Questions and Thinking in Common Core
Part 1: Teachers as Questioners
Developing Question Repertoires
Build a repertoire of questions asked for specific purposes. Raising your own awareness of question types and purposes will help you to hone your questioning techniques so that you begin to ask more of the types of questions that may lead to higher-level thinking and discussions in your classroom. Jamie McKenzie's Questioning Toolkit, reviewed here, is a useful resource. Many types of questions are listed with examples, including some like the following:
- Questions related to purpose. These challenge the group to define the task ahead of them.
- Questions that probe students to go deeper and explain or justify their thinking (Remember that a major shift in the CCSS is that reading, writing, and speaking are grounded in evidence.)
- Questions that help the group to reflect upon the day's work and summarize it.
- Questions that explore and extend the thinking of the group (What else? Tell me more about that. If that's true,...keep going with that idea and tell me...)
- Questions of interpretation. These involve the way our thinking is organized and whether there are different ways to make meaning. (What is the difference between ____ and ____? What if you compared ___ and ____? How could you look at this in another way?)
- Questions of implication. These challenge the group to look ahead to where the thinking might lead. (What effect would that have? What do you think could happen, or what do you think will happen next? Why is ___ important?)
- Point of view questions. These help individuals define their own point of view consider others.
- Relevance questions, which help to keep the discussion focused. (Can you explain how your idea connects to the question we are considering?)
- Accuracy questions. (How could we check to see if that is true?)
- Precision questions, which nudge students into expressing details and being specific.
- Questions of logic. These invite a look at the “whole” and challenge students’ collective thought—does it make sense?
- Questions for clarification. (What is your main point? Where did that idea come from? Can you give me an example?)
Build a language of questioning and post question stems that promote higher-order thinking around the room and on your class web site or wiki (to be accessible from home and for parents). You might try color coding the posted question stems to help students remember different question types. Be sure students know the difference between closed questions (one answer) and open-ended questions (more than one answer). Pose many open-ended questions yourself, using starter words like Why? and How?. Help students to recognize that the question words can, do, and is usually result in just one answer. Carol Koechlin and Sandi Swann have done a great deal of work and research around questioning. They have developed a useful question builder chart on page 19 of this guide . The Question Can is another tool, developed by a high school English teacher. It uses Marzano's question stems for working with literary elements. Similar stems for younger readers can be found here.
Give thought to student response as well. Allow students time to think about the question you’ve posed. We know from research regarding wait time that in general, more students participate and student responses are longer and more thoughtful when the teacher builds in wait time. Wait time is important after a student responds as well. Peers have a chance to process what has been said and then extend the thinking or ask for clarification. The teacher can model this elaboration of thinking as well. In classes with middle and high school students, using a backchannel chat can promote wait time and greater participation in responses.
Particularly with the Common Core, you will want to teach students some response phrases that promote giving evidence, such as:
Based on what I read…
On page __, I noticed that it said…
From the text I know that…
The author said…
Give students an active role. One way to begin is to develop categories of questions with your students.
Before beginning a new unit, ask students “What questions might we ask about ________?” Brainstorm questions together, remembering to:
- accept all ideas without criticism
- generate a large number of ideas or questions
- encourage divergent thinking (unusual, “out of the box”)
- encourage building one idea upon another
Follow up with an exercise that categorizes the brainstormed questions. Have students look for patterns in the questions that were generated; decide which ones belong together. Have students give them labels such as “Why questions” or “Fact Questions.” The brainstormed questions might then provide the basis for small group inquiry projects, or a structure for what you will teach as part of the unit in the days ahead. The categories can also be referred to and used throughout the rest of the year. (“Please write three inference questions that have to do with ______.”) Post your group question lists around the room and on a class wiki or web site for easy reference. You might even want to collect them on an online space where you and your students can continue to add new questions as the year goes on. A tool such as Padlet, reviewed here, or Lino.it, reviewed here, makes it easy to collect ideas on a sticky-note style online “bulletin board” accessible from any computer/tablet. (Lino.it also has an app version).