Depth of Knowledge Proven Strategy that Increase Rigor

Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Definition

How much students need to know, understand, and be aware of what they are learning is called their “depth of knowledge.” This helps them find answers, outcomes, results, and remedies and explain them. It also says how much students are supposed to use and apply what they have learned in different schools and real-life situations. This definition is from Erik M Francis’ article “W hat is Depth of Knowledge?”

There are four levels of difficulty in Webb’s Depth of Knowledge framework, which is made up of prompts, situations, and challenges. As students move up the DoK levels, they will be tested on things that require them to learn and think at higher brain levels.

Norman Webb describes how depth of knowledge can be addressed in all the content areas but also established the following levels within his model from his 2002 paper “Depth of Knowledge in the Four Content Areas”:

  • DOK-1: Recall and reproduce data, definitions, details, facts, information, and procedures. (knowledge acquisition)
  • DOK-2: Use academic concepts and cognitive skills to answer questions, address problems, accomplish tasks, and analyze texts and topics. (knowledge application)
  • DOK-3: Think strategically and reasonably about how and why concepts, ideas, operations, and procedures can be used to attain and explain answers, conclusions, decisions, outcomes, reasons, and results. (knowledge analysis)
  • DOK-4: Think extensively about what else can be done, how else learning can be used, and how could the student personally use what they have learned in different academic and real world contexts. (knowledge augmentation)

Francis notes that these levels don’t focus on the way students should think or even the amount of information they should show. This is what categories like Bloom’s, SOLO, and Marzano’s do: they tell students what level of thinking they should be able to do as part of their learning.

Webb’s paints the picture of the setting, scene, or situation in which students will talk about and show how much they have learned. Are they supposed to learn something (DOK-1)? Use what you know (DOK-2)? Look at what you know (DOK-3)? Add to your understanding (DOK-4)?

Francis explains these levels decide how deeply students will talk about and share what they have learned. The focus of DOK-1 is on the exact text or topic that is being taught and learned. The focus of DOK-2 and DOK-3 is on the items themselves, and how and why they can be used to find and explain reasons, connections, and results. DOK-4 covers a lot of ground and is very useful. It focuses on how and why learning can be used across subjects and outside of school. According to Karin Hess (2006), these levels are not steps but “ceilings” that show how far or deeply students will learn and share what they know and how they think.

Francis creates a graphic representation called Webb’s Depth of Model Context Ceilings. Francis explains each block shows how deeply or broadly students will grow, show, and talk about what they have learned. They decide what amount of Depth of Knowledge is needed for a certain assignment, activity, or test. And they say what DOK levels teachers should be able to teach and what levels students should be able to reach in one teaching and learning experience. But the DOK blocks are not steps, and they shouldn’t be used or treated that way.

Webb's DOK Levels as Blocks Image

The Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Ceiling Context and the driving questions at the top of each ceiling show administrators, teachers, and maybe even students and parents how deeply and widely students need to show and talk about what they have learned. The question stems inside the ceilings actually allow for more flexibility in the level of thinking that students are supposed to show at these levels.

DOK Questions for Every Level

DOK Question Stems 

DOK 1 Can you recall______? When did ____ happen? Who was ____? How can you recognize____? What is____? How can you find the meaning of____? Can you recall____? Can you select____? How would you write___? What might you include on a list about___? Who discovered___? What is the formula for___? Can you identify___? How would you describe___?DOK 2 Can you explain how ____ affected ____? How would you apply what you learned to develop ____? How would you compare ____? Contrast_____? How would you classify____? How are____alike? Different? How would you classify the type of____? What can you say about____? How would you summarize____? How would you summarize___? What steps are needed to edit___? When would you use an outline to ___? How would you estimate___? How could you organize___? What would you use to classify___? What do you notice about___?  
DOK 3 How is ____ related to ____? What conclusions can you draw _____? How would you adapt____to create a different____? How would you test____? Can you predict the outcome if____? What is the best answer?  Why? What conclusion can be drawn from these three texts? What is your interpretation of this text?  Support your rationale. How would you describe the sequence of____? What facts would you select to support____? Can you elaborate on the reason____? What would happen if___? Can you formulate a theory for___? How would you test___? Can you elaborate on the reason___?DOK 4 Write a thesis, drawing conclusions from multiple sources. Design and conduct an experiment.  Gather information to develop alternative explanations for the results of an experiment. Write a research paper on a topic. Apply information from one text to another text to develop a persuasive argument. What information can you gather to support your idea about___? DOK 4 would most likely be the writing of a research paper or applying information from one text to another text to develop a persuasive argument. DOK 4 requires time for extended thinking.
DOK Question Stems

Depth of Knowledge: 4 DOK Levels & Proven Strategies to Increase Rigor article provides how question stems are used at each of the 4 levels of DOK:

1st level Depth of Knowledge question stems

Asking specific questions can launch activities, exercises and assessments that only require recollection and reproduction.

How would you use these questions in, for example, math class? You could ask each student to reproduce a specific formula on paper. Then, test recollection of math facts by calling out numbers for them to plug into the formula.

How about language arts class? If the class recently explored a book’s theme, ask students if they remember the activity. Then, everyone can write down steps the class took to identify the theme. As a bonus, the product serves as a template to help them determine elements of future stories.

2nd level Depth of Knowledge question stems

Like the first Depth of Knowledge level, you can ask specific questions to launch exercises that build skills and understandings of concepts.

