Asking Questions: The 7th Habit of Highly Effective Readers

Asking Questions: The 7th Habit of Highly Effective Readers

Well, it is that time of year again. My kids are off to school, and I am excited to begin writing a brand new book. I will be creating the book through this blog, and you will have free access to all of it’s content here. This book/blog series is called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Readers and will give you information on what you can do to create an avid reader.

Kids ask a lot of questions on a daily basis, right? Well, highly effective readers particularly ask questions when they are reading. When they learn knew things that don't seem to connect with their prior knowledge, this spawns a question. When they are stuck or confused, then they know how to ask for help. And when they are done reading, they have questions that never got answered from what they read, and they are left with more questions.

Not all readers do this. In fact, many kids don't even know how to state a question. When you ask them to think of a question based off of the title and the front cover, some kids will give a statement. So, to help these kids out let's take a look at some strategies that can help them with coming up with questions, even if they don't know what a question is.

First you need to let the reader know and understand that a question begins with who, what, when, where, why, and how. Don't try to explain that you can use any word as the first word, because this will confuse them. Also, questions that begin with other words, such as are, can lead to short yes and no question verses higher level questions. For example, are monkey's found in the Gombe Forest? The only answer we can get from this is, yes.  We want to get our readers to think beyond yes and no questions.

Readers questions can be separated into three different categories.
1. Questions that clarify
2. Questions asked before, during, and after reading

3.  Distracting questions

There is a difference between these types of questions. The first kind of question is the question that a reader asks when she has never heard of a specific word before or she doesn't know how to pronounce a word. These questions fall under the monitoring for meaning section mentioned in an earlier post.

The second kind of questions are those questions that a reader asks before, during and after reading. A helpful tool that can get kids thinking before, during, and after reading is a question chart like the one posted below.

Image 11-5-13 at 4.51 PM


When a reader is asking questions before reading a passage, it is not necessary to fill out this entire chart.  This chart is only a guide to get the juices flowing.  Have the child focus on 2 to 3 questions based off of the title or front cover.

While the child is reading, she can write down the answers to her questions on a separate sheet.  This will help guide her with remembering more information while she is reading.

After she is done reading she can ask any other questions that she is wondering about and do research for any of the questions that have not been answered.  In many classrooms around the country kids ask these questions, but teachers don't make them write down the answers to them.  If a child's questions are just left hanging without being answered, then they will view this as a useless task and will not rely on this strategy when they are reading independently.

So why should a reader ask questions when she is reading.  Well, it allows the reader to engage with the text.  A reader that is asking questions is more likely to remember what she is reading than a reader that just reads all of the words.

However, there are times when asking questions is not a good thing.  When the questions the child reads are distractors, then they will actually hinder the reading experience vs. enhance it.  Today one of my students read the word chimpanzees as cousins, and then he started asking about where his cousins moved to.  This has nothing to do with what he is reading.  When this happens it is important to point out to the reader that this is a distractor and that it will not help her to understand what she is reading.  Another way to help the child see the difference between a question and a distractor is to ask whether this question will help the reader understand more about her reading or distract her from her reading.  Once she begins to label it as a distractor she is more likely to begin recognizing these kinds of questions when she is reading on her own.

Do you find yourself asking questions when you are reading?

How the Reading Process and the Editing Process are Alike

How the Reading Process and the Editing Process are Alike

Over the holiday weekend I have been experiencing much joy in my life.  I have been remembering all of the things that I am grateful for and focusing on completing the editing stage of my book 31 Days to Become a Better Reader.  As I have been editing the book, it dawned on me how similar the self-monitoring tactics I teach to children in my online tutoring program are similar to the editing process.  Those strategies are:

  • Does it look right?
  • Does it sound right?
  • Does it make sense?

In my book I mention these strategies on Day 5.  Let’s take a closer look at what this looks like in the reading process and compare it to the writing process.

Does it Look Right?

In reading if I say a word that was not written on the page, then I need to think does that look right.  I can use the beginning of the word to make an initial decision and then move onto the end of the word and the middle.

As I was editing my book, thinking does it look right was extremely pivotal.  Amazon has expectations when a book is sent in about the size of the margins and font.  I even needed to pay close attention to the space at the end of a page and check with the alignment on the top.

My Table of Contents was one of those things that I saved for last because I knew that the page numbers would change.  However, I had difficulty with the page alignment with the chapter numbers and the chapter title.  I needed to call in my resource of call a friend and she helped me fix it.

