Questioning Techniques

Questioning Techniques Analysis ChartHere is a chart I found in a study online (page 3):

Grant, L., Stronge, J. H., & Popp, P. (2008, May). Effective teaching and at-risk/highly mobile students: What do award-winning teachers do? Retrieved January 28, 2013, from

It’s pretty self-explanatory and a good reminder to ask higher-order thinking questions in addition to the lower-level.

Sorry about the lousy picture quality…

Feed – M.T. Anderson


Reading level: 6.7

Genre: Dystopian, sci-fi

ELL-Friendly: No; lots of slang and abbreviated words

Library recommendation: Middle or high school, though probably more of interest to HS-age.

I read this book about a year ago, so I’m struggling to remember much. I do remember that I didn’t like Feed a whole lot. As I skimmed through the pages, I remembered that I found the book boring. There wasn’t much of a plot but rather the reader following the everyday thoughts and actions of the main character Titus. The narration of Titus is also hard to follow with him using what I may venture to call “teen language” with lots of “likes.” But, as with teenagers, Titus is preoccupied with uninteresting (to me) teenage things like shopping and what is cool. But I guess that’s part of the point.

While I found the book rather dull, the ideas behind it are brilliant – a “feed” in your mind much like today’s facebook feeds, but with more advertisements – in your brain. Of course, that creates a totally brain-dead, materialistic, consumer society, which is why I didn’t care for Titus. I’m sure that was the point though – we have to see through the lens of a boy 100% in this system for us to understand it and for us to love Violet who rages against the system.

I read this book for a young adult lit class and I remember the class having in-depth conversations about the implications of this book and about technology in general, and these same discussions could easily take place in a classroom, especially during a unit on media literacy. Even selecting specific sections to have the class read could work. says Feed is for ages 14+, which is high school age. You’ve got to read between the lines a lot with this book, but it wouldn’t hurt to have it in a middle school classroom library. If a kid doesn’t like it, he/she (I need a gender-neutral, singular pronoun) can stop. What middle school students might like is the language, as there are lots of words used by Titus (and everyone else) that you’ve got to think about in order to understand. It’s clever, but it did prove frustrating for me at times to figure what words like “mal” meant. Not a book for beginner ELLs.

Closing the Poverty and Culture Gap – Tileston & Darling

closing the poverty and culture gap

As part of a project to research best practices in teaching high poverty students, I read Closing the Poverty and Culture Gap: Strategies to Reach Every Student by Donna Walker Tileston and Sandra K. Darling. This book focused a great deal on how to teach in general rather than how to teach students in poverty. Or perhaps they were just “best practices.” In any case, it wasn’t as specific as I would have liked.

There was an emphasis on culture having more of an impact on school and students’ lives than poverty, because culture encompasses students’ entire being – how they think and act. Therefore, it is important to teach students not according to the money they have or lack but what language(s) they speak, what their values are, and how their culture at home differs from the school culture. Furthermore, minority students on average, low socio-economic status or not, achieve consistently lower than white students, no matter their income level.

Because the book focused so much on culture over poverty (which I liked!), I felt there should have been discussion about the reasons for such racism and stereotypes that erect these barriers to success inside and outside of school.

I enjoyed the focus on teaching students to be resilient, although putting that into practice is, of course, tricky. The authors emphasize making students feel safe and welcome, setting big goals, having high expectations, and helping students through their mistakes and struggles.

Specifics from this book will be included in my research paper which you can find here.

Poverty is NOT a Learning Disability – Howard, Dresser, and Dunklee

poverty is not a learning disabilityI read Poverty is NOT  a Learning Disability: Equalizing Opportunities for Low SES Students as part of a project on researching best practices for teaching low SES (socio-economic status) students. The focus of the book was on elementary-aged students who live in poverty, but I wish to focus on secondary children (who I will be eventually teaching), so not everything was applicable. However, many of the pieces of advice for teachers of young students of low SES can be applied secondary students as well.

