The 'How's and 'Why's of Literature

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SWBAT use the illustrations and words in a story to show how the plot develops.

Big Idea

The pictures and words help us answer questions about the plot.



This is a lesson in the middle of a unit about questioning. In this lesson, the students ask and answer questions 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.  We are also examining how the plot changes by looking at illustrations and wording (RL.2.7). My students are fairly comfortable with asking and answering questions.

I chose this book A Pocket Full of Kisses, because the text is an 2nd grade level, it has excellent illustrations, great text, and the plot is clear.  My goal is to really focus on writing 'how' and 'why' questions to show how the plot of a story changes. This is deeper level questioning that the Common Core Standards are focusing on.  Students are typically adept at the literal 'what color...' and 'what is the name...' questions. Our focus is to use questioning to improve reading comprehension, which means that students must ask deeper level questions that lead to understanding.

*When I taught this lesson the second time, I decided to use a worksheet with less writing and change the evidence to 'literal' and 'inferential'.  This encourages the kids to demonstrate how they find the answer and is similar to the previous lessons in this Questioning unit - The What's and When's of Literature, and Tape the Answers


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)


 Gain Student Interest & Bring All to a Common Starting Point

  • Show the word questioning and discuss ....
    • "When do we ask questions?" (prompt with 'at the beginning, middle and end of a story')   
    • How do questions help us?" (prompt with 'They help us understand what we read and be active readers') ***
    • "What are the kinds of questions?"  (review the words literal, inferential, evaluative)
  • "Today we are going to look at the plot of a story from the same author as The Kissing Hand.
  • Show the book and quickly review the plot.
  • "I made a visual of a hand to show the structure of the story and the plot -  beginning,  middle and end." "
  • "When an author writes a story, he/she has changes in the plot the make the story interesting. We can ask questions to figure out the plot and use the illustrations and words in the text to answer those questions." 


*** As students are exposed to and practice questioning, it's important to stress that questions should lead to deeper level comprehension. Second graders are usually able to ask lots of questions, especially literal, but it's important to remind them that the questions should help them understand the text, and not just be asked for the sake of asking questions.

If you have not taught lessons about question writing, I encourage you to look at some of the earlier lessons so your students get some practice with writing and answering questions. These lessons include The Whys and Whens of Questioning about LiteratureSo What Do You Think, Using Evaluative Questions with LiteratureEvaluative Questions-Pick Your Side and ArgueQuestions Help Us See How Characters DevelopThat Striking LanguageAsk Questions About Those Illustrations and The 'What's' and 'Where's' of Literature.

Teacher's Turn

15 minutes

Purpose of lesson

  • "We'll be using inferential and literal questions today with the words 'how' and 'why' to look at the plot of the story."
  • "When we answer questions, we have to have evidence so we'll denote an 'I' for illustrations or 'W' for words to show how we found the answer.

Introduce strategy - teacher models

  • "I'll read the beginning of the story and then ask 3 questions using 'why' and 'how' to determine the start of the plot. After I ask the questions, I'll decide if the answer is in the text or the illustrations. and write those by the beginning of the story."
  • Read up to the page 'Mrs. Raccoon lifted Chester too her lap..."
  • "Why is Chester pouting?  The illustration doesn't really show why, but the words tell the answer.  I'll write 'W' for words and write that 'Chester wants to give him back'."
  • "How does Chester feel about his brother? The words say that he plays with his things and pulls his tail.  I'll write 'W' for words and write 'Chester does not like what his brother does'."
  • "How does Chester's mom show she is 'motherly'?  The illustrations show that he is sitting on her lap.  I'll write 'I' and write 'Chester's mom is motherly when she sits on his lap'."


Practice strategy - guided practice

  • "Let's try a few together for the middle of the story."  I'll read first and then you can help me ask and answer the questions."
  • Read through the page that says, "Mrs. Raccoon gathered Chester...."
  • "How did Chester's face look when mom kissed him?"  (students write both)  Let's write 'Chester felt so loved when mom kissed him'.
  • Here's the completed whiteboard for the lesson.

Students Take a Turn

20 minutes

Assign Task

  • "Now it's your turn to write 2 more questions.  Use 'how' or 'why' to ask about 2 more ideas from the middle of the chapter."
  • Give students time to write and help as necessary.
  • "Now I'll read the end of the story and give you time to write 3 more questions."
  • Read to the end.
  • "Who wants to come up and write your question and answer on the chart?"  Take volunteers and let them fill in the plot.


Share What You've Learned

15 minutes

Explain the project

  • "Let's take what we have written and find out how the plot changed over the course of the text."
  • "Take a moment and trace both hands on your worksheet to represent the hands in the book. We'll be writing on the fingers so make sure they're fat enough."
  • "You should have 10 answers on your worksheet. Just write 1-2 words on each finger in the right order to show the beginning, middle and end of the story. These represent the plot of the book."
  • "Who wants to share their ideas and hands?" 
  • This is an example of a student's completed project.


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

Students with academic challenges typically have difficult writing questions based on what they've heard. They should work with the teacher to formulate questions as a group or the teacher can write prompts on their whiteboards.

Students with higher abilities should be challenged to use some of the more difficult vocabulary of the book, such as 'deserved', 'run out' and 'settled'.  As you read the text, highlight these words and then write a few on the board to prompt them to use them in the questions or answers.


General Reflection