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How “Rich” Questions Can Elevate Student Inquiry

by Neil Finney

How can you ignite interest and cultivate curiosity in your lessons? Effective questioning drives student engagement in curricular goals and invests them in a plan to use inquiry as a springboard for meaningful and connective learning.

 As a guided reading focus, a series of lessons on “Characteristics of Rich Questions” in your Junior/Intermediate classroom will serve as a framework that your students can utilize whether interpreting texts or formulating research inquiries. “Rich” questions are necessary to build a plan for the learning and understanding necessary to connect personal thoughts, experiences and research into one combining sense of knowledge.

One rich question can drive an entire student-led inquiry project. For example, how will the effects of European colonization impact First Nations peoples in Canada today and in the future? A question such as this will require; planning, research, personal thought and reflection.


So, how exactly can you invoke the power of “rich” questions in your classroom?

 1.     In your guided reading groups, focus on the nature of a “rich” question. These are questions whose answers are not found explicitly on the text page. They are not easily ‘googled’ or discovered by skimming and scanning reading techniques alone. Above all else, there are no wrong answers when pursuing a ‘rich question.’

2.     “Rich” questions focus on higher-order thinking skills. Using inferences to speculate about the intent of the author involves more in-depth student thought. Predicting a future consequence using past evidence and forging linkages between the two requires synthesis and application.

3.     Use a “Q” chart. This will clearly show students the progression in the kinds of questions that could be asked and how each supports a different level of understanding when experiencing a text. Remind students of the importance of creating ‘before-, during- and after-reading’ questions that can be asked, checked and modified based on new information attained through the text and reflection.

4.     Choose high quality shared reading texts that lend themselves to higher level thinking questions. Books based on metaphors (e.g. Terrible Things, Eve Bunting) are a terrific way to weave in historical content using fables/allegories as the textual vehicle. This is an ideal way to begin in a guided reading setting by providing time to allow for student discussion.

5.     Expose students to a variety of text types. Use Youtube videos, print advertisements and documentaries to expand on the kinds of texts they are reflecting upon to build their questioning skills.

6.     Model and Practice. Provide ample opportunities for students to see how you model the creation of a ‘rich question’ and how it is used to spark discovery and guide the investigation process of coming to a well-developed inference or prediction.

A fun way to begin your focus on “rich” question could be to use yourself as the catalyst. Have students create “rich” questions for you – the teacher – to try and answer. Perhaps, design a mystery or scavenger hunt that allows the students to predict and infer about the purpose and intent of your actions in hiding or doing something.

What’s another way that you might involve your students directly in the process of learning about “rich” questions? What other text ideas would be effective in providing thought-provoking opportunities to create “rich” questions?



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