This book has some valuable information about what teachers can do and also the importance of the teachers, which is always good to hear. It emphasizes that students with low SES are often categorizes as LD (learning disabled) because they are not school-ready or typically-developing because of their situations. The authors argue that so many low SES students wind up in special education because teachers don’t know any better/don’t know how to teach them. This book describes reasons why students may be behind due to their low SES and how to reach them, which includes keeping them out of special education unless they really, truly need it.

The section on reaching out to parents was also wonderful. In my teaching preparation program, we are not taught how to communicate and engage parents, so this information was enlightening. Like most of this book, the advice was applicable to teachers in any and all situations, not just ones who teach in high-poverty, urban areas.

The second half of this book was focused more on advice to principals. While I skimmed these last chapters, I did gain a greater respect for principals as a whole.

Because I am writing an in-depth research paper about this topic that will include the most important aspects of this book, I will publish the paper on this blog rather than summarize what I took from this book. You can find that paper here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Lesson

Here is a lesson plan about Martin Luther King, Jr. – a good lesson, not one of those pre-packaged summaries of his I Have a Dream speech. I found the resource here.

Teacher’s Guide

Hidden in Plain Sight:
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Radical Vision

Developed and piloted by Craig Gordon, Fremont High School in collaboration with Urban Dreams and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project in January, 2001

Revised, January, 2003

Last year, I was trying to get my U.S. History class to focus on a passage from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Unfortunately, I was not surprised when a student protested, “We already know about him. We’re tired of hearing about Martin Luther King.” So I asked, “Okay, what do you know about him?” “He had a dream,” another student replied as others laughed. I insisted that there was infinitely more to King and his ideas than one very famous speech. “Well, that’s all they ever show us,” someone complained. “And that’s why I’m trying to show you something new about him,” I responded, showing, I hope, only a hint of my frustration.

The following unit attempts to help students penetrate the curtain of clichés and lies the corporate media have erected around Martin Luther King, Jr., in order to make him “safe” for public consumption. My objectives for students who participate in these lessons are that they will:

  1. Explicitly identify the ways in which Martin Luther King, Jr. is portrayed in the mass media, and specifically, which of his ideas are communicated to the public.
  2. Read and discuss a range of King’s ideas almost completely unknown to most of the public today.
  3. Reflect upon why many of King’s ideas introduced in this lesson are almost never referenced in the mass media or in U.S. History textbooks.

Essential Questions

  • What were the major ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., and why aren’t they more publicly known?
  • How do the media depict King and his ideas and why?

A Very Brief Summary of the Unit  (roughly four hours):

Day One

  • Discussion of the ways the early civil rights movement influenced and inspired others and of what would happen if nobody knew about these events or about Martin Luther King and could it be that we really don’t know about Dr. King, after all?

Day Two

  • Survey what we already know about King and analyze the broadcast and print news stories on MLK Day. Does this news coverage add significant information to our knowledge of King’s ideas?Homework: Read excerpts of King’s speeches and writings. Identify lines that stand out as interesting, deep, meaningful, moving or surprising.

Day Three

  • Form groups of students who have read different parts of the handout with King quotes. (jig saw) Share lines that most impressed students in their respective section of the reading and discuss what impressed them most.
  • Read a “class poem” by having each student read a line that impressed her/him in quick succession, one student after the other, until the whole class has read a line.

Day Four

Use student handout to guide students in writing an “article” about students learning about King’s “unknown” ideas.

NSRF Harmony Protocols

I was introduced to the NSRF Harmony protocols by one of my education professors, and some of the activities are very useful. The idea is that using these activities will get 100% participation out of your students. Not all of the activities are very good, so I’ll take a few weeks to summarize the good ones. Most if not all of the activities could be used in English and social studies classes.

Affinity Mapping: Students are given 5-10 sticky notes which they (silently) write notes on and then stick to the board or large piece of paper that has a question or phrase on it. As they stick the notes to the board/paper, they do so in categories (or not). This prompts individual thinking, writing, organizing, and discussion/reflection. It’s like Chalk Talk except the sticky notes can stay on the paper or poster without needing to be erased.

