Questioning Mini-Lessons and Practice Activities


Research has found that proficient readers ask questions before, during, and after reading. Developing readers do not automatically use this strategy, so it is one that must be explicitly taught. In a reciprocal teaching lesson students are taught to formulate main idea, detail-oriented, and inference questions after each section they read. Because students know that they will be asked to formulate these questions, they read with greater awareness. Even students who have a tendency to skim over difficult spots will attend to their reading more closely, thereby increasing their comprehension. At first students tend to focus on lower level detail-oriented questions. With practice, however, they learn to formulate main idea and higher level inference questions as well.

Picture This

This activity is a great way to introduce students to the questioning strategy. Display a transparency of a picture from a high-interest picture book. Guide students in formulating questions about the picture. Record questions on chart paper. Read aloud or have students read the related text. Have students answer the previously generated questions.  

Source: A Practical Guide to Reciprocal Teaching by Shira Lubliner, Wright Group/McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Spin a Question

This is a fun way to introduce questioning during small group instruction. Reproduce the spinner below on cardstock and laminate. Attach a paper clip spinner. After reading a section of text, have a student spin the spinner, formulate a question using that question word, and select a classmate to answer the question. This can also be used as a partner activity.

Download Spin a Question Board

Question Starters

Introduce students to the language of questioning. Most students are familiar with the question words who, what, where, when, why, and how. Once these are mastered, try extending these to question phrases to help students begin to formulate higher level questions. Examples include:

  • What caused…?
  • What are the characteristics of…?
  • What if…?
  • What does the author mean when…?
  • Would you agree that…?
  • Would it be better if…?

Paired Questioning

Have students work in pairs to read a selection of text. Students read silently, stopping at predetermined spots. After reading each section, one student asks a question and the partner attempts to answer. They reverse roles and continue this process until the selection is finished.

Source: Guided Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3-8 by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen, IRA, 2002.

Main Idea Questions

Asking main idea questions requires students to process and synthesize information very quickly as they read. While struggling readers find this skill difficult, spending time explicitly teaching it can greatly increase reading comprehension. The best way to teach students to generate main idea questions is through a guided lesson. Begin with teacher modeling and gradually ask students to practice formulating their own main idea questions. Struggling readers may require a great deal of practice before reaching independence with this skill. Be sure to provide coaching and corrective feedback.

Hot Seat

This activity helps students formulate inferential questions. As preparation for this activity, explain to students the difference between questions that have obvious, on-the-surface answers and ones that have under-the-surface answers or require them to make an inference. Demonstrate by using a student volunteer. Ask questions about the student’s eye color, hair color, etc.—questions that have obvious answers. Then ask questions that require an inference, such as how the student is feeling, why she is smiling, etc.

To play Hot Seat, one student is selected to play the role of a main character in a text and is sent out of the room. The rest of the class generates a list of questions to ask the character. The character returns to the room and is seated on a “hot seat.” Students take turns asking the character questions. The student on the hot seat attempts to answer the questions from the character’s point of view. A discussion session follows. Variation: Select several students to play the role of the same character. Bring in one character at a time to sit on the hot seat. Compare and contrast the different characters’ answers. 

Source: A Practical Guide to Reciprocal Teaching by Shira Lubliner, Wright Group/McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Wonder Questions

This activity works well with nonfiction text. Have students skim through nonfiction text and write an “I wonder” question for each page of a picture book or each section of a textbook or article. After writing questions, students go back and read the text to find answers. This is a great activity to use with “the rest of the class” when you are working with a small guided reading group.

Source: Reciprocal Teaching at Work: Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension by Lori Oczkus, IRA, 2003.

Questioning With the Table of Contents

This is similar to “Predicting With the Table of Contents” in the prediction activities post. Instead of generating predictions, they formulate questions about the chapter based on the titles in the table of contents. Students then read the text to answer the questions.

Source: Reciprocal Teaching at Work: Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension by Lori Oczkus, IRA, 2003.

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