The Inspired Writer Blog

WriteSteps’ Guide to Depth of Knowledge: 5 Tips to Help Your Students

Aug 21

Written by: Suzanne Klein
8/21/2014 7:10 AM 

How do you know that the tasks your students complete will meet the rigorous standards of the Common Core? How do you know they’re reWebb's DOK Graphic by Tracy Watanabeaching the level of thinking required for Common Core assessments and college and career readiness? You know by using a frame of reference called Depth of Knowledge. While Depth of Knowledge (DOK) is not a new concept, it is a new way of labeling the level of thinking required by a question or assignment in the Common Core.

If you’ve noticed the exit questions included in some of our closure activities, or if you have heard of Bloom’s taxonomy, you are familiar with the fact that some activities require deeper levels of thinking. This is the basis for the Depth of Knowledge labeling. The CCSS ELA standards require students to produce at a Depth of Knowledge 3 and 4. On-demand activities and assessments will not include DOK 4 (Webb's Depth of Knowledge Graphic created by Tracy Watanabe)

A Breakdown of DOK1-4

DOK 1: The ability to process knowledge on a low level so that the knowledge can be reproduced or communicated.

DOK 2: Solve routine problems, like book learning. Students should demonstrate or use the information or concept. DOK 2 is based on conceptual knowledge.

DOK 3: Requires reasoning and developing a plan. Students analyze, explore relationships, and answer real world scenarios.

DOK 4: Requires extended thinking, investigation and synthesizing ideas into new concepts.


A detailed look at DOK1-4. You can download the full chart at Author: Karin K. Hess

 Example writing pieces for DOK1-4

DOK 1: What is the meaning of the word "advocate" in this passage?

DOK 2: What in the text shows that Abigail Adams is an advocate?

DOK 3: Read these two texts and compare Abigail and John Adams views on freedom and independence. Write about which of them is a greater advocate. Support your opinion with evidence from the texts.

DOK 4: Design and conduct an experiment or design a mathematical model to solve a situation. Connect common themes across texts from different cultures. Synthesize ideas into new concepts.

Writing is not simply mechanics. It is thinking and synthesizing.  Here are some tips I’ve learned that will help you prepare your students to write at the DOK3 and DOK4 levels:

1. Make sure your students are using sufficient evidence in their writing.

2. Be sure to include high level writing prompts when your students are writing.

3. Include Response to Text activities at a DOK 3.

4. Response to Text lessons must require “close reading.”

5. Your feedback/conferencing must push students to higher levels of thinking.

Every single Common Core standard is mapped to cognition across all subject areas, and the writing standards are mapped to DOK 3 and 4. If you want to get your students reading and thinking, writing is the way to do it. Strong writing skills will help your students reach those DOK3 and DOK4 levels across all subject areas.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share to help other teachers get their students thinking and writing at DOK3 and DOK4 levels? Please comment below!




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