Did you know that the process of asking questions will help your child become a better, more thoughtful reader? Read on to learn how to teach the questioning strategy to kids.
This Reading Mama and have been sharing reading comprehension strategies for kids. I’m sure a lot of them were no surprise.
1. Using schema. Yup, we know it’s important to use our background knowledge when reading.
2. Making connections. When we’re reading, we think about how it relates to our own lives or other books, and that helps us understand it better.
3. Predicting. You can probably see how thinking ahead will get you more engaged with the story.
4.Inferring. Yes, kids need to know how to “read between the lines.”
5. Making images. This is pretty important when reading poetry or books without pictures.
Hmm… how would asking questions help kids understand what they read? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do when they’re done – to make sure they understood what they’ve read?
Why good reader ask questions
- Questioning keeps the reader engaged in the story.
- Questioning spurs readers on… it keeps them reading!
- When readers search for answers to their questions, they interact with the text.
- Asking questions can help readers clear up confusion.
- Lingering questions can lead to even more learning.
Introducing the lesson
I pulled out Immigrant Kids, a book from my teaching days. Russell Freedman is one of my favorite history writers for older kids. His books are interesting, photo-rich, and (best of all) they’re often about children. While this book’s content and reading level is appropriate for fifth graders, I knew that my second grader would enjoy it when I was reading it along with her.
“Today we’re going to read this book together. It’s called Immigrant Kids. Do you know what immigrants are?”
“Immigrants are people who move to a new country. In the early 1900’s, millions of people came to the United States from Europe. They had to pass through a place called Ellis Island, which is now a museum. It’s where I bought this book! Before we read the book, we’re going to look at the pictures and write down some questions we have. As we read, we’re going to mark the answers.”
Posing questions before reading
It took a little while for her to get warmed up, so I asked the questions first.
“Look at these two children on the cover. Poor little girl! She’s crying. I wonder why?” I wrote, Why is the girl crying?
“Oh, wow. Look at all these people on the ship. They’re so crowded. That makes me think of another question. What was it like on the ship to America?“
By now my daughter was starting to become engaged. When we looked at the picture of immigrants crowded into their tenement, she wondered, “Why does that girl sleeping in that weird kind of bed?” We recorded her question.
She was intrigued by the picture of the girl in a dirty sink. “Why is she in that sink? Is the water clean?”
Questioning while reading
After we’d asked a number of questions, it was time to get started with the book. As we read, we had even more questions to record on our chart. Sometimes I asked them. Sometimes my daughter did.
The wonderful part is that we weren’t thinking, “Okay, we need to find questions to record on our chart.” Instead, we were enjoying the book and spontaneously wondering aloud. After a while, we stopped recording our questions because we had too many!
“What happened if the workers at Ellis Island said someone in your family couldn’t stay? Did the whole family go back to Europe?”
“Why was Ellis Island nicknamed Heartbreak Island?”
“I wonder what it was like to camp out on the fire escape right next to the elevated train! I’d be scared.”
“Why did the boys in the streets fight each other? Did they fight the girls too?”
As we discovered answers, we recorded how we found them: from the text itself, by making an inference, or from an outside source.
Inferring an answer
When I asked my daughter why Ellis Island was called Heartbreak Island, she said, “Because it was sad when someone from your family couldn’t stay.” I helped her see that she’d inferred this answer because the text didn’t state it outright.
When she asked why you were sent back to Europe if you had an eye infection, I asked her to think about it. “What do you think?” She thought some more. “Because they didn’t want other people to get it.” Another great inference!
Finding an answer in the text
My daughter had wondered about whether boys fought girls. Later in the book we learned that boys and girls didn’t play together. So that answer came directly from the text.
I wanted to know what kinds of jobs immigrant kids had. We learned that they worked in factories, warehouses, laundries, and stores.
Using an outside source
After about a half hour lesson, my daughter’s interest was waning. We ended our lesson there, but we could come back to it later with more books about immigrants. These might answer some of our remaining questions. We might also find information on the Internet or ask someone who knows more about the topic than we did.
Adapting this lesson for younger learners
Can you see how asking questions increased our understanding of the book?
You might notice that your preschooler already does this when you’re reading aloud. I can’t tell you how many questions my three-year-old asks when we’re reading! Instead of rushing through the questions to get through the story (which is tempting, believe me), remember that these are an important part of comprehension. Find the answers together!
In the classroom, you can put the chart up on the overhead projector (okay, I’m dating myself – do they even use those now?) and fill it out together.
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