Whenever I start prepping a new novel or play, I begin with a deep read and build a set of study questions to guide students through the work. These questions are designed to get students to stop, notice, and comment on important elements in the story, but they’re also a tool to help me remember what points I want to make about each chapter during class discussions.
I share my question sets on TpT and it’s gratifying to know that my work helps ease other teachers’ prep load. Folks have told me that they like the questions because they move students beyond basic comprehension, but simply having students sit and write answers to study questions chapter after chapter is…well…pretty boring. Agreed. The question sets are a great tool to help students conquer a longer text, but we definitely need to vary our use of study questions to keep things interesting. For example, here’s the set of questions I built to use with chapter six of Elie Wiesel’s Night (Click here for a copy you can print and use with your classes. The full set with answer keys is located here.):
And here are ten ways I use these study questions with my students:
1. Complete as homework or solo in-class work as students read the chapter. This traditional approach works fine, but can quickly grow stale, depending on the class. (Curiously, my rowdiest sophomores last year always became mercifully quiet and focused when working individually to answer my questions. Some days, I needed them to Please. Just. Stop. Talking. and get to work, so this old school approach worked great with that set of kids. You know the saying, if it ain’t broke…)
2. Use the questions to differentiate assignments by giving select questions to specific students. Sometimes, I’ll also build two different versions of the study guide question set with the same look but different content. No one needs to know this little secret.
3. Allow students to work in teams of two as they discuss the questions and write their answers on a shared sheet of paper.
4. Allow students to work in teams of two as they just discuss the questions – no written work required. When the class comes back together to review the questions, everyone needs to be ready to answer and participate in the class discussion. (Those rowdy kids in third period that I mentioned earlier just couldn’t hang with this, so they almost always were assigned a written piece to turn in as accountability; on the other hand, team discussion without written answers was my go-to for my super-mature fourth period. Different classes need different approaches – and that’s cool.)
5. Turn one of the meatier questions into a slide to project on the whiteboard as you lead a full-class discussion or debate. Make students move to one side of the room, depending on where they stand on the issue. Then, use Socratic questioning to engage both sides in a debate. (Question #7 from the ch. 6 sheet above would be a good fit for this approach.)
6. Place students into groups of three and give each team just one question from the study guide. Before class, write each team’s question on a Post-It Note or just slice up an existing question sheet. The trio needs to discuss the question and become experts on the answer. Once teams have had time to discuss and research their answer, they’ll present the question (I usually make a slide for each question and project it, making it easier for the class to see and remember the question being discussed) and their team’s answer to the class. Peers are allowed to ask follow-up questions for clarity and I’ll often toss in a leading question if I feel an important point was overlooked.
7. Use two or three of the questions as an open-book short answer quiz. Kids love this option. Okay, they don’t, but sometimes I need concrete evidence of who’s reading deeply and who needs help. Plus, my principal’s happier if I occasionally enter some grades.
8. Choose six of the worksheet questions and turn them into stations by printing one question per page and then posting the six pages around the classroom. With larger classes, you’ll want two or even three sets of the same six questions posted so kids will have room to spread out. Then, have students draw a grid with six boxes on their paper or use this free one I built located here. Working at their own pace either solo or in groups of two or three students, they’ll move around the room and record their answers to all six questions on their grids. (Tip: Don’t allow groups of four or more because someone always becomes deadwood. Teams of two or three are ideal for this task.)
9. Before class, read over your questions and then set them aside once class begins and just talk with your students. What did they notice in the reading? What parts were confusing? What details do they recall most vividly? What moments/items/quotes do they think were important and why?
10. Just keep mixing things up. Try a fishbowl. Host a Socratic seminar. Use a Scout Finch character cell phone activity, a Friar Lawrence video channel characterization, or even an Of Mice and Men Instagram challenge.
Heck, I’ll even use two different approaches with two different classes in the same day. First period might be fine with a straight-forward written response covering ch. 6 of The Outsiders, while fifth period would do much better summarizing the chapter with a mock police report and sketch of the church fire scene. Even better, give kids in both classes the choice of either assignment!
What do you think? How do you keep things fresh while working through longer texts? Share your ideas in the “Leave a Reply” box below!
Teach on, everyone.