If you’ve been following our ongoing “Argument vs. Evidence” series, you already know that Step 5 is “Generate your own questions that warrant research and debate.” In other words, students need to learn how to ask their own research- and debate-worthy questions.
As always, we’ll want to MODEL what we expect. The Common Core Standards, being focused on TEXTS and the ability to analyze and explain them, are not interested in asking, “How would you feel if…?” Look at RIT 5.1: Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. This is a standard that doesn’t CARE how the reader feels. It doesn’t matter. So the questions to elicit this standard must be TEXT-DEPENDENT. For a helpful primer on “text-dependent” questions, go to http://www.achievethecore.org, specifically HERE.
Does this mean we have to completely avoid “Text-to-Self” connections? NO. Good readers make text-to-self connections all the time. Accessing prior knowledge is a key component of the comprehension process (see the TLC “Comprehension 101” page for a complete explanation of that process), and we are not going to stop doing that. The truth is, we do it involuntarily. But teachers need to be more vigilant. Not all connections are created equal. “The narrator has a grandmother, and I have a grandmother, too!” is not necessarily a meaningful connection. As you may have noticed, elementary school students have a tendency to launch themselves from their seats to volunteer such tidbits. Harvey and Goudvis caution: “These connections in common may in fact be important to the reader but not important to understanding the text.” To address this concern, they devised a three-column form with the headings “My Connection/Important to Me/Important to Understanding the Text.” Forcing students to consider how much their connection helps them understand the text gives them practice in critical thinking and can lead to deeper insights. For example: “The narrator lives with her grandmother, and I do, too. She misses her parents, but she loves her grandmother, and this is important to me because I know how she feels. It helps me understand why she is so sad when her grandmother becomes sick, because I care deeply about my grandmother, too, and I’d be sad if she got sick.”
OK, that’s all well and good, but what else do we need to know about teaching students to generate research- and debate-worthy questions? My best advice is to start by modeling how you brainstorm “How?” and “Why?” questions about a SPECIFIC TEXT. For example, “Why does the Grinch decide to steal the presents?” or “How does the Grinch feel at the end of the story, and why?” These questions must be immediately followed, of course, with this one: “What evidence in the text helps you draw that inference?”
Students will need to practice this approach with their own text, then you can move on to modeling how to ask questions about a TOPIC. Again, you’ll want to generate your own questions about the topic that set up arguments—typically “How?” and “Why?” questions. And it might help students to compare an effective list of questions to an ineffective one. Samples are available on the TLC “Research Paper Guide” page in the guide itself.
After students have generated 10 questions on a topic you’ve given them (or a topic of their choice), give them a chance to engage in peer review. Partners should read each other’s questions with this one in mind: “Would the answer to this question require proof/evidence?” If so, it’s in the ballpark. If not, it will need to be revised.
*This entry is adapted from The Literacy Cookbook, which is available for pre-order HERE.
 Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension for understanding and engagement (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, pp. 102-4.