Student Generation of Higher-Order Questions

Teacher in front of class with book

Explicit instruction of higher-order question generation and planned time to practice this skill will improve students’ overall comprehension of a text and their ability to discuss it.

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Posted on: January 9, 2018

In the first installment of this blog post series, we explained the importance of students generating higher-order questions, and the need to teach students to identify and classify higher-order and lower-order questions prior to generating their own. Generation of higher-order questions allows students to make meaningful contributions to text-based discussions as required by the Common Core State Standards. In addition, researchers have found question creation to have positive effects on students’ reading comprehension (Berkley, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 2010; Joseph, Alber-Morgan, Cullen, & Rouse, 2016) and critical thinking skills (Abrami et al., 2015). In this post, we will continue the focus on higher-order questions by explaining an instructional sequence for teaching students to generate their own questions.

Teaching Students to Formulate Higher-Order Questions: An Instructional Sequence

In order for students to generate higher-order questions about text, educators must explicitly model and provide planned opportunities to practice and apply this skill. Students who do not receive instructional support create fewer questions than those who engage in guided practice with a teacher (Cameron, Meter, & Long, 2016). One component of explicit instruction demonstrated to have positive effects on student question generation is a think-aloud strategy (Joseph et al., 2016). Within the modeling portion of a lesson, teachers should narrate their thoughts about creating higher-order questions. In addition, providing students a checklist of criteria for higher-order questions will help them self-evaluate their own practice questions as well as questions formulated by their peers (Stokhof, De Vries, Martens, & Bastiaens, 2017). Finally, students should receive teacher feedback in order to improve their ability to generate higher-order questions (Joseph et al., 2016).

The following outlines this instructional sequence. Depending on class length, this sequence may take place over the course of several lessons. To implement the sequence, you will need the following three anchor charts: Why is it Important to Ask Good Questions?; Important Elements of Literary Texts; and Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Vanderbilt University Teaching Center, 2016). In addition, you will need the Higher-Order Questions Checklist. All four resources are in the Teacher Resources section below.

Introduction to Student-Generated Questions

First, explain to students why you are making the shift from teacher- to student-generated questions. Describe that good readers ask deep, thought-provoking questions. Emphasize that once mastered, they will not only use this skill in the classroom but in many other areas of their lives. Provide a few examples of how students may use question generation both inside and outside of the classroom, and then invite students to volunteer their own examples of when and why they might ask themselves questions. As you brainstorm as a group, create an anchor chart with a heading such as “Why is it Important to Ask Good Questions?” If students do not independently identify that creating questions can help them understand what they are reading or help them participate in discussions, be sure to use scaffolded questioning to elicit these ideas from them. The following are (a) examples of questions you could ask students in order to stimulate their thinking about this topic and (b) students’ anticipated responses to these questions.

Example A

Question

I ask you a lot of questions while we are reading a text. Why do you think I ask you these questions?

Anticipated Responses

“It helps us understand what the text is about.”

“You are trying to see if we understand the text.”

Question

That is right. So what do you think will happen if you ask your own questions?

Anticipated Responses

“We will understand the text better.”

“We can check to see if we understand the text.”

Example B

Question

Asking questions is a way of talking to each other about the text. What are some times in class when we talk about the text?

Anticipated Responses

“Discussions.”

“Close reading.”

“Literature circles.”

“Socratic seminars.”

Question

You are right! Those are all great examples. How do you think asking really great questions will help you participate in those activities?

Anticipated Responses

“Asking good questions can make my classmates think more about the text.”

“My questions could keep the discussion interesting (or not boring).”

“Asking good questions can show others that I am listening to them.”

Modeling

Use a text you have recently read as a class in order to model your thinking while creating and evaluating the higher-order questions that students have learned to identify in previous lessons. Content below in italics is an example of a teacher thinking aloud about how to create a higher-order question for Chapter 20 of The Giver (Lowry, 1993). This example would be appropriate for a sixth-grade classroom.

When I want to create a higher-order discussion question for a text, the first thing I ask myself is, “What are the most important parts of this text?” If I am stuck, I consider the characters, plot, setting, theme, central ideas, points of view, word choice, or structure (point to the Important Elements of Literary Texts anchor chart). In Chapter 20 of The Giver, I think one of the most important parts is the plot. The reader learns about The Giver and Jonas’s plan to transfer memories back to the community. I think it would be important to discuss this plan because it makes a major contribution to the rising action of the story. As a reader, tension is building in my mind as I learn more and more about the plan. I am anxious about whether or not their plan will be successful and cannot wait to find out what happens next.

If I were creating a lower-order question about the plan, I could use the “Understand” level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (point to this level on the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy anchor chart). I would ask my peers to describe or summarize The Giver and Jonas’s plan. They could find the answer to this question directly in the text.

However, I am creating a higher-order question that will challenge my peers to think deeply about the plan (display Higher-Order Question Checklist on document camera or anchor chart). I need to write a question that requires them to analyze or evaluate the plan or use textual details to create something new that is relevant to the plan.

As a reader, one thing that is creating tension in my mind is wondering whether or not the plan will be successful. There are parts of the plan that I think might not work. For example, I think that if Jonas is seen by someone in the middle of the night, he will get in a lot of trouble. On page 158, The Giver says that terrible things have happened to people who have attempted to escape the community. He says some have even been killed because the Elders want to keep the community sheltered from the outside world and under the control of their rules. On the other hand, I think that The Giver’s idea to tell the community that Jonas was lost in the river is a strong one. His prominent status and the community’s norms will cause everyone to believe him.

