The power of getting students to ask the questions

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This is the third in a series of posts related to the six Strategies covered in my book Practical Reading Strategies. You can buy a copy of the book here. Check out the previous two posts on Making Connections and Visualising.

When students ask questions – predicting, making assumptions, interrogating the text – they both demonstrate their current understanding and enhance future readings. Teaching students not just why to ask questions but also how provides them with a powerful tool that is a stepping stone towards complex inference and critical literacy skills.

Like everything we teach, questioning should first be modelled. That in itself requires a surprising amount of reflection. Try this:

For one day, make a note of the kinds of questions you ask students. At the end of the day, reflect on the types of questions you asked. Were they mainly clarification (Do you understand? Does that make sense? Got it?), prompting for a response (Does anyone have a question? Any thoughts?), or content based (Who was Lizzie thinking about? What is the theme emerging here?). We often fall into a couple of traps when using questioning in the classroom: using the same kinds of questions over and over, or not leaving room for questioning at all.

When you’ve reflected on your questioning, turn to the students. What kinds of questions do they ask you? Is there room in the lesson for students to ask questions? What about questions that go beyond simple clarification?

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Getting the students to ask the questions

Getting the students themselves to ask more questions in the classroom is a key part of studying texts. In PRS I go through four activities to model and teach questioning, from a hierarchy of question types through to deep and meaningful questions that can be used at the end of a text study.

The important part is developing the students’ confidence and analytical skills. When students can frame thoughtful, insightful questions not only can you tell they’ve read the text, but you can also tell they’ve synthesised the contents enough to go to the next level.

Here are a few examples of “deep” questions which students came up with the last time I taught Frankenstein; clearly a challenging but very rewarding text:

  • What does the monster burning down the cottage represent?
  • Is the monster like this because of nurture or nature?
  • Why does the monster crave human acceptance?

These questions were derived from a close reading and annotation activity based on two paragraphs from Volume 2 of the novel. The first notices that there is symbolism in the act of burning the cottage. The second and third ask questions which can be applied to the whole text, based on just this short extract.

These students weren’t provided with any questions beforehand, but they had seen examples of “good questioning” through modelling, think alouds, and annotations of exam topics.

Practical Reading Strategies contains clearly explained activities for Questioning and the other five Strategies. Join the mailing list for a free PDF extract from chapter one, including a sample activity.

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3 responses to “The power of getting students to ask the questions”

  1. […] buy a copy of the book here. Check out the previous four posts on Making Connections, Visualising, Questioning, and […]

  2. […] buy a copy of the book here. Check out the previous four posts on Making Connections, Visualising, Questioning, Inferring and […]

  3. […] Point of view refers to the perspective the text is recounted from, whereas “voice” reflects the overall style of the author. Students will need to be able to explore and ultimately analyse how point of view and voice impact on the reading of the text. To do this, they will need a variety of reading strategies including inferring, visualising, and questioning. […]

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