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Generating Questions

Submitted by: Shari Barat

Objective: To have students generate good guiding questions for literature circles

It is important for students to be able to generate good questions for discussion in their literature circle groups. I have come up with a way to have students identify for themselves what is (or is not) a good guiding question. First I call good guiding questions "heavyweight" questions, and poor guiding questions "lightweight" questions. I explain that a heavyweight question requires a response that can be supported from the text, but is subject to interpretation. The student may be required to review the text written to support their answer, and look for specific passages to justify their answer. I tell them that a lightweight question is not really that important to the story, and is usually never subject to interpretation.

You can use examples from fairy tales to demonstrate the differences between heavy and light questions. For example, in Cinderella a heavyweight question might be "How did C feel when her wicked stepsisters were preparing for the ball and she was doing chores?", and a lightweight question could be "How many wicked stepsisters did C have?"

Once I have set this up, and it usually takes about 5-10 minutes, I tell them we will be reading from our basal and at the end they will have a chance to make up heavyweight questions. I read aloud and the students follow along in their text. I then give them about 10-15 minutes to work within their groups to come up with as many heavyweight questions about the story as they can, but each student MUST contribute at least ONE.

I then give each student one plastic straw, one toothpick, two large marshmallows, and two mini marshmallows. They then construct "heavyweight" barbells and "lightweight" barbells. When other students share the questions they have come up with, the rest of the class raises the appropriate barbell to "weigh in" whether they agree or not. It's a lot of fun, and helps drive the point home before we ask them to separate into different groups to study different novels.

Oh yeah, I let them eat the marshmallows at the end of class, but I make sure that they throw away the straws and toothpicks!