Block Party: Write quotes (or facts) on index cards. Allow students to reflect/write about the card they were randomly given. Students then walk around and find quotes or facts that fit together, compare and contrast, etc. I’ve seen a brilliant activity where students got a few index cards. On a card was a picture (from a magazine) of a person/alien/animal, another card had a setting or time, and another card or two had a situation written on it (“late for a party” for example). Students then had to start writing at story using those elements. Then students had to pretend that their character just met the character of the person sitting next to them and then write about what happens next.

Blooming Questions: not an activity, but a good resource for Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Chalk Talk: Down and dirty form of Affinity Mapping. Teacher writes a word, phrase, or question on the board (or more than one question on more than one board). Random students get pieces of chalk or dry-erase markers and silently write a response on the board. Then they give the chalk/marker to someone else. Students can indicate whether or not they’ve gotten a chance to write anything by putting their thumb up so that each student gets a chance to participate.

Check-in Circle: Ask each student to say one good and one bad thing happening in their life. I’ve also seen this activity used where students only say one good thing to get everybody focused on the positive. It’s a good cheering up and checking in activity. Not all students necessarily have to participate all at once – just pick a few students to volunteer, but keep track so that the same students aren’t sharing every single time.

Examining Student Work: Students examine their own work to determine what qualities make it exceptional or not. After they have made individual observations, the whole class compares notes and then attempts to give those positive attributes to the assignment that the teacher then gives or to an assignment that they can revise. This exercise can also lead to the formation of a project rubric.

Feedback Principles: A guide to giving and receiving feedback. The giving part is more relevant, I think, and could serve as a good resource for teachers to put into student-language before giving to students.

The Final Word: Students work in small groups and take turns speaking about a specific passage or quote. When one person is done, the other members contribute their thoughts on that quote. Then the next person speaks to their quote, and on and on. Every person gets a chance to share and analyze, and each round is carefully timed.

Forming Ground Rules: Students write down a list of rules they wish to have in a group discussion setting, such as “everybody get a chance to speak,” “respect,” “no interrupting.” Go around in a circle and have each student share one item off their list, no repeats. Continue until everybody has shared all they have written. This could be a good set-up for students who are new at discussing in large or small groups. Every student contributes and everybody is listened to. The “rules” can be listed on the board or typed and printed for each student to have.

Four “A”s Text Protocol: Students write down or verbally share assumptions the author of a text has, what the students agree and argue with, and what they aspire to after having read the text. I’m not sure about the “aspire” part, but I like the first three “A”s of looking critically at a text.

Ice Breakers and Warm-ups: Not a big fan of ice breakers, but some of these activities could be used as warm-up writing or public speaking prompts.

Individual Monthly Action Plan: Walks users through a goal they have, how they’ll accomplish it, what help they’ll need, and how they’ll know if they’ve accomplished it.

Jigsaw: Students divide (by assigning them a number) into groups and discuss or read something. Then students get new numbers so that new groups are formed with one representative from each group. Then each student takes a turn teaching the others what they learned or discussed in their previous group. Difficult to explain but works very well.

Making Meaning Protocol: Teacher/facilitator asks what students see after reading a text. Discussion. Teacher asks what questions arise by reading the text. Discussion. Teacher asks what the significance/importance of the text is. Discussion. Gets at the various layers of analyzing a text with lots of scaffolding.

Making Meaning Protocol: Storytelling Version: In small groups, a student reads a short story (or poem or anything else written) and students take turns giving feedback. Then the original storyteller responds at the end about how his/her ideas have changed/improved because of this activity.

Pair Communication: Person 1 talks about/reads something. Person 2 doesn’t speak until person 1 is done. Then person 2 summarizes what person 1 said. Roles switch. Could be a good exercise in both listening and summarizing.

The Paseo or Circles of Identity: Students fill out a graphic organizer and make a list of what defines them/their identities. Then students get into two circles (one inside the other) and everyone pairs up and answers questions/shares. Both components or each separately could be used for a variety of activities. The GO could be used to organize ideas from a story, stereotypes, one’s identity, etc. Ideas can be shared through the two-circle idea while using ideas from the GO or separate from that activity.

