The 'Whys' and 'Whens' of Questioning with Literature

29 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT describe why we use questioning and ask questions in different parts of the text.

Big Idea

Why and when do we ask questions as we read?


  • George Shrinks by William Joyce
  • Lesson vocabulary words from the Reading/Writing word wall: questioning, inferring, literal, beginning, middle, end
  • Set up the whiteboard
  • 'Question Quilt' worksheet
  • Students need pencils, pink and yellow markers (or 2 light colors)


This lesson is the first of many about questioning. My students are able to ask lots of questions, but they tend to be literal. Using questioning to improve comprehension is not a reading strategy that they often employ. In this lesson, the students ask and answer to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text (RL.2.1), evidencing the shift in Common Core Standards toward using text details to improve comprehension.  I also used the structure (RL.2.5) of the story (beginning, middle and end) to help students understand not only how a story is set up, but how each part of the story builds on the other. In our final discussion/reflection of the questions, several students noticed that some questions cannot be answered at the end of the story. As students understand story structure and how parts of a story are interrelated and build upon each other, they will become the 'close readers' that the Common Core Standards strive for.

I chose this book George Shrinks, because the text is simple and illustrations are wonderful. My goal is to really focus on how questions help the reader and when to ask questions. We'll be continuing to practice questioning with more difficult literature and informational text, but I wanted to start with easier text and focus on the strategy.

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words.


 Common starting point and get students engaged 

  • "Today we are going to talk about questioning.  I brought a book to show you and I have some questions about it ..."  
  • Cover the title and show the picture only-"Who is the boy?, Why is he small? What is that green thing?"  (you can entertain ideas - Did you see the movie 'Honey I Shrunk the Kids'?)
  • "Here's the title -Read it-  "I have a some more questions now. Why did he shrink? Who shrank him?"  More ideas from you or the students - 'I have a friend named George.'


You are modeling questioning and pre-reading for the kids. Often second graders immediately open a book and start reading without pre-reading. This is a critical skill that helps them bring in background knowledge and gets them engaged and interested in the story.

Teacher's Turn

15 minutes

Give the purpose of the lesson

  • "When we ask questions about a story, it helps us become better readers. We 'actively' read and think while reading. Students who can answer good questions and find the answers do better on tests and remember more of what they read."
  • "Today we are going to talk about why we use questions and then think of some questions with our story. We'll make a 'story quilt' to show how we find the answers to the questions."
  • "What are some words that start a question sentence?"  Write those on the chart paper. Here's the question words chart that my class created.
  • "How do questions help us when we read?"    Prompt as necessary.
  • "Where are the answers to the questions?" 


Introduce strategy - teacher models

  • "We have talked about the structure of text before - there's a beginning, middle and end."
  • "When I read, I ask questions all through the text to stay interested and understand better."
  • "I'll start at the beginning and think of a question."  Write the question on your 'quilt'.
  • "As I write questions, I explain more about literal and inferential questions.


Practice strategy - guided practice

  • "Can you help me think of two more questions at the beginning?"  Write those questions on the quilt.  These are the questions we wrote on our whiteboard.
  • "Now I need to think ... Is the answer in the text or illustrations?  If it's a literal question, I'll color it pink.  If I have to think about the answer, then I have to infer.  I'll color those questions yellow."  
  • Color them pink for 'inference' or yellow for 'literal'.  Here's our completed whiteboard with question colors and a discussion about circling with colors.
  • I did remind students to capitalize the first word of a question.

Students Take a Turn

20 minutes

Assign Task

  • "Now its your turn to ask some more questions."
  • Pass out the worksheet. Students copy the questions from the beginning of the story.
  • Here's how I explained the students' turn for the independent practice. 


Independent Practice

  • Show/read the middle few pages - give students time to write 3 questions - remind them to use different question words.
  • I did direct kids to vary their question words - not to get stuck on the 'wh' words.
  • Show/read to the end.  Give students time to write the questions.
  • "Use your markers to color the squares. Yellow for literal - the answer is in the text, and pink for inferencing.  You use what you know to find the answer."
  • Here's one of my student's worksheets.


Formative Assessment

  • As students work, walk around and ask them questions about what they wrote and how they decided if it was literal or inferential. This student who explains her answers had good reasons for her choices.
  • Encourage them to use the text and illustrations to write questions. One of my students wanted to stay very literal (who is the boy? Is that a cat? What did he eat?) but I encouraged her to go beyond the text to inferential questions. In this example, she is using the text for words & ideas.

Share What You've Learned

15 minutes

Share what you know

  • "Look at your question quilt. Were most of your question pink or yellow? Why do you think that?"  My kids questions were mostly pink because they tend to ask 'literal' questions. 
  • Here's my classes' reflection and discussion on the types of questions.
  • "Now you can share your questions.  Do you think anyone else has the same questions?"
  • Kids share questions - discuss why some questions might be the same.


Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson could be easily scaffolded up or down, depending on student ability.

Students with academic challenges should work with the teacher or a partner to write questions. It is typically a more difficult task for students with limited language. There is the opportunity for them to focus on grammar, as the student here who is prompted to make sure that the questions make sense.

Students with greater ability can excel in this task because they are challenged to 'think outside the box' with inferential questions. I would challenge them to use higher level vocabulary (tiny vs small/shrink vs smaller) and really write some great inferential questions that 'stump' the class.