The most common request I have received this year as a literacy coach is to cover a teacher’s class. Just kidding. That’s the second-most common request.  

Seriously, the practice that most of the teachers at my school seek my help with is questioning–specifically, how to write questions for the informational text they are using in their classrooms. We’ve been trying to get content-area teachers to embrace authentic (non-textbook) readings in their classrooms for years. We’re there. Many have their own Newsela or Listenwise accounts, they watch Ted Talks in class, and they share news articles or blogs they have come across in their own real-world reading with their students.

Now, though, the issue has become what to do with the texts. The teachers want to write questions to check whether or not the students are reading, but they feel the pressure to write quality questions to meet the demands of our district’s evaluation system. They come to me seeking guidance: “Do you have any lists of question stems?” “What are higher order questions?”

In response, I usually give them copies of resources I do have. But I also ask them questions: “Why do you need to do all this work?” “What is the goal of the lesson?” “Why not let the kids write the questions?” “Have you tried any other approaches?”  The consensus is that the kids will not do the reading if they don’t have questions to answer.  

Have you ever watched a high school kid read an article with questions attached?  Rather than reading, students treat the article like a Where’s Waldo? Puzzle–they skim and scan, searching for Waldo (the answer) without paying any attention to the rest of the picture (article).

To provide options that may be less time consuming for teachers and more meaningful for students, I started compiling a list of activities that could take the place of “read and answer the questions.” Finally, with the prompting of the #EduBlogsClub, I finished my list this week!

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So, if you’re tired of agonizing over questions that students don’t really answer, consider one of these low-prep options that encourage students to really read the article.  You can download both a printable color and black and white version of the graphic here. (They print on legal-size paper.) And, for a little more information about each strategy, read on…

  1. Analyze Word Choice. Why did the author use this word instead of that one? Recognizing that connotation affects meaning and that authors may be using certain words or phrases to achieve an effect is a key component of becoming a critical reader.
  2. Compare and Contrast. Ask students to compare the way the information is presented in the article to the presentation in your textbook or in another article or video. What details were emphasized in one but glossed over in another? How did one better help them to understand the material?
  3. Dig Deeper. If you have access to computers or want to let the students use their own devices, teach them to use your library’s periodical database to do further research. Ask them to find a related article and then explain how it adds to their understanding of the concept. (Added bonus: the students may find articles you can use with future classes!)
  4. Draw a Picture. Allowing students the opportunity to represent the text visually will help them remember the text. Creating symbolic representations or reformulating information in a graph or chart takes this to an ever deeper level.
  5. Evaluate Credibility. It is important for students to learn to question the credibility of “experts” cited in the text. Are the author’s sources qualified to make the assertions they make? Has the author addressed the opposition?
  6. Frayer Models provide students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of key concepts and vocabulary. Charting examples and nonexamples, listing characteristics, and drawing a picture clarifies the concept.
  7. Identify the Most Important Word. This is a lot harder than it seems and provides a fantastic opportunity for discussion as students defend their choices.
  8. Listen. Sometimes the best way to get kids to read is to read to them. You don’t have to read the whole article–reading the first couple of paragraphs aloud provides context and builds intrigue. Once you’ve got them hooked, turn them loose to read the rest on their own.
  9. Make Connections. When students connect new knowledge to previously learned material, they are more likely to remember it. Text-to-Self, Text-to-Text, and Text-to-World connections all help students process their understanding.
  10. Questioning the author’s reasoning and conclusions teaches students to be critical readers. Do the facts add up? How does this information support or contradict what we’ve already learned?
  11. The Reporter’s Questions. Ask students to answer these six questions focusing on the main idea of the article. Encourage them to synthesize all of the answers into a sentence or two to summarize the article.
  12. Separating important and interesting information helps students to differentiate between the key ideas and the less significant details.
  13. Set a Purpose. When we decide to read an article, we (perhaps unconsciously) have already thought about why it’s worth our time to read it–we know what we’ll get out of it based on our preview of the title, author, introduction, graphics, and other text features. Teaching kids to do the same and then to explain how they think this article will connect with course content will help them retain the information.
  14. Sticky notes allow students to mark the text without actually writing on the text. Cutting larger sticky notes into smaller sizes saves money and teaches students to be concise!
  15. Take a Stand. Asking students to find an assertion that they agree or disagree with in the article and then explain why allows them to practice justifying arguments with evidence (from this text or beyond).
  16. Take a Walk in Their Shoes. Allowing students to put themselves in the position of the subject of an article helps them widen their perspective and build empathy. By writing a letter or journal entry, students can really think about what the subject of the article was feeling and why they responded the way they did.
  17. Thinking Maps help students understand causes and effects, chronology, and other text structures. Understanding how an author has organized the information in an article helps students see connections between main ideas and details.
  18. What Happens Next? Ask students to make predictions about the outcome of a situation or what they feel should happen next. If the subject is a current event, revisit the topic as it unfolds so students can assess the validity of their predictions.
  19. What’s Missing? Identifying confusing sections of the text and thinking about the information that would make it more clear helps students to become better readers–and writers!
  20. Just Read It! Sometimes the most meaningful reading experiences are those that are just about the reading. If you’ve chosen a high-quality text, letting kids just read it and process it on their own may be a refreshing change.  

I hope you’ll give one of these ideas a try the next time you’re agonizing over writing questions for an article. If you have any questions about the strategies, please post them in the comments below!

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