Using Questioning Strategies to Stimulate Student Learning
Elementary classroom comprehension strategies are continuously evolving and growing. Educators have become more concerned with higher-order thinking skills and multifaceted understanding in both fiction and expository pieces of text. Using "right there," "look deep," and "I wonder" questions can support teachers in guiding students to higher-order thinking and meaning making.
"Right there" questions play an essential role in building a foundation for reader comprehension. To become literate individuals, students must be able to pinpoint significant facts in nonfiction pieces. With "right there" questions, teachers ask students to locate correct responses directly in the author’s text. For example, students should be able to identify facts culled from the text. From reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln, students should learn the answer to, "What year did Lincoln die?"
In fiction pieces, "right there" questions support learners in identifying character details and story elements and following key plotlines. "Right there" questions are often found on multiple-choice quizzes and at the end of nonfiction chapters.
Using "look deep" questions gives students the opportunity to formulate responses based on inferences about what is written in the text. For example, using the book Elmer, by David McKee, students could be asked to speculate on the cause behind Elmer’s desire to be elephant-colored. Students can surmise from the overall mood of the story that Elmer seeks to be like the others in his group. Because the author does not explicitly write this, students have a chance to create their own understanding of character motivation and the central concepts and messages of the text. Teachers can stimulate discussion among students as multiple answers surface and evolve.
There are no correct or incorrect responses with "I wonder" questions. Students can freely explore their own thoughts. These types of questions often request students to respond to "what if" scenarios. Reading the book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett, children might wonder, "What if we went back to Chewandswallow?" Reading Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, they might wonder, "What would I have named the fictional world?"
The answers to "I wonder" questions do not lie within the words written in the books. Students must broaden their thinking. "I wonder" questions can serve as a springboard to further inquiry. Students could be asked to pen sequels to accompany the texts they have read or participate in student-led inquiry projects and investigations. Ownership of ideas is in students’ hands, which often leads to both greater understanding and increased engagement.
Teachers can use these three types of questions with any piece of text, including book chapters, picture books, short stories, Web site content, and other "text" forms such as movies. The teacher should create a list of questions categorized by the questioning strategy, which allows students to clearly distinguish between the varying types of questioning and thought work. The list also serves as an effective tool for teachers in evaluating whether they are best utilizing all three varieties of questions. Using all three questioning strategies effectively can help teachers best address numerous levels of cognitive development. Students will be engaged in activities and thoughts that range from an introductory comprehension and recall level to a deeper, more advanced stage of processing and meaningful insight.
Jill B. Van Hof is a former elementary school teacher with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Michigan State University. She is currently a doctoral candidate in educational leadership at Western Michigan University.