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 art 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.

Join the conversation! 22 Comments

  1. Not sure this is the right forum, but I just wanted to thank you for all of your great strats and for making my days easier. I’m moving to another county to teach, and I have already spread the Randazzo radicalness to my new colleagues. Looking forward to a great new beginning and continuing to share your great ideas!

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  2. Ah, Mary, thanks so much for this note. Letting other English teacher friends know about the blog is the greatest “thanks” I could receive. So glad you found me. And good luck on your new teaching adventure. Exciting stuff! 🙂

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  3. I’ve probably used all of these ideas-thanks to your good material-and for most of my classes I find that kids like #6. What I like about giving a group just one question is that it helps students listen and take notes as their peers discuss their question. We can usually get through 3 or more questions, including prep time, in a class period, although if something provokes great discussion, I just go with it.

    I often quiz first thing the next day on one of the questions we discussed in class. If I find some kids not taking notes or not paying attention, the next day’s quiz might be open note for those who have them, but no sharing! Boy, that wakes them up pretty fast!

    Another way to do this is to assign the questions to the groups and have them share a doc on Google Classroom as their prep and then discuss the next day, or have the other students in the class respond to the online discussion; just depends on the class and how they do best.

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  4. Oh yeah, Rho, #6 is a hit with most of my classes, too, and the next day “Were you paying attention?” quiz is a great way to get everyone super-focused the next time around. Love it! 🙂

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  5. Hi Laura,
    Are the Night study questions available on your TPT site so that I can purchase all the other chapters too? Your work is always top quality! Thanks, Shay

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  6. Of course, Shay! Here you go: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Night-by-Elie-Wiesel-Worksheets-HW-Discussion-Questions-for-WW2-Memoir-2133467

    So glad these might be a good match for your classes! 🙂

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  7. Love your ideas. I’ve been using hyperdocs with novel questions and having kids respond on Padlet, on their blogs- gives everyone a voice.

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  8. Oh, MamaWolfeto2, I WISH I taught in a 1:1 classroom. I’m starting to feel like a dinosaur in my low-tech classroom. Jealous!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It has been life changing for me I agree. Maybe you could get your PTA to buy enough machines that you could use them in a rotation?

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  10. Yeah, we have a laptop cart, but it’s always booked. Grrr… Maybe time to write those grants I keep promising myself I’ll do.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hey, Laura!

    I was just wondering, how do you give points for question sets (when having students answer them traditionally)? Do you give 1 point per question? 2 points? 3 points?

    And do you assign a different number of points to different periods doing different activities for the same chapters?

    Thanks! 🙂

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  12. Great questions, Eng10Santos! For scoring, I’ll usually just pick 3 of the, say, 10 questions to read and score because I just don’t have the time with 175 kids to read each and every answer. If it’s a question that just needs a simple text-based answer, I might make that one worth just one or two points. If, though, it’s a multi-part, deeper-thinking question, I might make that one worth up to five points. A question sheet usually earns 10 to 15 points, depending on which questions I decide to grade. It’s not unusual for one of my assignments to be worth 12 points or nine points. I change it up all the time. And yes, all of my different class periods (even the ones with the same prep) always end up with slightly different amounts of points by the end of the semester. Usually, a semester’s worth of assignments and assessments will total 1,000 to 1,100 points. I don’t aim for that, but it just always seems to work out that way. The class totals vary, but they usually fall within 50 points of each other.

    Hope this is helpful info! 🙂

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  13. Wow! I never thought of just choosing a few questions to grade. Do you ever tell your students that you only choose a few questions to grade?

    Also, how would you grade the Character Cell Phone Activity, Video Channel Characterization, and Instagram Challenge, Mock Police Report? How many points would you give for the questions and drawings?

