Kids are natural born question askers, they are constantly asking questions! "How come birds can fly? Why do I have to eat my broccoli? Where do ducks go when it rains? Who is that? What happens if I forget my homework? When is it lunch time?" Since they like to ask questions, now is the perfect time to introduce the Asking Questions reading strategy.
We as adults naturally ask questions as we read, even when we are not consciously thinking about those questions - What is happening? I don't understand what happened. Who is this character? I think ___ is going to happen. What does this word mean? Why did the author end the book that way? etc.
As teachers we now need to be conscious of these questions and teach our students how to ask questions before, during and after they read a book. This unconscious behavior that we as adults do, can sometimes be hard to "show" students, we now have to orally model our unconscious questions. Even though this might be difficult for some to get used to, it is an important part of reading. Not only does asking questions help the reader to better understand the story they are reading but it can be applied to all subject matters, like science, social studies, even math. It is a very important strategy!
What is "asking questions" you ask? It is asking questions about the story, or content, before during and after you read. Simply put, it is getting your brain ready to understand what it is you are reading. (Pressley and Afflerbach 1995).
This is what asking questions can do for a reader:
- Asking questions allow readers to understand why they are reading the text.
- Asking questions give readers a chance to make predictions and then later change their thinking.
- Asking questions allow readers to make connections based on things they already know (their schema).
- Asking questions give the reader a chance to use context clues to identify unfamiliar words.
- Asking questions allow the reader to decide if the content/story was good or not.
- Asking questions give the reader a chance to review important information from the text.
- Asking questions give the reader a chance to clarify any information they may not understand.
There are 3 different times to "ask questions", before you read, while you are reading and after you read. Questions before you read require the reader to look at the title of the book, the cover art, and who the author is.
- The title should give some clues as to what the book might be about, maybe the character's name, a feeling, a setting, or even a problem.
- The cover art sometimes helps the reader to start with a visual as to the character, setting, feeling or even a problem.
- Both the title and cover art will also help the reader to identify the author's purpose for writing the text.
- Looking to see who the author is may help if it is an author the reader is familiar with. Knowing an author's style may give the reader some prior knowledge that could help with this story/text.
Asking questions while you read helps readers to focus their thinking on what the story is about. The reader will discover, wonder or question things like:
- main idea
- problem and solution
- characters and how their mood or feelings change
- plot or theme of the story
- what might happen next
All these questions keep the reader focused on the story, which in turn, helps their comprehension.
After reading a text/story students can ask questions that they still might be wondering about, some examples might include:
- why a character did something
- feelings about the outcome of the problem
- why something happened the way it did
- why the author ended the story that way
This is also the time to reflect on the questions asked before and during reading. The reader should decide:
- were their questions answered
- were they able to infer an answer once they completed the story/text
- do they need to research something further to answer their question
- are their questions ones that cannot be answered or don't need to be answered because it won't help with understanding the story/text
When modeling, or having students practice orally, here are some question stems and linguistic patterns to use when "asking questions": I wonder why__________. I am trying to figure out __________. After I read I asked myself________. What does this word/phrase/sentence mean? Why did _____ do that? I wonder what is going to happen next? I wonder why the author put that part in the story/text? I wonder why the author ended the story this way? I have (still have) questions about this part because ___________. I think the character is feeling __________ because_________. I think ________ is _________ because__________.
Once students get comfortable asking questions every time they read - "good readers always ask questions, before, during and after they read" - you will want to stretch their thinking. To do this you need to ask that ever dreadful Why? question in relation to what the author was thinking. For example, Why do you think the author chose this setting? Why do you think the author ended the story this way? Why do you think the author chose to write the story in the 3rd person? Why do you think the author _______? These questions don't necessarily have right or wrong answers, but what they do is make the reader think about how the story could be different if the author chose to write it differently. This begs the question, would the book be better if...?
Teaching asking questions is all about modeling. During your read aloud you will model how to ask questions. For example if you read Beatrice Doesn't Want To by Laura Numeroff you might start asking - before you read of course - I wonder what Beatrice doesn't want to do? Then, talk about the cover art and what you see, the clues that are given and how you can maybe guess what she doesn't want to do.
While reading you might ask yourself, I wonder why Beatrice hates books so much? Or I wonder why Beatrice won't even look at a book at the library? Or near the end, of the story I wonder if Beatrice will listen to the story that the librarian reads?
When the story is done, you as the teacher are still thinking and you model your last question as you close that book...I wonder if Beatrice will like to read books now?
Once you have asked all your questions you will then model your reflection on these questions. You will ask yourself did the book answer my questions, do my questions help me understand the story better, do I have to answer this question to understand the story better, etc.
Once you have modeled your questioning, it is time to let the kids have a go. There are a few ways to do this. You can record their questions as you read, you can give them paper and "wait time" while you read so they can write their own questions or you can give them sticky notes to write questions as they read their own book. It is important at the end of their reading, to have the kids reflect on their questions, can they answer them, are they important questions, do they help to understand the story, etc.
For many of my teaching packets I include a questioning page or two. The pages in the packets allow the students to come up with their own questions and then reflect to decide if their questions were answered or not. I also encourage the teacher to extend the activity by having students work together to try to answer the questions that the students came up with.
Here are a couple of links to some free questioning activities that I have created.
- Curious George by H.A. Rey - just click the picture to take you to post about this book.
- Mmm, Cookies by Robert Munsch - click the top picture to take you to post about this book.
This is a picture of a completed Asking Questions sheet. The student used this book to practice Asking Questions and then afterward I had her reflect on the questions she asked as well as orally answer her own questions.
Here is a freebie poster set to help you teach Asking Questions. You can download it in either my Teacher's Notebook or TpT store.
If you have any Asking Question ideas please feel free to share them :)