does your life link to the typhoon? Of course, different people, websites and organisations give different answers to these questions – and comparing the differences helps answer the questions themselves. How do people around us talk and write about the typhoon and why does that matter? We’ll update you on students’ answers to these questions in a blog coming soon – and if you are interested in other ways to explore Typhoon Haiyan with your students, you can find more ideas in our recent news article about the typhoon.

Our questions can be applied broadly and at a high level – as with the above example. Or they can be applied specifically. For example, within Tesco’s UK operations, where is food waste an issue? How much food is wasted? As the first major UK retailer to publish levels of food waste across their UK operations, one perspective on this question is available from Tesco themselves (PDF): 28,500 tonnes of food was wasted in six months in 2013.

Our questions are designed for 11-16 year olds, but we think it’s a good test of anyone’s understanding of a situation or issue to be able to give answers to these questions that would be understood by a young person. And a useful test of an organisation’s transparency if they are able to answer all these questions, clearly and simply.

For example, while we think it’s great that Tesco are publishing data on the food wasted in their operations and their approach to tackling this, we’d also like to see them make this information accessible to a 12 year old, along with their perspective on who has the power to make decisions that affect the food wasted in their operations, and who benefits and loses out from this waste.

This is just one example, and, of course, these questions are imperfect. What situations and issues would you like to see these questions applied to? What questions would you add?

Kate Brown is Head of Programmes at Think Global.


  1. jane carpenter

    Nice one Helen! I like these. Part of me wanted to say “surely they can’t be applied to every global issue” but when I ran through a few in my mind they did seem to! of course it’s even better if children can generate their own questions but as one enquiry activity it’s really nice. Thanks

  2. Rob Bowden

    Like Jane, I think this could be useful as AN activity and starts the process of questioning. I suppose the thing I would like to debate however is how ‘critical’ these questions are. They demonstrate creativity by exploring dimensions of an issue, but for me they lack any real critical edge at the moment. So to add this I would want to ask things like ‘why might XXX have the power to make decisions about YYY’ for example. I would also (and especially given this is aimed at 11-16) want to take them further into areas such as ‘where does the information we are using to answer this issue come from?’ and ‘are there other perspectives that are not available to us and why might that be?’ The questions also don’t go far into actions or alternatives and so run a risk of leaving learners feeling a lack of potential agency (I am NOT saying action should always be an outcome) and enhancing the very real problems of learned helplessness that are associated with many global issues.
    For me these questions work better for upper primary and as ten KEY questions (to begin unlocking the content and ideas). They would need more critical engagement with producer, audience, intent and other aspects for me to use them as CRITICAL questions and in a secondary setting. They are a good starting point, but they do not go far enough in my understanding of what it means to be a ‘global learner’. As always it is the dialogue around what might be ten critical questions that is useful and so it will be great to watch these evolve over time.

  3. Rob Bowden

    Sorry, and I should have also said that I think that critical element will help learners get to the point that Jane raises of generating the questions themselves – that I think is the key and when you really know you are getting somewhere with learners.

  4. Kate Brown

    Thanks Rob – great to hear the questions work for you as key questions. Yes, as ever, the teacher is crucial in supporting critical global learning – in this case unpacking and probing further within each question. So not only is the evolution of the questions important, but also on going dialogue about how to support educators.

  5. Cathryn Gathercole

    Hi – I thought I had made a comment on this – and indeed had a response from Kate, but it doesn’t seem to be here…. so to re-iterate, there are many ways to engage learners in their own learning, and asking them to develop questions is one of those. these can be read as closed questions -requiring an answer, and so shutting down rather than opening up discussions. Enquiry approaches, the Development Compass Rose or P4C open up an issue and encourage engagement and questioning. The questions above could be the outcome of an activity using any of the above…. although if it were done with a class you would anticipate many more than 10, and they would then enable you to plan activities which would lead to critical global learning.

  6. Moira Jenkins

    More comments have come in via Twitter today: “How about ‘what do we mean by food waste’, ‘is waste inevitable?’, ‘why does waste happen?’ and maybe something on Zero Waste and closed loop thinking?” “Key question: number 6, ‘are there people who benefit?’… better: ‘who benefits?’ I think simplify language for clarity and directness, also for EAL pupils.”


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