Getting students citing evidence from texts can be a difficult task. Sometimes, no matter how many times you teach them how to cite evidence, they still don’t. The questioning techniques we use can have a profound impact on how our students answer the questions. Almost equally as important are the sentence frames we provide.
Three question words are pretty much all I use: Why, How and What.
Let’s take a look at each one as I teach the book Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jorda in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan.
If you’re not familiar with the book: it was written by Michael Jordan’s family about Michael when he was young. Then, he gets frustrated that the other boys were better at basketball than him. As a result, he assumes that it was because he was shorter. His mother told him that praying and putting salt in his shoes every night would make him grow. Michael diligently did both as well as practiced.
After some time praying, putting salt in his shoes and practicing, he was frustrated to find that he had not grown at all. Finally, he realizes that practicing is what made him better, and in the end he beats the older, taller boys who had been making fun of him.
Now to look at how I ask questions using this book:
Ask almost any person trained in Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or Bloom’s Taxonomy would likely tell you that What…? questions are some of the lowest level questions in terms of difficulty to answer as far as questioning techniques go.
Not true. If I could use no other question word, I would use the What question.
What can take the place of almost every other question word.
Low Level: Recall/Search
What was Michael’s problem in the story?
What did the other boys say to Michael that made him frustrated?
What did Michael do to solve his problem?
What was it that made Michael better at basketball?
Mid Level: Analyze/Infer/Predict
What character traits did Michael demonstrate when he…?
What do you think will happen after Michael…?
What can you infer about Michael when he practices every day?
High Level: Judge/Compare/Hypothesize
What is the lesson that Deloris Jordan wanted to teach us from this story?
What similarities and differences are there between Salt in His Shoes and…?
Based on what Michael did, what would you do to solve a problem that you have?
As you can see, each one of these questions requires the student to go back into the story and cite text evidence either through quotes or providing an example.
This is another unsung hero when it comes to powerful questioning techniques to get students citing evidence. The meaning of How, as in, “in what way” essentially implies that students need to provide text evidence especially when paired with “Explain.”
Let’s take a look at some examples:
How does Michael feel on this page? Explain.
How could you solve your own problems as Michael did in the story? Explain.
How did Michael change throughout the story? Explain.
How questions when coupled with Explain require the student to go back into the story and find the answer whether through simple search and recall or through inferencing. Either way, they need to cite evidence in their explanation making it one of my favorite questioning techniques.
When it comes to questioning techniques for teachers, is there any more reliable a word to use than Why? It naturally requires an answer that at some point involves the word “because.” The joke in my classroom when I taught the primary grades was that the first sight word my students learned to read and write was “because.”
I’m sure you use Why quite often in your classroom because it is that powerful of a question word.
For the Salt in His Shoes example, some of the why questions I ask are:
Why does Michael’s mother tell him that putting salt in his shoes will make him better at basketball?
Why is the title of the story Salt in His Shoes?
Want to try this with part of my lesson plan for this book?
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Each one of my lesson plans uses questioning techniques just like the ones in this lesson plan to get your students citing text evidence through both discussion and oracy techniques as well as in their written reading comprehension responses.