I still remember my excitement many years ago when I first read Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann’s Mosaic of Thought. I felt empowered. It is possible to directly teach my students how to comprehend what they are reading. I began to understand the difference between checking comprehension and teaching comprehension.
Research shows that one of the most powerful comprehension strategies is Questioning. My students often seem to find it challenging, especially Teacher Questions, or as we call them in my class, Quiz Show Questions. The difficulty is twofold; determining what is important and then how to take that important information and turn it into a question.
The one thing I have found that helps students to determine importance is lots and lots of modeling and practice. So, make it fun and engaging. I always use Lori Oczkus’ characters, props and hand motions when teaching any comprehension strategy. Yes, even sixth graders love to use them. The Questioning character we use is Quincy the Quiz Show Host. The prop is a microphone and the hand motion is a fist held just under the chin mimicking a microphone. The props are motivational and encourage students to pose thoughtful questions. I use them when modeling with a Think Aloud and students use them during independent practice.
Lori Oczkus offers guidelines for questioning that I have found very effective in teaching students how to question. The steps that follow can be even more engaging if you and your students ham it up a bit.
- Write the questions words, Who, What, When, Where, Why and How, on sticky notes or index cards.
- Put students in groups
- Give each group a question card.
- As you read a text, each group is to think of a question that begins with their question word.
- Groups take turns asking the class their question.
Here is a vignette to show questioning might sound in my classroom.
Teacher: Group 3, ask your question.
Student 1, using her hand motion microphone and her Quincy voice, “For fifty thousand dollars, when did Columbus set sail?” She calls on a classmate
Student 2, “Columbus set sail in 1942.” (We always answer in complete sentences)
Student 1, “BUZZ! Sorry, you’re wrong” She calls on another classmate
Student 3, “Columbus set sail in 1492.”
Student 1, “DING! DING! DING! You’re right! You’ve just won $50,000!”
The class cheers.
Give questioning a try with your students and post a comment to let us know how it goes. We welcome you to share other effective ways to teach questioning as well.
Assistant Principal Pioneer Elementary School and Emanuele Elementary School
Oczkus, L. (2010) Reciprocal Teaching at Work K-12 (2nd Edition). Newark, DE. International Reading Association.
Oczkus, L. (2009) Interactive Think-Aloud Lessons:25 Surefire Ways to Engage Students and Improve Comprehension Scholastic
Oczkus, L. (2004). Super 6 Comprehension Strategies: 35 Lessons and More for Reading Success. Christopher Gordon Publisher, Inc.
Keene, E. O. & Zimmermann, S. (2007). Mosaic of Thought: The Power of Comprehension Instruction (2nd Edition). Heinemann.