Have you ever heard that dreaded groan when reading a difficult text? Or do your kids space out and wait for someone else to answer the question? Are they reluctant to search for evidence and find responses? My kids used to do that too, but I’ve found a way to hook them at the beginning of the week. This hook lasts throughout the week and it doesn’t matter if I assign difficult reading or “boring” stories.
The secret lies in our Guiding Question.
Every week, I am required to submit lesson plans. I also read other teachers’ lesson plans and provide feedback. Here is what many do: Objective: I can craft a thesis that answers the question, provides evidence, and is structured appropriately. Guiding Question: How can I craft a thesis that answers the question, provides evidence, and is structured appropriately?
Do you see how that is not effective? It does nothing to further your class engagement.
Now, what if you used your guiding question as a way to intrigue your kids? Perhaps you want your guiding question to spark debate. Guiding questions really can be the gateway to student-centered learning and an immediate buy-in for whatever texts you are going to ask your students to read.
As engaging as I might find a text, my students are rarely excited to read a challenging text, unless I have crafted a well-written Guiding Question. Check out the example below:
What is the difference between love and infatuation?
Narcissus and Echo (Fiction)
The Pros and Cons of Arranged Marriage (Non-Fiction)
“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe (Poetry)
How might my choices affect my future?
Romeo and Juliet (Fiction)
“The Impact of Fossil Fuels” (Non-Fiction)
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (Poetry)
What is the most important journey that one can take in life?
The Odyssey (Fiction)
“A Bee’s Journey from Hive to Pollen to Hive” (Non-Fiction)
“The Journey” by Mary Oliver (Poetry)
Many teachers struggle to teach fiction and nonfiction simultaneously, but with a well-written Guiding Question, it becomes easier to spot the connection that can tie a piece together.
Here is what makes a good Guiding Question:
-Open-ended: There can’t be just one right answer.
-Relevant: Can the students see the connection to their own life?
-Multi-faceted: Are there several layers to this question? Can the discussion go in multiple ways?
-Polarizing: If everyone in your class will have the same answer, the engagement will die quickly. Teach your students to respect each other’s beliefs and you will be teaching them a real-world skill.
But…I can’t just write an intriguing Guiding Question and then forget it throughout the week. My students have to know that they are going to be given opportunities to discuss, debate, write, and share. This is key if I want my students to be engaged. The students don’t really care what I think about these topics, but they do care what their peers think. I write our Guiding Question in large letters on the whiteboard and then introduce them to it right after greeting them on Monday morning. After introducing the Guiding Question, then I move on to objectives.
Here are some of my favorite ways to get kids talking:
Pop-Up Debates via DaveStuartJr. If you haven’t read about this technique, check it out.
Allowing students to record thoughts on our class whiteboards.
Tweet it (write short thoughts and stick them to the wall)
Silent Debate (students write their thoughts and then pass their paper to the next person. Then students respond to the paper in front of them and then pass it on. Continue this until the student has their original paper or time is up.)
I hope you have found this helpful. It really works wonders to find that common thread that you can pull in order to allow your students to see how seemingly very different texts can have common themes and similarities. This will work wonders in preparing students to synthesize information from multiple texts.