When you’re guiding a discussion during Guided Reading small group, do you ever have that feeling like you’re stuck in a hospital elevator that’s stopping on every floor? It’s quiet (except for that cheesy elevator music), and all eyes are focused straight ahead on those shiny metal doors. Meaningful conversations and deep discussions are rare in an elevator environment; however, they should occur regularly during guided reading small groups. Because well-crafted questions prompt discussion, they boost engagement and can encourage a meaningful conversational exchange. Let’s see if we can spark a few good ideas about teaching kiddos to craft well-worded Guided Reading questions.
We have varied personality traits, yet all teachers must learn to be talkers. It’s part of the job description. You may have gotten a classroom full of kiddos who love to talk, too. The problem is, it’s not always at the appropriate time! In a literacy-rich classroom, your goal is to guide those little chatterboxes into effective and meaningful discussion of stories and texts. Guided Reading small group and shared reading times offer opportunities to form great discussion connections and teach good questioning techniques.
Guided Reading Questions and Discussion Prompts
Deeper comprehension and meaningful connections occur when you teach students to ask the right questions before, during and after reading. To begin with, a KWL chart or graphic organizer can help students set a purpose for reading before they start. Start with a whiteboard or chart paper, and list the 3 “K/W/L” columns; then guide students in brainstorming to compile a list of things they already know about the topic.
Next, ask them what they want to learn. If there’s low response to that question, approach it differently. Go back and choose an item from the “Know” column; ask, “Is there something more you’d like to learn about this idea?” As an alternative, ask a speculative question and give students the opportunity to make a prediction. “What do you think you’ll learn about this topic from the text you’ll be reading?”
Finally, have students answer the “L” (What have I learned?) question during the reading (or after they’ve completed it). When a reader identifies what they’re learning as they read, metacognition is improved. The reader learns to “think about thinking.” Use KWL charts to identify and activate students’ prior knowledge about a subject. These charts feature basic questions, but they help students set a purpose before they read.
“Let’s Discuss!” Mini-Lesson
It’s important to present a short mini-lesson early in the school year to help your students understand the elements of a good discussion. Conversational ettiquette and good listening skills should be emphasized. In your “Let’s Discuss!” mini-lesson, guide the students in a conversation about the topic of “What makes a great discussion?” Again, create a list of ideas on chart paper or a whiteboard as students brainstorm and share their ideas.
(Side note: With all the heated rhetoric and lack of civil discourse on social media and within our culture in general these days, this is a timely topic! Although we as teachers may have our own strongly held social and political views, we’re not the only ones. We’ve seen enough playground meltdowns to know that our students have their own strongly held opinons! It’s imperative that we teach even the youngest kiddos early-on how to engage in a deep discussion that features a healthy, polite and respectful exchange of ideas.)
Yes, give your students open-ended discussion prompts and conversation starters; however, you should also teach them how to generate their own discussion questions. Teach them to ask what Laura Candler, author of Discussion Connections, calls “meaty questions.” When students begin to collaborate and participate in book discussions and “meaty” literacy conversations, they begin to take ownership of the learning process. In addition, they improve their listening, conversation and social skills, and they learn to make use of comprehension strategies and higher-level thinking skills.
Teaching Students to Craft Comprehension Questions in Guided Reading
The mini-lesson provides an essential foundation; but In subsequent Guided Reading lessons, continue teaching students questioning strategies. Teach children to ask questions that connect the new information they’re learning to information they already know. Teach them to formulate questions that will help them in in the areas of retelling, summarizing, inferring, making predictions and determining the author’s purpose. Create an environment where students are encouraged to engage in literacy conversations. They’ll benefit from high-quality discussions about the texts they read.
Thinking Beyond the Text and Making Inferences
Show your students how to craft text-related questions by taking facts from the text and turning them into questions. For higher-level groups, progress to the creation of inferential questions using words like “why” or “what if…”. Explain that while these questions are based on facts from the text, they require the reader to use text clues and prior knowledge to help them think beyond the text and make inferences.
Key Details and Character Traits
Teach them how to craft questions based on key details and identifying main characters and describing their character traits. In more advanced groups, explain that there are questions they should ask to help them understand motivation, or what makes the characters do what they do. Show them how to use dialogue to craft questions to help them in making inferences. For example: Why did the main character say that?” or “What was the character thinking?”
Compare & Contrast and Cause & Effect
Show students how to craft “Compare & Contrast” questions. Show them how these types of questions can be used to compare/contrast characters, ideas, and even multiple books or stories. Explain how students can also craft “Cause & Effect” questions to better understand the text. Demonstrate how to use sticky notes to flag important events or effects and write a “why” or “what caused” question on the flag.
Are You Ready? Get Set. Go!
Now here’s my question for you: Are you ready to teach your kiddos how to ask a good question? It takes some work, but it is so worth it! These kiddos won’t arrive in your classroom knowing how to formulate good questions; however, by the time they leave, they should understand the concept.
Thanks for stopping by, my busy teacher friend! Hope you have an amazing day filled with brilliantly crafted questions, a few good answers, and no elevator music! 🙂
Wait! Just one More Thing, and it’s a Biggie!
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