Newsela Reading Reflection Using Big Questions

Students reflect after reading a Newsela article by using the Big Questions strategy from Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst
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Reflection Using the Three Big Questions Video

About This Strategy

Teachers are always looking for ways to help their students to be critical readers of text as they think more deeply about what they read. The Big Questions strategy that was developed by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst does just that. Students answer and reflect on the following questions: "What surprised me?" "What did the author think I already knew?" and "What changed, challenged, or confirmed what I already knew?" Once students are comfortable with responding to these questions, they can use these reflection questions to deepen their understanding whenever they read informational texts.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning:

  1. Choose two Newsela articles or a Text Set related to the current unit of study. One article will be used for the teacher to model a reflection using the Big Questions, and the other article will be used for student practice.

  2. Review the Big Questions and develop an anchor chart beforehand or with students. The students would then be able to refer to the charts when they read independently. The questions are:

    • What surprised me?

    • What did the author think I already knew?

    • What challenged, changed, or confirmed my thinking?

  3. Newsela PRO users may want to modify the Write Prompt as follows: Reflect on your reading of the article through the lens of the Big Questions. How has reading in this way impacted your understanding of the topic?

Student Preparation:

  1. Review the Big Questions with students and develop an anchor chart either with students or beforehand. Sample anchor charts are linked in the resource section below. The questions are:

    • What surprised me?

    • What did the author think I already knew?

    • What challenged, changed, or confirmed my thinking?

  2. Model reading one of the selected articles with the class, and stop periodically to do a think-aloud. Highlight or annotate the article each time one of the Big Questions applies. An article with sample Annotations is linked in the resource section below. In addition, the video shows an example of how to read and annotate an article with the Big Questions in mind.

  3. After completing the article and Annotations, model how to reflect on the reading. Reflect on some of the individual Annotations and how they impacted understanding and/or reflect on the article as a whole.

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Assign the same Newsela articles or Text Set to each student for independent practice. When creating the assignment, the teacher can decide whether to provide it at the Newsela Recommended reading level for each student or adjust the reading level to a particular grade for all students.

  2. Have students read the Newsela article and take notes on a graphic organizer or using Newsela Annotations. Sample graphic organizers are linked in the resources below. There is a black and white version to be used if copying the graphic organizer to give to students on paper, and there is a color version if assigning it to students electronically. The colors in the graphic organizer correspond to the colors described in the directions for using Newsela Annotations as follows:

    • Highlight any surprising information from the article in BLUE. Then, in the annotations, type an exclamation point followed by an explanation of why that information was so surprising.

    • Whenever you notice a time where the author assumes that you already knew something (what a word means, a concept, etc.), highlight it in YELLOW. In the annotations, explain what it was that the author assumed that you knew.

    • Highlight any information from the article that changed, challenged, or confirmed your thinking in RED. In the annotations, explain how what you read changed, challenged, or confirmed your thinking.

  3. Newsela PRO teacher users may respond to student annotations to help their students think even more deeply about what they noticed.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Students do a Pair-Share with a peer who read the same article. They may notice places where they both highlighted the same thing and other places where they did not; this is fine! Students may be tempted to highlight and write something after the fact if peers marked information that they did not, but differences are to be expected as everyone brings different background knowledge and experiences to the text.

  2. Students will complete the Write Prompt: How has reading in this way impacted your understanding of the topic? Non-PRO users may have students write journal reflections to address the prompt, or they could use a handout like the one that is linked in the Resources below.

  3. Reflect on the process. Facilitate a group discussion where students discuss how using the Big Questions impacted their understanding. Encourage them to use these strategies on a regular basis when reading informational texts in this class but in their other classes as well.

Recommended Newsela Texts or Text Sets

A Mile in Our Shoes: Immigrants

  • Essential Questions:
    • Identity: What do these stories show about the experience of immigrating? What other words might the individuals here use to describe themselves? What experiences do you share with these individuals?
    • Diversity: How are the individuals in this collection different from each other? What successes and challenges are unique to people in this group? What perspectives are missing?
    • Justice: What are some challenges that affect individuals in this group that others might have a hard time understanding? What do you think others can do to understand the challenges these individuals face? What are some assumptions that people might make about individuals who identify with this group? How might stereotypes negatively affect individuals who identify with this group?
    • Action: What can communities do to support individuals in this group? What can you do?
  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: Social Studies, ELA

Earth Sciences: The Human Impact on Earth's Systems

  • Essential Question: How can people reverse the negative effects that they have had on the planet?
  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: Science, Technology

Science & Ethics of Drones

  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: Technology & Engineering

Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Considerations

Using the Big Questions can help students think about their preconceived ideas and challenge their thinking.

This strategy is a great way for students to consider where some of their ideas and opinions have come from and how new information may help them come to new understandings about a topic. Teachers will want to consider their students as they assign articles to them using this strategy. Teachers want to help broaden their students' horizons and ideas but want to be careful to make sure that students have an open mind about topics that they will read and discuss. The authors of Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies mentioned an experience they had when presenting students with articles about fracking. When reading the article that expressed concerns about fracking, students dismissed those concerns based on what they had already heard. The authors argue that "knowing more is better than knowing less" and that "teaching our children to think logically and independently and behave ethically and empathetically is critical to our democracy." Teachers need to consider their students and their experiences as they choose articles that will appropriately challenge their students' thinking.


Reference: Beers, Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies. Heinemann, 2016.

Teacher Tips

Sarah Bayer
Newsela Master Teacher
  • Encourage cross-curricular use of the Big Questions. They are such a powerful tool to help comprehension. After you introduce the questions to your students, consider sharing them with other content area teachers. If students are using the Big Questions in multiple classes, they will be more likely to internalize and continue using them.

  • When using the Big Questions, it is not important that students notice the same things in their reading. What is important is that students use the questions to think more deeply about the article.

  • Anchor charts for the Big Questions can be helpful, especially as students continue to use the questions when reading additional informational texts.

  • Some teachers may want to introduce the questions one at a time. If you want to do that, you may assign additional articles to the students for practice.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the following resource was consulted.

  • Beers, Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies. Heinemann, 2016