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Questions Before, During, and After Reading

What Is It?

To aid their comprehension, skillful readers ask themselves questions before, during, and after they read. You can help students become more proficient by modeling this process for them and encouraging them to use it when they read independently.

Why Is It Important?

Dolores Durkin's research in 1979 showed that most teachers asked students questions after they had read, as opposed to questioning to improve comprehension before or while they read. In the late 1990s, further research (Pressley, et al. 1998) revealed that despite the abundance of research supporting questioning before, during, and after reading to help comprehension, teachers still favored post-reading comprehension questions.

Researchers have also found that when adult readers are asked to "think aloud" as they read, they employ a wide variety of comprehension strategies, including asking and answering questions before, during, and after reading (Pressley and Afflerbach 1995). Proficient adult readers:

Successful reading is not simply the mechanical process of "decoding" text. Rather, it is a process of active inquiry. Good readers approach a text with questions and develop new questions as they read, for example:

"What is this story about?"
"What does the main character want?"
"Will she get it?" "If so, how?"

Even after reading, engaged readers still ask questions:

"What is the meaning of what I have read?"
"Why did the author end the paragraph (or chapter, or book) in this way?"
"What was the author's purpose in writing this?"

Good authors anticipate the reader's questions and plant questions in the reader's mind (think of a title such as, Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman). In this way, reading becomes a collaboration between the reader and the author. The author's job is to raise questions and then answer them – or provide several possible answers. Readers cooperate by asking the right questions, paying careful attention to the author's answers, and asking questions of their own.

How Can You Make It Happen?

To help readers learn to ask questions before, during, and after reading, think aloud the next time you are reading a book, article, or set of directions. Write each question on a post-it note and stick it on the text you have the question about. You may be surprised at how many typically unspoken questions you ponder, ask, and answer as you read. You may wonder as you read or after you read at the author's choice of title, at a vocabulary word, or about how you will use this information in the future.

You should begin to model these kinds of questions in the primary grades during read-aloud times, when you can say out loud what you are thinking and asking. Read a book or text to the class, and model your thinking and questioning. Emphasize that even though you are an adult reader, questions before, during, and after reading continue to help you gain an understanding of the text you are reading. Ask questions such as:

"What clues does the title give me about the story?"
"Is this a real or imaginary story?"
"Why am I reading this?"
"What do I already know about___?"
"What predictions can I make?"

Pre-select several stopping points within the text to ask and answer reading questions. Stopping points should not be so frequent that they hinder comprehension or fluid reading of a text. This is also an excellent time to model "repair strategies" to correct miscomprehension. Start reading the text, and ask yourself questions while reading:

"What do I understand from what I just read?"
"What is the main idea?"
"What picture is the author painting in my head?"
"Do I need to reread so that I understand?"

Then reread the text, asking the following questions when you are finished:

"Which of my predictions were right? What information from the text tells me that I am correct?"
"What were the main ideas?"
"What connections can I make to the text? How do I feel about it?"

Encourage students to ask their own questions after you have modeled this strategy, and write all their questions on chart paper. Students can be grouped to answer one another's questions and generate new ones based on discussions. Be sure the focus is not on finding the correct answers, because many questions may be subjective, but on curiosity, wondering, and asking thoughtful questions.

After students become aware of the best times to ask questions during the reading process, be sure to ask them a variety of questions that:

As students begin to read text independently, you should continue to model the questioning process and encourage students to use it often. In the upper elementary and middle school grades, a framework for questions to ask before, during, and after reading can serve as a guide as students work with more challenging texts and begin to internalize comprehension strategies. You can use an overhead projector to jot notes on the framework as you "think aloud" while reading a text. As students become comfortable with the questioning strategy, they may use the guide independently while reading, with the goal of generating questions before, during, and after reading to increase comprehension.

How Can You Stretch Students' Thinking?

The best way to stretch students' thinking about a text is to help them ask increasingly challenging questions. Some of the most challenging questions are "Why?" questions about the author's intentions and the design of the text. For example:

"Why do you think the author chose this particular setting?"
"Why do you think the author ended the story in this way?"
"Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from the point of view of the daughter?"
"What does the author seem to be assuming about the reader's political beliefs?"

Another way to challenge readers is to ask them open-ended question that require evidence from the text to answer. For example:

"What does Huck think about girls? What is your evidence?"
"Which character in the story is most unlike Anna? Explain your reasons, based on evidence from the novel?"
"What is the author's opinion about affirmative action in higher education? How do you know?"

Be sure to explicitly model your own challenging questions while reading aloud a variety of texts, including novels, subject-area textbooks, articles, and nonfiction. Help students see that answering challenging questions can help them understand text at a deeper level, ultimately making reading a more enjoyable and valuable experience.

As students become proficient in generating challenging questions, have them group the questions the time they were asked (before, during or after reading). Students can determine their own categories, justify their reasons for placing questions into the categories, and determine how this can help their reading comprehension.

When Can You Use It?

Reading/English

Students who have similar interests can read the same text and meet to discuss their thoughts in a book club. Members can be given a set of sticky notes to mark questions they have before, during, and after reading the text. Members can then share their question with one another to clarify understanding within their group. Since students' reading level may not necessarily determine which book club they choose to join, accommodations may need to be made, including buddy reading, audio recordings of the text, or the use of computer-aided reading systems.

Writing

Good writers anticipate their readers' questions. Have students jot down the questions they will attempt to answer in an essay or short story before they write it, in the order that they plan to answer them. Stress that this should not be a mechanical process – as students write they probably will think of additional questions to ask and answer. The key point is to have students think of themselves as having a conversation with the reader – and a big part of this is knowing what questions the reader is likely to ask.

Math

Students can ask questions before, during, and after solving a math problem. Have students think aloud or write in groups to generate questions to complete performance tasks related to mathematics.

Social Studies

Use before, during, and after questions when beginning a new chapter or unit of study in any social studies topic. Select a piece of text, and have students generate questions related to the topic. At the end of the unit of study, refer back to the questions and discuss how the questions helped students to understand the content.

Science

Use before, during, and after questions to review an article or science text. You can discuss articles related to a recent scientific discovery with students and then generate questions that would help them to focus their attention on important information.

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan: Questioning, The Mitten

This lesson is designed to introduce primary students to the importance of asking questions before, during, and after listening to a story. In this lesson, using the story The Mitten by Jan Brett, students learn how to become good readers by asking questions. This is the first lesson in a set of questioning lessons designed for primary grades.

Lesson Plan: Questioning, Grandfather's Journey

This lesson is for intermediate students using the strategy with the book, Grandfather's Journey, by Allen Say.

Lesson Plan: Questioning, Koko's Kitten

This lesson is designed to establish primary students' skills in asking questions before, during, and after they listen to a story. You can help students learn to become better readers by modeling how and when you ask questions while reading aloud the true story, Koko's Kitten, by Dr. Francine Patterson. This is the second lesson in a set of questioning lessons designed for primary grades.

Lesson Plan: Asking Pre-Reading Questions

This is a language arts lesson for students in grades 3-5. Students will learn about asking questions before reading and will make predictions based on the discussion of the questions.

Lesson Plan: Asking Questions When Reading

In this lesson, the teacher will read The Wall by Eve Bunting with the purpose of focusing on asking important questions. The students and the teacher will then categorize the questions according to the criteria for each.


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