Sometimes when we are reading we are able to fix our mistakes.  However, there are times when you just can’t figure out a word and you need to ask someone for help.

Does it sound right?

When we are reading we want to make sure that we are reading the way the author wrote it.  This means that the author needs to take special care to make sure that the sentences are grammatically correct.  If it doesn’t make sense, then we need to go back to read it if we are the reader, or go back and reword it if we are the editor/writer.

Does it Make Sense?

Many times struggling readers will read words that don’t sound like real words.  They need to think themselves if that is a word they have heard of or not.  The tricky part is sometimes the child reads the word correctly, but because she is not familiar with the meaning of the word, she second guesses herself.

During the editing process I found that I need to read my work out loud and check for any errors I may have made.  I found that I had several errors that I had not caught previously.  Thank goodness for that red squiggly line that alerts one to these errors.  I had a few spelling errors that are similar to the errors a reader makes when reading a made up word.

Writing a book from start to finish opened my eyes to the entire reading/writing process more than it ever has before.  In the schools many people are utilizing Lucy Calkins method of teaching writing.  This woman is spot on and she teaches children to edit for one thing at a time.  I found that in editing my book that I needed to focus on one part at a time.  For example, I looked for page alignment throughout the whole text, matching table of contents with my chapter titles, and so on and so forth.

The reading and the writing process are so closely aligned that it is important to marry the two and only focus on one thing at a time.  If we try to focus on everything, then eventually our minds will become frazzled.  Sometimes we need to take it one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one page at a time, or one chapter at a time.  However we decide to go about we always need to remember to keep it simple.

How to Ask Questions to Increase Reading Comprehension

Snakes (M. C. Escher)

Image via Wikipedia

Why? Why? Why? Why? I watch a 4 year old in the afternoons and this is his absolute favorite question.  This isn't the kind of question that I am referring to when asking questions to increase reading comprehension.

At the end of a story we are asked to answer some questions about what we just read.  But what if, instead of waiting till to end to find out if we understood what we read we used a self monitoring technique that helped us understand what we just read.

Yesterday, an amazing teacher with impeccable technology skills, Ms. Irene Kistler in San Antonio, Texas invited me into her classroom to enhance the students knowledge about snakes and incorporate the skill of asking questions when reading.  Her class was very knowledgeable about snakes and overall we all had a blast.

When teaching the strategy of asking questions, I always start with the first bit of information that I am given.  That is, the title.  The title is the best place to ask a question when I am reading non-fiction text.  Why you may ask?  Well, the whole book is about it so it gets us thinking about what might learn.  The title of our book yeasterday was Snakes, Long, Longer, Longest by Jerry Pallotta.  So I modeled  asking questions and came up with

  1. Which snake is the shortest?
  2. Which snake is the longest?

From that question the students made a prediction.  They were not sure about the shortest snake, but they thought possibly anacondas or the reticular pythons might be the longest.  The students that answered reticular pythons were correct.  Anacondas, by the way, are the fattest.  So our student that answered anacondas was not too far off.

As you continue reading your brain may automatically think of questions.  If this is you, then you are on your way to understanding what you are reading.  However, this may not be the case for you and you may need some guidance.  Before you begin reading check to see if your book has three pieces of information.

  1. Table of contents
  2. Glossary
  3. Index

These are the most natural places to build additional questions.  Turn each chapter in the table of contents into a question and write it down.  Next flip to the index and see the topics that will be taught in the book and turn some of these into questions.  Lastly, find the words in the glossary that you have never heard of before and turn that into a question.  What does ______ mean?  This will guide you as you are reading and make sure that you tune into the things that you do not know the answer to.  If you think you do know the answer, then when you are reading you get the joy of confirming whether what you thought you was correct is actually or learning new information that helps you understand something a little deeper.

It is amazing how many students I run into in the tutoring business that do not have enough exposure to non-fiction text.  I often hear that my child seems to read just fine, but has difficulty with reading comprehension.  The parents do not understand what to do.  Many times a student is reading on grade level with fiction text, but that is not the case with non-fiction text.  By teaching some of these simple strategies and putting them into action, you will be able to increase a student's non-fiction reading comprehension level.  He/she needs to be taught how to think in a new way to retain the information that he/she is learning.

Thank you to Ms. Irene Kistler and her students in San Antonio, Texas for allowing me to come visit them in their classroom and do some learning with them.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time.