Understanding Webb's DOK: The Wheel Doesn't Roll!

Hi Everyone,

Our community's November event was a webinar I did on "Teaching with Webb's Depth of Knowledge for High School Equivalency Test Success." I will recap this event over the next several posts.

Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK), developed to measure how deeply students need to think in order to perform  learning tasks, is frequently misunderstood. It does not measure how hard or easy test questions are, and the popular DOK wheel does not represent Webb's Depth of Knowledge well. 

DOK measures the cognitive complexity of learning tasks. Think of DOK as a finish line for learning. It shows the type of thinking students need to do to "run the race" that gets them to the finish line.

Helping students' develop their thinking skills is extremely important. Most high school equivalency test questions are at Webb's DOK levels 2 and 3. The modern world of work demands higher order thinking skills too. 

Here is a quick reference guide for Webb's DOK:

This graphic explains the Webb's Depth of Knowledge Levels 1 to 3

Erik Francis compares Webb's Depth of Knowledge to popular TV shows as follows:

Webb's DOK Level 1 is like Jeopardy! - contestants recall facts.

Webb's DOK Level 2 is like Hell's Kitchen - contestants apply their cooking knowledge.

Webb's DOK Level 3 is like Survivor - contestants justify their thinking, make inferences, and draw conclusions.

(Francis, 2018). 

How do you teach your students' application and analysis skills?

Thanks for your thoughts,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 


Hi Everyone,

Most of the event described teaching strategies we can use to teach Webb's DOK 2 and 3 thinking skills.

One of my favorite strategies is the think aloud. In a think aloud, an instructor says out loud what they are thinking as they read or answer Webb's DOK 2 or 3 questions.  A think aloud makes the invisible thought process visible by showing students how strong readers get meaning from texts or engage in problem solving. We often do think alouds during the I do phase of direct instruction (I do, we do, you do). YouTube has several strong think aloud demonstrations including one done by Meg Schofield and a series from the San Jose Public Library

Think alouds gain their power from our brain's mirror neurons. These neurons respond to actions we see done by others as if we were doing the actions ourselves, powerful stuff indeed! 

Here are some things we can say during a think aloud about a reading passage:

  • The title of/section heading of/picture in this article makes me think it’s about . . .
  • Reading this may help me find out  . . .
  • I see now!  After reading this paragraph, I get a better understanding of what the author said earlier when she was talking about  . . .
  • This is not making sense.  Here is what I can do to help me understand it better . . .
  • Reading this made me think about  . . .
  • I think ______________ will happen next.  I am going to read on to see if I am right.
  • As I read, I can picture . . .

How have you used think alouds with your students?

Thanks for your thoughts,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 

Hi Everyone,

The last strategy we discussed to help students develop their Webb’s DOK thinking skills was inference.

Inference allows readers to draw conclusions that an author may not have directly said in a text. It is making an educated guess based on:

  • a person’s own experience
  • information (evidence) from a text

To make inferences, read like a detective.  Look for clues the author leaves behind in their writing to see beyond what they say.  Our students make inferences all the time.  For example, they can tell what emotions someone is feeling by seeing their body language and facial expressions.  If they find a chewed-up shoe and their dog running away from them acting guilty, they can guess that Fido is responsible for the damage. 

Help students learn inference skills by teaching from concrete to abstract. Start with videos, use pictures, move to comics/cartoons, and finish with readings. Use shorter, simpler readings at first and then continue to longer, more complex ones (Adapted from Pittman & Faucette, 2018).

How do you teach your students to develop their inference skills?

Thanks for your thoughts,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group

Hi Steve! I recently attended an EBRI workshop here in Illinois that focused on inferencing. The presenters also suggested beginning inference instruction by using pictures, and they provided a great resource with us. I've already used a couple of these pictures in my own class, and they generated some great discussion and student engagement. Thanks! Anita


Thanks for sharing this great inference teaching resource Anita!

I love to start teaching inference with short videos. Find a collection of these videos here. The Happy Grad is one favorite. I ask questions like:

  • What gift is the graduate getting?
  • What gift does he think he is getting?
  • How do we know this? (What evidence is there to show this?)

What other resources and techniques do you use to teach inference?


Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group