What are Thin and Thick Questions?

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SWBAT ask and answer simple and complex questions in a literary text.

Big Idea

My students learn how to ask simple and complex questions. Come find out about this easy and fun tool to use right away!


12 minutes

Summary and Context:

Today I will introduce the concept of thin and thick questions. I will create a chart to contrast the difference, and I have two pictures of familiar, real life objects to demonstrate the difference. Teaching students to evaluate/critique their own learning is part of teaching to the CCSS and helps them to be active in constructing their own learning. With the thin and thick concept, I am giving them a simple but powerful tool by which to understand and evaluate questions.

After I model how to ask questions, my students will browse their literary text of Babu's Song and create different types of questions using a template I provide. Then, they will pair-share their questions. After that, we will read the text and the students will answer one thin and one thick question.

Lesson Opening:

With the students on the rug, I start by sharing the objective. Then, with the help of my students we categorize the words: who, what, when, where, why, and how under the headings of thin and thick on a chart I have ready to use. We place whowhatwhen, and where under "thin," and we place why and how under "thick." Though questions starting with each of these stems don't always fit neatly into the categories (for example, a who question might be "thicker" than a how question in some contexts), I want to teach my students a concrete way of understanding the levels to start. Later, we can explore the overlaps and complexities once they have a solid foundation.

To categorize the stems, I start by defining what makes a thin question and what makes a thick question. To help my students visualize the concept of think and thick questions, I printed a photograph of a small hamburger from McDonalds for thin questions. For thick questions, I use an image of the Big Mac. I downloaded the photos from Google images, and they are free to use. I feel these two familiar images will help my students understand the concepts I am teaching them. I invite you to choose the images that best fit the needs of your classroom.

Then, to demonstrate the concept of creating thin and thick questions with a text, I use the example of The Empty Pot by Remi.  I model how to browse the text and ask questions. I am not reading it at this time, just modeling questioning briefly. As I look at the title page, I ponder out loud, "I can ask a question here. I want to know, "Where does the boy live?' Do you think that's a think or thick question? Why?"

Next, I share with them that they will take the question they create and write it on a template I have provided for them. I tell them that in this case, I would need to find the word where and write my question in that box. I proceed until I finish the rest of the question words. 

Last, I ask how they have interpreted think and thick questions to check for understanding. One of my student answers: DefiningThin & Thick Questions. Confident that they understand the concept, I hand each the template and ask them to find Babu's Song in their anthologies to get started questioning.

Browsing the Text to Write Questions

12 minutes

Students browse their text, Babu's Song, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, and write thin and thick questions about it on their templates. As students write and talk, I walk around to monitor their behavior and provide support to those students who need it.

Some will need reminders that they are not to read the story but browse it. Others will need support to find the questions words on their Template.

One of the methods that I use to make sure my students are on task and making progress with it is that I ask them questions. In this case, I want to know what type of questions they are generating. Most students are ready and willing to share their work. Here are few examples:

As I ask students to share their work, then I get an idea of how to support them. I also get to praise them and this works wonders.


7 minutes

My students need much practice with academic language, and I try to give them as many opportunities practicing oral language as possible.

I bring them back to the rug. I have them pair-share their questions with their rug partner, sitting knee-to-knee and facing each other, eye-to-eye.

Then, we have a brief discussion about what we learned today about thin and thick questions. I remind them that thin questions can be answered easy. Thick questions require more thinking, more work to find the answers. 

Reading the Narrative

12 minutes

Now we read the story together. I have different options to read. Today, we will read the story with audio. I am choosing to read it this way to give my students a sense of the story in a fast paced way. Also, I use the audio sometimes because it offers the students a different voice, which helps students focus and stay motivated. The audio it can be found on youtube.

Here is the clip:

As students read along, I walk around to help monitor their reading behavior. I am looking for them to be on the right page and to be tracking their reading with their bookmarks or their pointer finger. A couple of students are able to track with their eyes, but most need the physical object to help them do so. I invite you to think of the way you want your students to track their reading.

Brain Break

2 minutes

To transition to them answering a thin and thick question, I ask them to get up and stretch. I will be guiding them in some brain dance movements. This is quick time for the to reenergize and get refocused. We always start with the breathing. I am attaching a document that lists the eight movements you can use: Brain Dance Movements.

Answering One Thin & One Thick Question

12 minutes

Now my students works to answer two of their questions. To model quickly what to do, I draw a T-Chart on the board. I tell them they will choose two questions: a thin and a thick question to answer. They will work in their response journals to do so.

I set the time on the clock. I do this intentionally so that they can see how much time they have. It works to keep them on task.

As they work, I walk around and monitor their work. Some need support drawing a t-chart, others need support getting started and choosing the questions. Others will need support answering them.

I am looking to see that they reread the text to answer the questions. I am looking for them to answer in a complete sentence. Those who finish earlier than the allotted time can illustrate. 

Here are some of their work samples: