No Teachers Allowed: Student-Led Book Clubs Using QAR
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Have you ever wondered how to get students talking meaningfully about books? The Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) strategy helps students identify questions as "in the book" or "in my head" so that they know whether to draw on their own impressions or the book for answers. In this lesson, which can also be used in the sixth-grade classroom, introduce QAR through a read-aloud, sorting questions as they are answered and working with students as they learn how to sort questions themselves. Students then use the strategy to develop questions for a peer-led book discussion.
Literature Circles Resource Center-Teaching Students How to Discuss: This is a helpful resource for generating discussion and organizing literature circles in your classroom.
From Theory to Practice
- Current trends in education demand that students develop and perform at "high levels of literacy." To meet this challenge, the authors suggest using Question–Answer Relationship (QAR) as a basis for school-wide comprehension instruction.
- QAR is an explicit and straightforward strategy that helps students identify questions as "in the book" or "in my head." It also provides a common language for teachers and students to discuss texts.
- Each category of questions has two subdivisions as follows:
- "In the Book" questions
1. Right There – These answers can be found in the text and usually involve scanning or rereading. 2. Think and Search – These answers can be found in the text, but involve higher level thinking like comparing/contrasting; drawing inferences; or describing the mood, setting, or symbolism.
- "In My Head" questions
1. Author and Me – The answer is not in the text. Students must think about what they learned from the text and what they know to generate an answer. This kind of questioning might require student to make text-to-text connections or predictions. 2. On My Own – The answer is not in the text. Students must rely solely on their own interpretation or experience to answer the question.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. 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.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. 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).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Materials and Technology
- Books for student book clubs
- Chart paper
- Sticky notes
|1.||You will spend three sessions practicing the QAR strategy with students before they participate in their book clubs (see Sessions 1 through 3). For each of these sessions, you will want a short informational text for students to read; you may find it helpful if these texts are on related topics. This lesson uses "Big Swim," "Robots in Class," and "The Little Mountain Climber Who Could" from the Scholastic News website, but you may choose other articles from this site or texts from a classroom anthology. You will want a copy of each of the texts you use for each student in the class or reserve lab time so that students can read the articles online.
|2.||If you will be using the articles listed in Step 1, print out and familiarize yourself with the "Big Swim" Sample Questions and the "Robots in Class" Sample Questions. If you will be using your own texts, you should develop some sample questions of your own to use for Sessions 1 and 2. If you are using selections from an anthology, the teacher's manual may have appropriate questions to ask during and after reading. Write all of the sample questions (but not the responses) on sticky notes.
|3.||Make one copy of the Student Question Chart for every two students in your class. Copy the blank Question Chart on a piece of chart paper. This should be big enough for students to see and to fit the sticky notes on. Depending on whether you want to leave the chart with the sticky notes up for students to view as you discuss texts, you may want to make three or four large copies.
|4.||Make a large copy of How to Have a Great Discussion on a piece of chart paper. You may want to add to this list based on what you think is appropriate for your class. The Literature Circles Resource Center - Teaching Students How to Discuss website is a helpful resource for this and might also be useful for other aspects of the lesson.
|5.||Make a chart that shows the different kinds of question prompts for each category. See QAR Question Prompts to help you get started. Note that you may want to add questions specific to the text you use during Session 3.
|6.||Copy the phrases from the Discussion Sorting Sentence Strips onto chart paper and cut them up into strips.
|7.||Students will be working in pairs and groups throughout this lesson; decide in advance if you would like to assign partners for the discussions during Sessions 1 through 3. When pairing students consider their needs. If you have ELL students or low-progress readers, pair them with more proficient peers or adult volunteers and closely monitor their comprehension throughout. In addition, you should create heterogeneous groups of four to five students for the discussion activity during Session 4.
|8.||Choose five or six books that would be good for book club discussions. Make sure that you have four or five copies of each book. For the initial discussion, you may want to choose high-interest picture books with challenging themes to meet the needs of all your readers. In doing this, the focus can be on writing the questions and the discussion and not on wading through a long book. In addition, challenging themes will allow your advanced readers to analyze the text at a higher level, but all students will be able to read or understand the book so that you can create heterogeneous discussion groups. Patricia Polacco, Jane Yolen, Patricia MacLachlan, Eve Bunting, and Patricia and Fred McKissack are just a few authors who write thought-provoking picture books.
You might also consider helping low-progress readers and ELL students by recording the book and allowing them to listen at their own pace, pairing them with a mentor for reading, or reading the book aloud to them.
Make two copies of the Literature Circles: Self-Assessment Form for each student in the class. Make two copies of the Literature Circles: Assessment Form for Discussion Groups for each group you have assigned in Step 8.
- Learn how to categorize questions using the Question–Answer Relationship (QAR) strategy in whole-class and small-group contexts as they analyze a variety of texts
- Apply what they have learned by writing and sorting their own questions for two different texts and participating in discussions with their peers
- Practice listening to others courteously by participating in discussions
- Practice discussion techniques by adding information or connecting their own experiences to the texts they read and to their peers
Session 1: Introducing QAR
|1.||Begin the session by asking students to think of a time when they were determined to reach a goal (or another question that fits the theme of the article you chose). First have students share with a partner then gather everyone together for a whole-class sharing time.
|2.||After the class has had time to share, introduce "Big Swim" or the other news article that you have chosen. Tell students the main idea or point of the article, ask them to share what they know on the topic, and briefly introduce any words that might be challenging for them.
For example, if you use the "Big Swim" article you might say: "‘Big Swim' is about a special second grader named Braxton Bilbrey. He is one of the youngest people to ever swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco." You may want to show students where San Francisco is on a map and explain the history of Alcatraz Island.
|3.||Ask students to find a partner or assign partners (see Preparation, Step 7). Give students about 15 minutes to read the article at least two times together. For the first reading, have partners read all the way through the article for meaning. During the second reading, encourage partners to underline any parts that they find particularly interesting. If students have a question about a word or the content, have them make note of this also.
|4.||After 15 minutes, bring students back together and begin by asking them to share their thoughts about the article. They can mention interesting points, ask questions, or offer facts from the article.
|5.||Tell students that over the next few weeks they will be learning how to write and answer questions so that they can have a meaningful and interesting book discussion. Explain that you are going to begin practicing with some questions that you are going to ask them about the article. The questions are divided into categories. Show students the blank Question Chart. Briefly explain that these question categories will help them know how to answer the questions. Right There questions will be found easily in the text. Think and Search questions will be found in the text, but they might have to put several pieces of information together to get the answer. Author and Me questions will not be in the text; students will have to use their own knowledge and what they know about the article to answer the questions. On My Own questions are not in the text and may not even relate specifically to it. Students should realize that they could answer these questions without having read the article at all; responses should be based solely on their experiences and knowledge.
|6.||For this first session, read the questions from the "Big Swim" Sample Questions or the ones you have created (see Preparation, Step 2) one at a time. Since this is students' first experience with QAR, you may want to limit the questions to one or two per category. As you read each question, tell students what category it is in, place the sticky note with the question in the appropriate category on the chart, and then guide them to find the answer. Make sure that for the Right There and Think and Search questions, students are using the text to generate their answers. If students answer any of these kinds of questions, challenge them to prove their answers using the text (you should do this even if the answers are correct).
|7.||Finish by reviewing the question categories and by explaining to students that they will use these categories to write their own questions about texts.
Session 2: Students Sort Questions
|1.||Begin this lesson by introducing the news article "Robots in Class." This article tells about a new program that helps children in hospitals go to school. The interesting thing about this program is that the children go to school through a robot.
|2.||Ask students to choose a partner or assign partners. Give them about 10 to 15 minutes to read through "Robots in Class." As in Session 1, have partners read the article together twice and encourage them to underline any parts they find interesting.
|3.||Gather students and have them share their thoughts and questions about the article. After they have had some time to share, tell them that you have some questions for them to answer. Review the different kinds of questions briefly.
|4.||4. Read the questions from the "Robots in Class" Sample Questions or the ones you have created (see Preparation, Step 2). When you ask each question and before students answer, have them help you decide which category that question should go in. Ask for volunteers to place sticky notes with the questions in the correct category on the chart.
Note: If your class can sort all or most of the questions correctly, they are ready to try writing some of their own questions with guided practice.
If your class needs more practice, you can continue using Scholastic News articles or you can use selections from classroom anthologies. When students are able to correctly sort most or all of the questions, move on to Session 3.
Session 3: Students Write Questions
|1.||Have students share their experiences and knowledge about climbing mountains or visiting mountains. Tell them that they are going to read an article about an 8-year-old boy who climbs mountains for his hobby. He recently scaled Island Peak, a 20,300-foot mountain in the Himalayas. He is the youngest person to ever reach the summit or top of this mountain.
|2.||Explain to students that they are going to be writing the questions, so as they are reading the article, they should underline any interesting information they think would make for good questions. Give them about 10 to 15 minutes to read "The Little Mountain Climber Who Could" with a partner. As in Sessions 1 and 2, ask partners to read through the article twice.
|3.||After students have had time to read the article, get their initial feedback and thoughts. Answer any questions they might have.
|4.||Put up the blank Question Chart and introduce the QAR Question Prompts by reading through each category and the prompts. Explain that these are just starting points and that students may think of their own additional questions.
|5.||Give each student a copy of the Student Question Chart. Ask them to write one question for each category that pertains to the article. Give them 10 to 15 minutes to write their questions. Monitor students as they are writing, providing feedback and help as needed.
|6.||After students have worked on their questions for 10 to 15 minutes, ask students to meet with their partner (the one they have been reading with for the past two sessions) for feedback. Direct partners to take turns asking and answering the questions they wrote for each category. For example, one partner asks his or her Right There question. The other partner tries to answer the question. If the answer can be found "right there" in the text, the question can be left as is. If the answer is not "right there" in the text, partners can work together to revise the question or get guidance from the teacher.
|7.||After partners have had a chance to check and revise their questions, gather students together and discuss the question-writing process. Clarify any questions or confusion students might have. Collect students' questions to look over before the next session.
Note: Before the next session, look over the questions that students wrote and offer feedback. Check to see that students have written questions that fit into each category. Suggest ways to reword awkward questions or add to questions to make them more open ended. Offer positive feedback for well-worded or open-ended questions.
Session 4: Guided Discussion Groups
Note: For the discussion activity in this session, it usually helps if students sit close together at a round table or on the floor in a circle. You will need to have the classroom set up to accommodate all the groups you have selected (see Preparation, Step 8).
|1.||Write the phrases Great Discussion and Disastrous Discussion on the board or a pocket chart. Tell students that you have some phrases that you need help sorting. Read each phrase from the Discussion Sorting Sentence Strips and have students decide whether the phrase is describing a disastrous or a great discussion. As the class helps to sort the phrases, talk about why each one fits where it does.
|2.||After sorting, explain to students that they will have a discussion using the questions they wrote during Session 4. Explain the procedure to students. They will get in their groups and begin with the Right There questions. One person will start by asking his or her question. The questioner is the discussion leader and can call on students to answer or can choose to have the group go around the circle to give everyone a chance to answer (unless it's a Right There question; then probably only one person needs to answer).
Tell students that they need to keep each other accountable and challenge others to "prove" their answer with the text or ask "why" or "how" if students answer with a "yes" or "no." When the first question has been answered, the person to the left asks the next question and becomes the discussion leader. The discussion continues until all or most of the questions have been answered.
|3.||Have students get into their groups and post How to Have a Great Discussion to remind them of the discussion guidelines. Remind them that because this is their first discussion, there might be some glitches. Ask them to stay calm, remember the guidelines, and be ready to evaluate their discussion group at the end.
|4.||Give students about 30 minutes of discussion time. During this time, walk around and monitor the groups. As you are looking in, make notes on the Literature Circles: Assessment Form for Discussion Groups, including points for discussion with the entire group. Enter into the conversation only when you see a group that is forgetting the discussion guidelines.
|5.||After a half hour, gather students together. Ask them how their groups went, what went well, what they liked, etc. After they have had time to discuss some of the positive aspects of their groups, open up the discussion for challenges and ideas for how discussion could go better next time.
|6.||At the end of this session, have each student reflect on his or her participation using the Literature Circles: Self-Assessment Form. Collect these so that you can redistribute them to students at the end of the final session.
Session 5: Introducing Book Clubs
|1.||Write the words book club on the board or on a piece of chart paper. Have students share their prior knowledge and experiences about book clubs. You want students to understand that a book club is when people who have all read the same book come together to discuss that book. If you are part of a book club, share your experiences with the class. Tell students that, in this session, they will be choosing the books they will discuss in their book club.
|2.||Introduce the books that you have chosen by giving a brief summary of each and sharing some of the main themes. Give students about 20 minutes to browse through the books and make a list of their top three choices.
|3.||After 20 minutes, gather the books and ask students to hand in their lists with their top three choices.
Note: Before the next session, sort through students' lists and create the heterogeneous book groups. Because you have selected books that most students in your class can read, you can create diverse groups that include students of varying reading levels and cultural and economic backgrounds. This type of grouping brings in diverse perspectives and allows for a rich discussion. Try to give students one of their top choices, but also be cognizant of how students work together and attempt to assemble groups that will have some level of success during the discussion.
Sessions 6 to 8: Students Read Books and Write Questions
|1.||Share with students the book they will each be reading for their book clubs. Tell them that they will be reading their book and writing questions for the book club discussion. Create a deadline and set a day for book clubs to take place. Depending on your students, you may want to allow for two or three days of reading, conferencing, and writing questions.
|2.||Hand out the books and student question page. Post the chart with question prompts to help students when they write their questions.
|3.||Conference with students as they are reading and writing questions. Try to meet with everyone at least once as they work. These are some things you might do during conferences:
Final Session: Students Discuss Books
Note: For book clubs, it usually helps if students sit close together at a round table or on the floor in a circle. You will need to have the classroom set up to accommodate all the book club groups.
|1.||Revisit the discussion guidelines and discuss them, including the format for the questions and what makes a good discussion (see Session 4).
|2.||Allow 30 to 40 minutes for students to have their book discussions. During this time, walk around and observe the groups. You are mostly listening in, only interjecting when a group is off task or you want to gently remind them of a discussion guideline. Make notes on the Literature Circles: Assessment Form for Discussion Groups as you listen in.
|3.||Bring students together and offer positive feedback. Provide time for students to share some things that went well in their group. Then, ask students to reflect on how they could make the next book discussion better or what they would change for next time.
|4.||Ask each student to complete a Literature Circles: Self-Assessment Form. Have students compare their first self-assessment form to this one and reflect on any growth that might have occurred. Challenge students to write or discuss goals they have for future discussions.
- Each month, choose a book that students must read and write questions for. At the end of the month, have students get in their groups and discuss it using the QAR strategy.
- Use the QAR strategy for test preparation. When students must answer questions about a passage they have just read, they can use the QAR categories to identify the type of question, which will help them to know how to answer the question.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Students use the Literature Circles: Self-Assessment Form for reflection.
- As you observe the book discussion groups, mark your notes on the Literature Circles: Assessment Form for Discussion Groups. Then ask group members to complete the same form after their discussion. Meet with each group and provide feedback and time for the group to share about their discussion using the assessment form as the guide.
You can also use this form to plan instruction. You may notice something that all the groups are missing in their discussion. This may indicate that the class needs a minilesson on that component of student-led discussions.
- Take notes during student conferences and use them to check for understanding and to show growth throughout the process. Like the group assessment form, your conference notes may indicate an area that needs review. For example, Think and Search questions are often the hardest for students to write. As you are conferencing, you may notice that several students are struggling with writing a particular kind of question. Use this information to plan a class minilesson or form a small group to address this need and offer more guided practice.
- After each session, reflect on students' understanding. Think about whether students are able to use the QAR vocabulary, know how to answer the questions based on the QAR categories, are able to sort questions correctly, and can write questions easily. These reflections will help you to respond to your class and indicate whether to move on to the next session or to continue practicing the skill taught in the current session.
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