I think this is a topic that could challenge my classmates to think deeply. Therefore, I think I will ask my peers to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of The Giver and Jonas’s plan by using textual evidence (display this question on the Smart Board or whiteboard and place a checkmark on fourth checklist criterion). I added the last part (underline “by using textual evidence”) to make sure my peers are supporting their evaluation with what they have read in The Giver.

However, I think that some of my peers might not agree with me. They might think other aspects of the plan are strong or weak. Some might be sure that The Giver and Jonas will succeed. Therefore, it seems that there is more than one right answer to this question (place a checkmark on third checklist criterion).

I also know that the answer to this question cannot be found directly in the text. My peers will have to use what they have read about the community in previous chapters to evaluate the plan in Chapter 20 (place a checkmark on second checklist criterion).

Finally, I will consider whether this question will require an answer that is more than just a few words or phrases. I think my question definitely meets this criterion! My peers would have to provide strengths and weaknesses and support them with evidence from Chapter 20 and previous chapters. That is clearly more than a few words or phrases (place a checkmark on first checklist criterion).

Guided Practice

Provide students with a chapter or short section of a text recently read in class. Assuming students have already been taught all of the Bloom’s Taxonomy question types, ask pairs or small groups to work together on generating one question at each of the three highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Emphasize that they must use the checklist criteria to develop and evaluate their questions. Remind them that you will be listening to make sure they are using language from the checklist and referring to textual evidence throughout the question-generation process. As you circulate, engage groups in checklist-based discussions in order to redirect any student misunderstandings or errors in formulating higher-order questions.

Independent Practice and Peer Feedback

Provide students with a different chapter or short section of a text recently read in class. Ask them to independently create one higher-order question about the assigned text. Direct students to take turns sharing their questions in small groups. The groups will use the checklist to evaluate and provide feedback to their peers. Emphasize that everyone is learning this new skill, and that all feedback given is to be supportive and grounded in language from the checklist. If a peer’s question is classified as lower-order, that student will revise the question based on her peers’ feedback and share the revised question with the group.

Formative Assessment and Teacher Feedback

Ask each student independently to generate one higher-order question about a third chapter or short passage. Challenge students to generate more than one if they finish early.

Read each student’s question. Using the checklist, classify it as either higher- or lower-order. If a question is deemed lower-order, provide the student with specific feedback about how he or she could revise the question. Below is an example of a teacher providing feedback to a student on how to revise a lower-order question.

Student Question

“How does Jonas feel when he watches his father release the twin?”

Feedback

I love how you have asked a question about an important part in the plot – the rising action. I decided that the answer to your question was “stunned and angry.”

However, when I used the checklist to determine if this was a higher-order question, I found that its answer was very short and could be found directly in the text. In addition, there is just one right answer to the question.

I want you to consider the following in order to revise this lower-order question:

  • How could you ask a question that will require your peers to think deeply about Jonas’s feelings? Complete the following sentence stems to spark your thinking:

Jonas feels stunned and angry because…

Jonas feels stunned and angry, but…

Jonas feels stunned and angry, so…

  • Which important literary element is addressed in this question? Choose one, and focus your question on this element. Use the poster at the front of the room for ideas on possible question topics.
  • What question about this literary element would require your peers to use textual evidence, pull together multiple ideas from the text, and arrive at different answers?

Return the assessments to students. During a warm-up portion of a subsequent lesson, ask students to either (a) revise a lower-order question using the feedback provided or (b) create an additional higher-order question for that text.

Conclusion

Core Standards for English language arts require students in Grades 4-12 to read, write about, and discuss implicit ideas regarding complex texts (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). Teaching students to generate higher-order questions can help them engage in all three critical areas of literacy. After mastering this skill, students will be empowered to challenge their peers’ thinking in discussions and improve their own ability to comprehend complex texts.

Teacher Resources

PDF iconWhy is it Important to Ask Good Questions?

This anchor chart provides examples of students’ responses when asked to consider how they will use question generation inside and outside of the classroom.

PDF iconImportant Elements of Literary Texts

Students may use this anchor chart to formulate questions about important elements of literary texts.

PDF iconRevised Bloom’s Taxonomy

This anchor chart (Vanderbilt University Teaching Center, 2016) illustrates and describes the levels of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson & Kratwohl, 2010). Both students and teachers can use this resource.

PDF iconHigher-Order Questions Checklist

This checklist contains four criteria for classifying questions as higher- or lower-order. Both teachers and students can use this resource.        

References

Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Waddington, D. I., Wade, C. A., & Persson, T. (2015). Strategies for teaching students to think critically: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 85, 275-314. doi:10.3102/0034654314551063

Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. New York, NY: Longman.

Berkeley, S., Scruggs, T. E., and Mastropieri. M. A. (2010). Reading comprehension instruction for students with learning disabilities, 1995—2006: A meta-analysis. Remedial and Special Education, 31, 423-36. doi:10.1177/0741932509355988.

Cameron, C., Meter, P. V., & Long, V. A. (2016). The effects of instruction on students’ generation of self-questions when reading multiple documents. Journal of Experimental Education, 85, 334-351. doi:10.1080/00220973.2016.1182884

Joseph, L. M., Alber-Morgan, S., Cullen, J., & Rouse C. (2016). The effects of self-questioning on reading comprehension: A literature review. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 32, 152-173, doi:10.1080/10573569.2014.891449

Lowry, L. (1993). The giver. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Stokhof, H. J. M., De Vries, B., Martens, R., & Bastiaens, T. (2017). How to guide effective student questioning: A review of teacher guidance in primary education. Review of Education, 5, 123-165. doi:10.1002/rev3.3089

Vanderbilt University Teaching Center. (2016). Bloom’s Taxonomy [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/


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