    Thanks again! Your tips are very helpful! ☺️

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  14. Oh yeah, I tell them up front that I’m going to grade only three or four of the questions, but they don’t know which ones I’ll choose so they need to do a good job on all of them. “Think of it as a game show, people,” I often say. I’m candid with them that I don’t have the time to grade each and every question on those papers, so I have to pick and choose. My kids have never objected, I think in part because they get their scored papers and feedback from me returned to them so quickly. When I score essays, I also use a coding system to prevent me from having to write the same comments over and over again. I use those same grammar and content codes when I score homework assignments. ANYTHING we can do to save time while scoring and still give meaningful feedback to kids is a win!

    For the other items you mentioned, I usually just give 10/10 completion points if the student has done an earnest job on all of the separate pieces. If anything’s missing, I’ll ding them a point or two as I work through the papers. If you’re not comfortable with that, you could also use the 4/3/2/1 scoring that a lot of our elementary friends use on assignments.
    “4” = Exceeds expectations
    “3” = Meets expectations
    “2” = Below expectations
    “1” = Incomplete/Far below expectations.
    Just convert those scores into letter grades and you’re good to go.

    Shameless plug time – I talk in much more detail about these strategies in my 5-Minute Essay Grading System ebook, just in case you’re looking for a little light summer reading: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Exhausted-by-Essays-5-Minute-Essay-Grading-System-Reclaim-Your-Weekends-1134474

    Have a great night!

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  15. Hi, Laura.
    The essay coding system that you also use for grading homework, is that in the “Exhausted by Essays 5 Minute Essay Grading System” product on TpT?

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  16. Yes, Katherine, you’ve got it! That’s my ebook on my grading coding system. Instead of writing, “Comma-splice. You’ve joined two or more independent clauses without proper punctuation,” every time I spot that particular error, I just write “4” on the kid’s paper and move on. My students know from the decoder sheets I give them at the beginning of the year what that “4” code means. This saves me a TON of time and helps them identify and learn how to fix the errors they make most often.

    Hope you give it a go. The codes have saved my sanity and freed up a lot of time for blogging and product creation. A win for us all! 🙂

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  17. Hello, Laura! Since you grade only certain questions, how do you mark down students who don’t answer the questions you don’t grade?

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  18. Hey Santos! I don’t mark them down at all. Before I pick up the stack of papers, I decide which three questions I want to grade and those are the only three I mark. If a student coincidentally only answered the three questions I picked from a sheet of 10 questions, then he just won the lottery that day, I suppose. In reality, though, I haven’t ever had that happen. If I had a student who was regularly trying to game my system, we’d sit down privately and have a little chat. After all, I can return to grading all 10 questions anytime I wanted. And I would.

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  19. I’ve added a Jenga set with numbers written on the ends of the blocks to review before tests or to reinforce critical thinking assignments (many are your question sets!). I divide 3 Jenga sets into 9 bags of 18 blocks each. For block #s not on the worksheets (like high teens), I add things like list examples of elements we’ve discussed or definitions, and post those on the whiteboard. On their turns, they can’t remove the block unless they have an answer to all the parts of that number. This can lead to some tricky maneuvers if they didn’t complete them all and can’t just grab any old block.

    This works well for teams of 3, but can do up to 4 if needed. The smaller sets don’t let the stack get too high, so it’s controlled chaos. And it works well with them sitting around the room on the floor (our carpet dulls the sound of the blocks falling.) Afterward, we can discuss together or let teams share their answers with the class.

    I sometimes change it up by posting only certain questions to be answered (if time is limited), and that makes it trickier since I don’t post the list on the board until after they build their towers. When the ones they need to answer end up together or in tough spots, it can make the tower pretty wobbly and they love it!

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  20. And I love this, too, Jenn! Now I gotta get myself over to the thrift store and snag all of the Jenga sets I can find. Especially like the idea of dividing each stack into 18 blocks to stretch the game pieces and to keep the towers reasonably sized. Genius!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I can’t claim credit for the blocks idea. I was inspired by a Pinterest post about elementary uses for the blocks and tweaked it for high school, but it’s a keeper.

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  22. That’s perfectly fine, Jenn. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that… 🙂

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