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Using a Question Building Chart to Provoke Student Thought

by Neil Finney

One of the most effective ways to provoke student thought is through the building of “rich” questions. By asking meaningful questions – and interacting with textual information – students can come to an understanding that builds upon on their own personal experiences and opinions. Through the use of a template, questions can be created in any way that you want and provide you with a specific platform to begin your questioning focus.

 By creating a variety of questions using stems such as; who, what, where, when, why and how; students can think about different parts of the text and recognize that the answers are not always found on the page.

When we pair words such as; is, did, can, will, and might, with our key question words, we can even form questions that require deeper student thought. It is so easy to answer the question, Who is the main character? But the question, “How might the main character act in this situation?” can generate deeper discussion. This discussion enables students to make inferences that reveal their thinking.

Using ‘think alouds’ to model the question-asking process with students is an effective method to teach them along side you. Show them that as you find out information by asking questions, you will create new questions that support what you have already learned and drive the next set of questions you ask. “Now that we know that Henry is upset about what happened at the arena, we should try to figure out what he might do the next time he goes there? How could we do this?”

 Try This:

  1. Students create their own list of questions using a variety of starter words (e.g., How is, Who should, What are, When will).
  2. Organize those questions into categories for Before, During and After Reading.
  3. As they read the text, they use sticky-notes to record their thoughts, predictions, evidence – which will be used later to answer their questions.
  4. Students pair up and exchange their questions with others. Re-read the text and try to gather evidence to answer their partner’s questions. Conclude with a paired-student discussion about the difference in questions and how they went about finding the answers.

As a Next Step:

Once students understand how to create questions using a Question Building Chart, challenge them to create a list of questions that cannot be answered by simply reading the text. Here is your opportunity to showcase how a “rich” question is one that requires you to infer and predict about the text – as there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers.

How did it go? What things surprised you about using this approach with your students? Were there any changes that you needed to make when you did this lesson to improve its success?


During Neilʼs 9 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and now junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.


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  • Aviva (@avivaloca)

    Neil, your blog post reminds me of the Q-Chart that I often use in class. This is a chart that has Who, What, Where, When, Why, How down one side, and Is, Did, Can, Would, Will, and Might across the top ( Students use both sets of words to form questions. They quickly come to realize that the richer questions come as students move farther across and farther down the chart. You can use colour-coded sticky notes to write the questions on the chart, and then discuss them before, during, and after reading. I’ve done this a lot with both my Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 students, as well as my Grade 6 students. I love how one strategy works so well for so many students. Thanks for reminding me about this through your post!