Ping Pong Protocol: Does not include ping pong, sadly. Teacher poses a question or prompt. Students independently write, then they share, then ask probing questions, then write a synthesis, and then have a final conversation. It could be easily altered to be shorter and to fit different age groups.

Pocket Guide to Probing Questions: Reminds me of the levels of questioning from another post. This protocol gives examples of what a good probing question does and looks like.

Questions and Assumptions: Students sit in groups and have a question or prompt, different for each group. Students brainstorm questions about the prompt or responses. Then every group shifts one table/desk to the left or right leaving one member from each group where they are. That remaining person will teach the new group what was talked about before. Then the groups discuss assumptions about the question/prompt. It’s like the jigsaw activity but a little less complicated. Something other than responses/questions and assumptions can be the focus of group work as well.

Quotes for Closing: Not a protocol, but a bunch of great quotes. I have this vision of inspirational quotes from men and women of varying ethnicities all around my classroom.

Save the Last Word for Me: In groups of 4, one student gets a set amount of time to explain why he/she selected a certain passage or what he/she thought about something. Each student then gets 1 minute each to respond. Then another person gets a chance to explain and get responses from everyone else.

Scrambled Sentences: In small groups, students are given envelopes with individual words that they must form into 5 complete sentences. They cannot speak and may trade words with other groups.

Student Staffing Protocol: Giving feedback to one student at a time in which the good and bad are discussed. Then, as a group, students work to help the student in question improve. Could work well in small groups.

Text Rendering Experience: In small groups, each person shares once per round. Groups begin by discussing a word, then sentence, then phrase that they connected with in a text. Could be modified to include paragraphs or just one round to focus on a single sentence.

Tea Party: Quotes are written on index cards. Each student randomly selects a quote and independently reflects. Then students mingle and share quotes. More extensive activities can be followed afterwords. This protocol is supposed to be used as a pre-reading activity.

Starfish – James Crowley


Reading level: 6.9

Genre: Historical fiction

ELL-Friendly: Yes

Library recommendation: Middle school, although I’m keeping it off my shelves (see below)

I read this book about a year ago, and I don’t remember much except for being bored. Upon reading other reviews, I found that other people found it quite dull while others loved it. What concerns me isn’t whether the book is exciting (students can always stop reading and find another book) but the historical inaccuracies that it apparently has. Not many reviewers commented on the book being factually inaccurate, but some people did, and that’s enough to get my attention. I mean, the book is published by Disney (which publishes books, now?), and we all know how well Disney does with historical facts.

The story follows the adventures (using “adventures” very loosely here) of two Blackfoot Natives (Lionel and Beatrice, brother and sister) as they flee their boarding school/reservation. The story opens with a frozen, drunken Native. While alcoholism among Natives is “epidemic” as Sherman Alexie has said, it is also rather insensitive to open the book with this image. But that’s up for debate.

What I don’t want is Native students reading the book and being upset due to inaccuracies. And I don’t want parents being mad at me, either. What are the lies in this story? I don’t know. I really have no clue, and I doubt many students will know, either. This lady goes into detail in her blog, if you are so inclined.

I think I’ll be donating this book to the library so that it doesn’t find its way into my classroom. It doesn’t sound like this book has the endorsements from any Native community or any Native reader I could find on the Internet. It also has a scene where the young kids get drunk. Again with the “drunken Indian” stereotypes. Okay, that’s enough. Not in my classroom. Lastly, according to my vague memory and several online reviewers, the plot just stops after a while. Not problem = no plot = not interesting.

Here is a link to a list of age-appropriate books about American Natives (I avoid using the word “Indians” unless it is in reference to people from India). Or search the Internet for “American Indians in Children’s Literature.”

So Yesterday – Scott Westerfeld


Reading level: 4.3

Genre: Teen drama (? – very hard to categorize)

ELL-Friendly: Yes overall, but slang is used throughout but not excessively (ex: “nod-worthy,” “innovator”)

Library recommendation: Middle School

I picked up this book because I loved Westerfeld’s Uglies series, but So Yesterday left me a little disappointed. It started out fast-paced and intriguing, but it died down near the end…or middle. Lots of reviewers on have this same critique.

