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Lesson Plan

Questioning: A Comprehension Strategy for Small-Group Guided Reading

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Questioning: A Comprehension Strategy for Small-Group Guided Reading

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 30- to 45-minute sessions
Lesson Author

John Young

Bellflower, California


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1: Introducing Thin and Thick Questions

Session 2: Thin Questions in Small-Group Reading

Session 3: Thick Questions in Small-Group Reading


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Monitor comprehension by composing thin and thick questions as they read

  • Determine the difference between thin (factual) and thick (inferential) questions

  • Use graphic organizers effectively to collect information that answers questions

  • Participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of whole- and small-group activities

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Session 1: Introducing Thin and Thick Questions

Note: If small-group guided reading is a regular routine for your students, the introduction to thin and thick questions could be done in that setting. However, carrying out the following steps is also viable in a whole-group setting.

1. Let students know that they can ask questions for many different reasons. Before reading a text, perhaps they are curious about something they might find out. During reading, asking questions can help them stay engaged with difficult or unfamiliar material. Stress the importance of stopping to consider what has been read along the way and let them know that turning the information into questions—even questions that they already know the answers to—leads them to reflect on and better comprehend what has been read.

2. Introduce the idea of two different types of questions: thin (or factual) and thick (or inferential). Describe thin questions as ones whose answers can be found in the text and that can be answered with a few words or short sentences. Describe thick questions as ones that readers have to think about more fully since the answers come from one's head, not solely from the text. Let students know that answers to thick questions are open to argument, but that the text should support the answer and, again, one's own reasoning comes into play.

3. Display the T-chart that you prepared with the columns labeled as 'Thin' and 'Thick.' Write a sample thin question in that column of the T-chart. Develop a question from a text your students already know, preferably one you have read recently. If, for example, you have read a Captain Underpants book by Dav Pilkey, a thin question could be: 'Who is Captain Underpants?' (Answer: Mr. Krupp, the principal)

4. Have students state more thin questions based on their knowledge of the book you have chosen. As you proceed, let other students answer the questions and discuss with students why these questions are thin ones.

Point out that some thin questions may only have one answer, such as 'Which legs do frogs use to jump?' (Answer: The rear) Some, however, can have multiple answers, such as 'What are the colors of some frogs?' (Possible answers: Green, yellow, spotted, etc.)

5. Next, pose a thick question to the students. A good practice here is to change a thin question into a thick one. For instance, one could change the thin question 'Who is Captain Underpants?' into 'Why is the principal Captain Underpants so funny?' [Two possible answers: 1) Principals don't usually come to school in their underwear 2) It is funny to see a character who is normally an authority figure become ridiculous]

You might ask how we know that these are truly thick questions. With both sample responses, the answer is not found completely in the book; rather, the person answering the question would have to form an opinion or offer support in order to answer it.

6. Accept thick questions from students and allow other students to answer them. Make sure that students see that they are expressing something of their own mind for thick answers, not just recalling facts as they did with thin questions.

7. Post the list of question words near the T-chart for easy reference during the read-aloud.

8. Let students know they should write questions on sticky notes (one question per sticky note) as you read aloud. Students are not to interrupt the reading with oral questions at this sitting, just to listen and write their questions.

Since they have some experience with thin and thick questions from the previous activity, they should be able to differentiate between the two types of questions; however, it is normally more difficult for students to compose thick questions initially as opposed to thin ones. Remind them that they can try changing their thin questions into thick ones.

9. Begin the read-aloud, pausing from time to time to model for students your thinking when you have a question about an important point in the material.

10. After the read-aloud, have students place their sticky notes on the T-chart under the appropriate headings and explain to the group what their questions are and why they are thin or thick. Remind students to make up their minds before they approach the chart, possibly writing 'thin' or 'thick' at the top of the sticky beforehand.

11. Have students give feedback to see if they agree with where classmates put the thin or thick questions (pointing thumbs up or down works well here). If repeated questions come up, organize them in groups so that when questions are answered, entire groups are addressed.

It is not necessary to answer all the questions at this time. The primary purpose of generating questions is to give students practice in forming questions, hearing the questions of their classmates, and giving and receiving feedback.

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Session 2: Thin Questions in Small-Group Reading

It is recommended that you do the following activities with one group at a time. Once students are familiar with the routine of investigating what they read with questions, you might try having the entire class work in small groups simultaneously. Varying degrees of scaffolding may be necessary in order to ensure that all learners interact with text actively with questioning.

If your schedule dictates that you must move to Session 2 activities with small groups working simultaneously, then a cooperative-grouping situation is recommended where students can take a shared role in interacting with the text. For example, in groups of four, students could all work from the same selection of text. Four roles to facilitate the group could be: one student chooses the chunk of text to read (the longer the text, the bigger the chunk), another reads the chunk aloud, a third records questions and answers, a fourth is responsible for sharing questions and answers with the rest of the class.

