"Questions are the glue of engagement," state the authors of Mosaic of Thought. I firmly believe this is true. I have found asking questions to be the most effective comprehension strategy I teach my students. How fitting that it made its way into the Common Core standards!
I teach this comprehension strategy via a Think Aloud because I want students to see what goes on inside the head of a proficient reader. I use the book, Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco, because it is a beautiful, simple story full of opportunities to ask questions about the text and rich illustrations.
I invite students to sit in front of me on the carpet with their whiteboards and markers. I tell them they’re going to learn a new comprehension strategy called ‘asking questions.’ I remind them they are to sit quietly and just listen as I read and ask questions. (It is important to stress this because students get excited as they catch on to the strategy and want to interrupt with their own questions. They will have an opportunity to ask questions later.)
I begin reading, stopping at predetermined places in the text (marked with sticky notes) to ask a question. I write the question on the chart paper and continue reading. If I find the answer in the text, I write the answer next to the question. After modeling a few more times, I stop and tell the children it is their turn to ask a question. I continue reading and stop at a marked spot. I instruct them to write a question on their whiteboard. I write my own question on the chart. After about three minutes, I ask them to turn to their shoulder partner and share their question. Once each pair has shared, I ask them to share out a question their partner had. I read on until the next stopping point. Students check to see if they question has been answered by the text. We continue in this manner until the story is complete. We review the questions and answers we have written on the chart. I remind them we can use the text and illustrations to find the answer to our questions. I also remind them not all questions will have an answer and that is okay. Students are instructed to return to their seats.
Note: Using the whiteboards allows me to identify students who are writing statements about the story or asking questions unrelated to the story. They will be a part of the 'read with me' group during independent practice.
After students returned to their seats, I had them take out their reading book and I gave them a story journal. They read Cliff Hanger by Jean Craighead George. The story journal guided them through the story indicating when they were to stop and ask a question. I used the journal because my students were not accustomed to asking questions as they read and would forget to do so. I would check on them and they would have read half of the story without having asked any questions. Using the journal makes sure they did. The journal also provided a good review of previous skills and concepts. This helped students make the connection that what they had learned previously could be applied to any text. For example, the journal included a review of recounting stories, character traits, character feelings, and determining the central message.
I used a common story for this first lesson so that I could assess whether their questions and answers were related to the text. I gave my students three ways to read the story. They could read alone, with a partner, or with me. I selected students to be a part of the ‘read with me’ group based on observations during the Think Aloud. I also allowed 2-3 other students to elect to read with me because sometimes students just want to read with the teacher. I guided the group that read with me through the text and generating questions. When students demonstrated proficiency, they ‘graduated’ and I released them to work with a partner or independently.
I assessed students using a checklist. I checked (1) whether or not they are asking questions and finding the answers in the text, (2) asking questions, but not finding answers in the text, (3) the questions are not related to the text, or (4) they are simply writing statements.
I wanted students to be cognizant of how asking and answering questions helped them comprehend the story better. They are more likely to remember to use the strategy if they recognized how it improved their comprehension. So, I gave them a Ticket Out the Door with the following question: How does asking questions help you understand the story?