How to Teach Questioning in Primary Grades
Asking good questions and citing evidence is essential in helping students think deeply about their reading.
Students learn to ask better questions by example. If we want our students to ask good questions of themselves and think deeper about their reading, we have to model that in our lessons. One of the things I teach students of all ages, even Kindergarteners, is to answer with their evidence ready.
Here’s an example of a conversation with primary students about Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. The conversation is happening just after reading the part where Lilly is heading out of the classroom after slipping her picture of Mr. Slinger into his bag.
My goal here is that students learn to observe, think critically and cite evidence while enjoying a fun text. Eventually, I’ll expect them to transfer these skills to other types of reading. But, using stories that capture students’ imagination and sense of fun is the first step in the process.
Here’s the conversation:
Teacher: What are the characters feeling right about now? And how do you know that?
Student 1: Lilly is mad. The story even says she started feeling mad at the Lightbulb Lab.
Student 2: The pictures show you she was mad too.
Teacher: Ok. I’m remembering some of Lilly’s actions that say she is upset as well. What about you?
Student 3: I know she was mad because Lilly drew a mean picture of Mr. Slinger and put it in his bag.
The questions I pose are not just to my students but to all of us as a group, myself included. It’s me thinking out loud like I want my students to do.
Teacher: Hmm. I wondering about Mr. Slinger’s feelings. What do we think?
Student 1: He doesn’t seem mad. He’s being really nice to her when she is leaving.
Teacher: So, what does he say and do that tells us that? What is our evidence?
Student 1: Um. He gives her a note and the snack she missed.
Student 2: He even tells her she can bring her things tomorrow if she isn’t naughty with them again.
Student 3: Mr. Slinger was upset before. He took her things and put them in time out.
Student 4: Lilly kept interrupting the class. That makes teachers mad.
Teacher: As a teacher I can say that’s true. Feeling frustrated might be more accurate most of the time, but sometimes mad is the right word.
I’m raising my had to say, Yes, I’ve experienced a teacher being mad or frustrated with interrupting. Raise your hand if you have too.
Teacher: I’m curious. How do you think other students feel about the interrupting in the story? And how do you feel about interrupting in real life?
Some further questions might be…
I’m a little confused. Lilly is the one who broke the classroom rules, but she is upset with Mr. Slinger. I’m not sure I understand why. Can you help me make sense of this?
Has anything like this ever happened to you? Or, have you ever read something like this, where a child was upset with an adult, in another story or in real life?
What do you think about Lilly’s mean picture? Why?
How did you feel as the part where Lilly’s putting her mean picture in Mr. Slinger’s bag was happening? What was going through your mind as we read that?
Why do you think Lilly changes her mind about her teacher on her way home?
What would you have done if you made the mistake that Lilly did? Why?
Let’s talk about Mr. Slinger. What kind of a person do we think he is? What character traits does he show in the story to help us figure him out?
How do we know? What is the evidence from the text?
Does anyone have questions you still need answered?
Is anyone still wondering about something from the story?
So many books we think of as just plain fun are much more than that. From this one story we can extract important lessons about building character, understanding empathy, being honest with ourselves, owning our actions, dealing with our feelings in appropriate ways and showing mercy and forgiveness (and a lot more).
Imagine you could build the perfect teacher. Draw a picture of your perfect teacher, Lilly style with labels. Tell me about that teacher. What would that imaginary teacher be like? Include character traits, appearance, voice, attitude, actions, funny things about them and anything else that seems important to you.
Imagine you have just done what Lilly did, interrupted the class with your show and tell items. Draw a picture of that, then tell the story of what happens. Think about: What you would have brought to show and tell that would be so exciting you couldn’t wait to share? What would you have done that would be disruptive (words, actions, time of day). What would your teacher do and say?
I want to know… What other kinds of questions would you or your students ask?