But still, it’s an interesting reflection on what is “cool” and “fashionable” in society. There’s also the perfect amount of teen romance as told through the perspective of awkward teen, Hunter. Jen, Hunter’s crush, is really the mastermind behind this story, which isn’t surprising given Westerfeld’s abilities to write pretty bomb female characters.

I also didn’t love this book because I didn’t identify with the rich, fashion-obsessed characters. Yes, they reflected critically on fashion and society, but, man, I got tired of reading about shoes and roller skates. I’m not so sure my future students will relate to these characters either who are all white and rich with white, rich friends who go to crazy parties with other rich, white people. Perhaps I’m being too critical, but it’s really dripping with upper class-ness.

The reading level is middle-school level and nothing too difficult. There were some interesting vocabulary used as Westerfeld does so well. At any rate, So Yesterday makes you think, which is never bad.

The Maze Runner – James Dashner

the maze runner

Reading level: 5

Series: Book 1 of Maze Runner series

Genre: Dystopian

ELL-Friendly: Yes

Library recommendation: Middle or high school

I made the mistake of reading this book and not realizing it was part of a trilogy. Now I have to read all of them… I’m dying to know, is WICKED good?

Mr. Dashner has written a very clever novel. It reminds me of the Hunger Games series, although The Maze Runner came first. They’re similar in that kids (well, teenagers) are forced to fight for their lives while being trapped in a man-made “prison” while at the will of adults. The Maze Runner is filled with mystery and action that keeps you turning the pages, and just when you think you’re figuring it out…you don’t. Gah, cliffhanger endings.

What I didn’t like is the lack of female characters. There is one girl throughout the whole novel (until the very end). There may be a plot-related reason for this that will be revealed in later books, so we shall see.

This book highlights the strength that young people can have if left alone without adults and how they take care of one another. Power to the kids! They even come up with their own vocabulary which could very well lead to a lesson or discussion about how words evolve.

“How Tough Kids Can Make Us Better Teachers”

Edutopia has an article called “How Tough Kids Can Make Us Better Teachers” by Dr. Allen Mendler in which the author offers advice for managing the most difficult students.

When conferencing with the student(s), cover these points, or at least some form of them:

  • Your presence is important to me. (“I’m really glad you’re in my class.”)
  • Not everyone learns the same way. (“I’ve tried many different ways to teach you . . . I’ll keep trying.”)
  • We can all get better, including me. (“You are forcing me to be a better teacher.”)
  • I value your opinion. (“What can I do that would make you want to be a better student?”)

More advice:

“Start by thinking about your most challenging student (or class). How do you feel about this student, and how do you act? What comments or adjectives come naturally? Now think of your best-behaved or highest-achieving student (or class). How do you feel about this student, and how do you act? When you think about this student, what comments come naturally? When this student makes a mistake, how do you usually react? When you see this student’s parent, what do you say? For the next two weeks, act toward your worst-behaved or lowest-performing student in the same way you would your best student. Greet him the same way. Use the same kinds of encouraging language that you might use with your high-performing student. Treat her as if she has already achieved the same level of performance or behavior as your best-behaved or best-performing student — even if she only completes one problem out of ten. Bring the same degree of energy and pride. Try not to be dissuaded by what the student actually says or does. In fact, at those times try to focus on how his challenging behavior is helping to make you a better teacher.”

Some commenters don’t think this method is appropriate because it highlights the teacher’s weakness. I agree with Dr. Mendler’s advice because the teacher isn’t saying, “I suck. Tell me how to teach you.” The teacher’s saying, “Help me help you. Let’s work together.” And really, chances are, the kid(s) is being a pill because he wants attention, is bored, and/or doesn’t respect the teacher or authority. You’re still the teacher and still in charge, but it shows you’re willing to listen and be flexible. I do see the danger in showing any weakness, though. I think it’s best to go into the conference with the attitude of “Let’s collaborate” rather than “What I’m doing isn’t working.” There’s no weakness in asking students to collaborate with you. If you agree with Gary Rubinstein that all kids want to learn, then the “problem student” is going to likely cooperate and not take advantage of the situation.

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