Thursday, April 4, 2013

Teaching Students to Question

Last week, I blogged about starting The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate with my reading group.  Well, yesterday was the big day!  My kids were really impressed by the size of the book and the fact that it has a hard cover (LOL!).

After introducing the book, I briefly revisited "thick" and "thin" questions.  We've written "thick" and "thin" questions together as part of our read alouds, but this was the first time I was working with this group of readers on questioning.  Click HERE to download posters!

I told the group that they would be responsible for writing the questions we would discuss after reading.  I assigned the chapters "hello" though "the littlest big top on earth," which is about ten pages but with a lot of white space and some images.  As they read, I kept the "thick" question starters up on the SMARTboard to help them out.  They had the option of recording their questions on a sheet I made, or on their stickies.

Sounds good, right? 

It was disaster.

Not a complete disaster though.  One of my students, C, did a FANTASTIC job writing thought provoking questions to ask the group.  He was awesome.

Why does he compare himself to humans?
What does he tell us about himself and how he feels?
Where does he live?
Why does he live there?
Who are Stella and Bob?
 The other three students really struggled.  It was painful.  Even with the question starters, they weren't able to piece together questions that even made sense.  I started conferencing with one of my students and I could see that the mini lesson just wasn't enough, but I was kind of baffled as to why???

During my crazy long commute home, I kept thinking about how this group could not put a question together.  I kept coming back to two things:  first, culturally, many of my students are told to come to school, be quiet and listen to the teacher.  Therefore, they are not used to being the questioner.  Second, the task was just too broad.  Even though the text was short, it would require my readers to take a huge risk to write a question worthy of good conversation.  Since there isn't too much I could do about the first thing, I did think I could do a better job with the task, so I scrapped my plans and decided to meet with this group again this morning.

This time, I gave C a writing response while I worked with the other students on QAR.

Right There - Who is Stella? 
Think and Search - What is on the domain walls?
In My Head - Why is Ivan never angry?  Who is the elephant on the cover?

I selected just one page to text to read with them.  As we read, I modeled writing Right There Questions for a few sentences.   
"My domain is at the end of one ring."  Where is Ivan's domain? 
"Stella is an elephant."  Who is Stella? 

Quickly, I saw my readers more willing to ask questions, even if they were the "thin" questions.  We moved on to writing Think And Search Questions, first together, then independently.  Finally, we tried writing thicker, In My Head questions.  My readers still needed assistance, but were more willing to try.  Rome wasn't built in a day, right?

Coincidentally, one of the questions my readers posed was the same question I asked C to write about!  
A silver back uses anger to maintain order and warn his troop of danger. Anger is for protection.  But Ivan don't go no one to protect.

Update: I just created a reading response booklet to use with The One and Only Ivan.  It contains questions for most chapters of the book.  Check it out on TpT:

Tell me, how do you teach questioning?


  1. I really like how you went back and helped out your struggling questioners. In my lower grades, we do "Class News" and ask questions out loud/write them on white boards after someone presents. In the upper grades we do post-it notes about our readings. I like your thick and thin questions!

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  2. I love your honesty in this. Its so nice to know that I'm not the only one who has flops in the classroom! I had this same experience while teaching questions this year. I chose to use the QAR method. When I first asked students to create their own Author and Me questions it was horrible! Even my strongest readers/students struggled. Within 5 minutes of that activity I knew I'd asked my students to do a task I just hadn't prepared them for.
    I did a lot of modeling and then a lot of group/partner work and we are much better at questioning now, but to say that we are pros would still be a stretch. Its a hard skill and one we are always revisiting.
    I did find some helpful suggestions and lessons in a book called QAR Now.

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