To get students in the proper mindset, ask:

Returning to the example of math class, you can reinforce concepts by holding a classwide discussion around the different ways to use a formula. You can subsequently provide worksheets that require solving questions with the formula.

In language arts or a similar subject, you can ask students to work in small groups to identify and explain a book’s core plot points. This helps them understand concepts surrounding plot devices while developing analytical skills to dissect them.

You can use such questions to frame activities across grades and disciplines.

3rd level Depth of Knowledge question stems

Question stems that promote strategic thinking include:

Strategic Thinking

How would you test        ?

What would happen if        ? Why?

Can you predict the outcome of       ? How?

What conclusions can you draw from         ? What facts would you use to support the argument that         ?

What is your interpretation of      ? Support your theory or ideas. Explain and justify the single best answer to this open question:                                   ?

The goal of such questions isn’t solely to gauge a student’s understanding of lesson material, but to have them link concepts through independent thought.

Active learning strategies use a similar tactic.

4th level Depth of Knowledge question stems

To encourage continuous strategic thinking, questions must be open-ended. This requires students to independently research and — in the spirit of interdisciplinary learning — fuse information from different classes and subjects.

Some examples include:

Extended Critical Thinking

What information can you find and use to support your idea about ? Follow the scientific method to design and conduct an experiment, using                                                                                              .

Write and defend a thesis, forming your conclusion based on at least    number of sources.

Apply information from one source to another source in a different subject. Develop an argument about the overarching topic.

From this list of topics I provide, pick one you know nothing about. Research the topic using at least          number of sources.

Whereas the third level aims to spur strategic thinking, fourth-level questions should result in products born from longer periods of critical thought.

DOK Drives Learning and Assessment

How Depth of Knowledge Drives Learning and Assessment article says DOK was originally made for math and science standards, but it has been changed to work with all topics and is most often used to make state tests. This model makes sure that the level of difficulty of tests matches the standards being tested. When using the DOK framework for assessment, students are given a series of tasks that get harder over time. These tasks gradually show that they are meeting expectations and help assessors to see how much they know overall.

These tests are meant to measure all the different levels of skill and information that are needed to meet a standard, from the simplest and most abstract to the most complex and in-depth. That means that an exam should have projects from level 1 to level 4—Webb found four different levels of knowledge—but not too many of any one type. Both the learning that comes before and the assessment that comes after should be different.

The article provides examples of assessment task for each level:

Level 1

Level 1 is the first depth of knowledge. It includes recall of facts, concepts, information, and procedures—this is the rote memorization and basic knowledge acquisition that makes higher- level tasks possible. Level 1 knowledge is an essential component of learning that does not require students to go beyond stating information. Mastering level 1 tasks builds a strong foundation on which to build.

Example of Level 1 Assessment Task

Question: Who was Grover Cleveland and what did he do?

Answer: Grover Cleveland was the 22nd president of the United States, serving from 1885 to 1889. Cleveland was also the 24th president from 1893 to 1897. He is the only president to have served two non-consecutive terms.

Level 2

Level 2 depth of knowledge includes the limited application of skills and concepts. A common assessment of this is the use of information to solve multi-step problems. To demonstrate level 2 depth of knowledge, students must be able to make decisions about how to apply facts and details provided to them as well as filling in any gaps using context clues. They must go beyond simple recall to answer questions about and make connections between pieces of information.

Example of Level 2 Assessment Task

Compare and contrast composite/stratovolcanoes, cinder cones, and shield volcanoes.

Level 3

Level 3 DOK includes strategic thinking and reasoning that is abstract and complex. Students completing a level 3 assessment task must analyze and evaluate composite real-world problems with predictable outcomes. They need to apply logic, employ problem-solving strategies, and use skills from multiple subject areas to generate solutions. There is much multitasking expected of students at this level.

Example of Level 3 Assessment Task

Conduct and analyze the results of a survey about homework in your school. Decide what question you hope to answer. Represent this data in a graph and be able to present a conclusion about your findings.

Level 4

Level 4 includes extended thinking to solve complex and authentic problems with unpredictable outcomes. Students must be able to strategically analyze, investigate, and reflect while working to solve a problem, changing their approach to accommodate new information. This type of assessment requires highly sophisticated and creative thinking because it is open-ended by design—there is no correct answer and a student must know how to evaluate their progress and determine whether they are on track to a feasible solution for themselves.

Example of Level 4 Assessment Task

Invent a new product or create a solution to a problem in order to make a fellow student’s life easier.

Understanding Depth of Knowledge

In Francis’ book Deconstructing Depth of Knowledge asks educators to reflect on and respond to the following questions.

  • How could you use the DOK levels to confirm the cognitive demand of academic standards, activities, and assessments?
  • How could you use the DOK levels along with Bloom’s revised taxonomy to measure the cognitive rigor of learning targets and tasks?
  • How could you use the DOK levels to establish assessment ceilings and ranges for test items that address a specific academic standard?
  • How could you use the DOK levels along with the learning taxonomy you currently use to develop and deliver teaching and learning experiences that will demand students demonstrate their learning in different contexts?


I believe it is important to understand some of the misconceptions of Rigor and DOK. You can read my post Seven Misconceptions of Rigor and Depth of Knowledge.

You can find this blog on Rigor by Design Move page