Before working in small groups

1. Introduce the text that students will be using in small groups. Let them know that they will be focusing on asking and answering thin questions.

2. Model what they will be doing by asking a thin question about the text they are about to read.

3. Write the thin question in the center of the chart paper and circle it. Tell students that this is the start of your "question web."

4. Read aloud a few pages from the book. As information that pertains to the question comes up, write it on the chart paper, circle it, and draw a line connecting it to the circled question.

5. After reading a few pages, refer to your chart and highlight in one color the information that best answers the question. Information that does not pertain to the question at hand, but was interesting nonetheless, can be highlighted in a second color.

Working in small groups

1. Before reading, students should start at least one thin question web in their question journals. (Note that this may be one question web per student if you are working with one group at a time or it may be one question web per group if small groups are working simultaneously.) Remember to refer students to the list of words or phrases that begin questions. Are they curious about something they are preparing to read? Questions here might start with 'I wonder...'

2. During the reading, students may whisper read, read silently, or read aloud (if using the cooperative strategy mentioned earlier).

3. Have students create at least one question web (again, per student or per group) during reading. The question that each student or group asks could be an honest one or it could reflect something learned that has been turned into a question.

4. After reading, students should create a final question web that reflects something they have learned from the text and have turned into a question. For example, if they read a book about frogs and learned that frogs are amphibians because they live parts of their lives in and out of water, then they could ask, 'How do we know that frogs are amphibians?'

5. Have students share with one another their questions and the information they found that best answers their questions. (If you are working with one group at a time, this sharing will be done amongst the group members. If groups have been working together simultaneously, the sharing will be done as reporting back to the whole class.)

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Session 3: Thick Questions in Small-Group Reading

Before working in small groups

1. Return to the same text that was used for thin questions. Begin by asking a thick question about the text. Perhaps you can turn the thin question you modeled in the earlier lesson into a thick question.

2. Write the thick question in the center of the chart paper and circle it.

3. Begin reading the text aloud to the students and write information, thoughts, and inferences that occur to you along the way.

4. After reading, highlight responses that you think are the most plausible.

Working in small groups

Once again, the routines you established in the thin question activity apply to this thick question activity. Operate in the same way, either in small groups that you manage, or as multiple cooperative small groups.

1. Have students create thick question webs in their journals the same as they did for thin questions: at least one before reading, one during reading, and one at the conclusion of reading.

2. At the conclusion of the reading, have students highlight information that best answers their questions and share with one another their questions and the information they found.

Have students write in their notebooks reflecting on how question webs can help them understand what they are reading.

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After students have investigated their reading material and have asked questions as they progressed, some lingering curiosities may still exist. Direct students to online texts and activities where they might answer any remaining (or new) questions. Possible websites to explore, should they align with your content area topic, include:

  • America's Story from America's Library
    At this Library of Congress website, students can learn about famous Americans, explore American history, find out facts about the 50 states, and more.

  • Animal Planet
    The Main Index Page under "Animals A to Zoo" leads to a categorical listing of many of the world's animals. For each animal, students can read about its geographic range, physical characteristics, food habits, reproduction, behavior, habitat, economic importance for humans, and conservation.

  • HowStuffWorks: Science Stuff
    The Science Stuff page is home to numerous articles dealing with the earth, life, and physical sciences, as well as information on engineering, space, and more.

  • Social Studies for Kids
    Students can find information on a wide variety of social studies topics at this site, including current or historic events, cultures, languages, geography, and archaeology.

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  • In addition to classroom notes and observations, collect question journals to determine the following for each student:
  • Are the questions appropriate to the content area?

  • Do Session 2 question webs reflect an understanding of what thin questions are?

  • Do Session 3 question webs reflect an understanding of what thick questions are?

  • Did the student use the webs successfully in determining or demonstrating answers? (Note, though, that finding answers at this point is secondary to asking questions.)

  • Does the writing exercise from the conclusion of Session 3 show critical thinking about the use of questioning as a comprehension strategy?
  • As for students' participation in group activities, your assessment may vary depending on whether you managed the groups individually or if students worked cooperatively in simultaneous groupings. For either scenario, consider what each student's responsibilities were and the significance of his or her contribution to the group.

  • As a final assessment of students' abilities to determine the difference between thin and thick questions, you might conduct the following activity:
    Read aloud a new text selection. Have 10 questions prepared on a sheet of paper. After students listen to the read-aloud, have them answer and label the questions as either 'thin' or 'thick' and explain why. Make the test worth 30 points (one point for the correct answer, one for the label, and one for answering why it is thin or thick). Include four bonus points for those who write two thin and thick questions on their own about the read-aloud.


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