|Grades||3 – 5|
|Lesson Plan Type||Standard Lesson|
|Estimated Time||Three 30- to 45-minute sessions|
In this lesson, the teacher explains the difference between thin (factual) and thick (inferential) questions and then models how to compose question webs by thinking aloud while reading. Students observe how to gather information about the topic and add it to question webs in the form of answers or additional questions. Students practice composing thin and thick questions and monitor their comprehension by using question webs in small-group reading. This practice extends knowledge of the topic and engages readers in active comprehension.
Short, R.A., Kane, M., & Peeling, T. (2000). Retooling the reading lesson: Matching the right tools to the job. The Reading Teacher, 54, 284–295.
Oczkus, L.D. (2003). The four reciprocal teaching strategies. In Reciprocal teaching at work: Strategies for improving reading comprehension. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound–letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
|1.||Select texts (print or online) to use for the read-aloud and small-group reading.
|2.||Create a reference list of words that begin questions: who, what, where, when, why, how, what if, I wonder, etc.
|3.||Make a T-chart on chart paper with the labels 'Thin' and 'Thick' to use when introducing thin and thick questions during Session 1.
|4.||Locate and bookmark appropriate websites for further exploring the class topic. See Extensions for a list of sample websites.
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.
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.)
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.
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:
- 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?
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.
Grades 1 – 3 | Lesson Plan | Standard Lesson
In this lesson, students read Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night as a whole group as the teacher models a questioning strategy. In subsequent sessions, students practice the questioning strategy and reread for fluency.
Grades 3 – 12 | Strategy Guide
In this guide, you’ll be introduced to a strategy that requires students to challenge their understanding and solidify their knowledge while reading a text.
Grades K – 12 | Strategy Guide
This guide presents basic structures for implementing guided reading, which involves working with small groups of children possessing similar strategies and challenges when encountering new text.
Grades 3 – 5 | Professional Library | Book
With many practical lessons, this book shows how to use reciprocal teaching in a variety of classroom settings to enhance students' reading comprehension.
January 09, 2014
Thank you so much for sharing this lesson. I will give it a try next week and let you know how things go.
March 25, 2011
I use thick and thin questions cross-curricular. It really helps in helps when teaching "explain why or how" in math.
February 07, 2011
This is so helpful! Thank you!