n How could you look at this information differently?
Sometimes when I ask students
questions like these, they don’t have
a lot to say because they need time
to read with the question in mind.
So I may ask them which question
intrigues them most and what
they want to look for as they read.
This gives students ownership. It’s
important that I write down what
intrigues them so I can touch base
with them the next day by simply
asking, “Hey, Tomás, what did you
figure out about O’Brien’s use of
Questions That Inform Instruction
When I want to find out what students
know and need, I have to ask questions that give them multiple ways to
respond. Their responses are entry
points into their thinking and understanding. Questions like these work
n What do you need?
n Is this boring or are you stuck?
What makes this boring? What do
think is causing you to be stuck? What
have you done before to get unstuck
that might help you?
n Have you tried what we talked
about in the minilesson?
n What’s preventing you from
working? What causes you to stop?
n Why do you think that?
n What might you try tomorrow?
n What do you know now that you
didn’t know before?
n What’s going on in your head as
your read? What is your inner voice
In the End, What Does
In A More Beautiful Question, author
Warren Berger (2014) invites us all—
teachers, students, business leaders,
innovators, and parents—to ignite
learning by asking more beautiful
questions. He writes, “In searching for
common denominators among [the
world’s] brilliant change-makers, one
thing I kept finding was that many
of them were exceptionally good at
asking questions” (p. 1).
So I challenge you to allow students
to ask questions more often. If you
must be the question asker, I challenge
you to pose this single, simple, beautiful question to your students—no
matter the content, no matter the
learning goal—“What are you
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful
question. New York: Bloomsbury.
Black, S. (2001). Ask me a question: How
teachers use inquiry in the classroom.
American School Board Journal, 188( 5),
Tovani, C. (2011). So what do they really
know? Assessment that informs teaching
and learning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Vogler, K. (2008). Asking good questions.
Educational Leadership, 65( 9).
Cris Tovani ( email@example.com)
teaches English at Adams City High
School in Commerce City, Colorado.
She is the author of So What Do They
Really Know? Assessment That Informs
Teaching and Learning (Stenhouse, 2011).
My students complete daily “activators.” These questions, at the
start of class, prepare students for the day’s lesson by activating prior
knowledge and encouraging them to make connections. During
our unit on The Outsiders, I had students read an article about author
S. E. Hinton’s use of Twitter. The activator question was “Should the
book be updated to include technology, and how would
technology change the story?” They came up with great
ideas: Would the characters smoke e-cigarettes? Would
the Socs film the drowning and post it online? Would
most of the harassment take place online and lead
to fewer physical fights? They all agreed that Darry
would sacrifice to get Ponyboy a computer, not only
to help with his schoolwork, but also so Darry could
take online college classes. These types of activities and
questions demonstrate student higher-level thinking and show how
well they have embraced the characterizations by the author. I often
use the articles and questions to incorporate nonfiction with fiction, to
tie in the Common Core State Standards.
—Kelley Nosel, English/language arts teacher,
Wachusett Regional School District, Holden, Massachusetts
For more great questions suggested by our readers, see our “Tell Me About”
column on p. 90.
NOW THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION!
How Would Technology
Change the Story?