Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Digging Deeper for Research "Questioning"

As part of their social studies curriculum and library/technology skills classes, 5th grade students are beginning their research for the production of our online magazines. This activity is used to depict their understanding of various Revolutionary War topics.  Before we can create our magazine pages we needed to learn specific information on our topics and the process of questioning is where we begin. One of our PD (professional development) topics was all about the thinking strategy “Questioning”, what perfect timing for me to decide how to restructure these lessons. You will see below that I began by using two different questioning graphic organizers to help students to develop their writing.

We started by asking questions to develop our background (schema) needed for this research process. Asking questions was the obvious way to get the information they needed. Student’s made a list of the first 4 W’s (Who, What, When & Where questions). Using the Question Builder Chart below. This graphic organizer allowed them to scratch the surface on the information available about their topics.

 graphic organizer…(Question Builder Chart,)

Next we used the What I wonder…What I learned…graphic organizer as our on-line tool for recording our answers to the research questions. The change here was that they were to ask the first 4 W’s and then ask the “How” and “Why” questions that come to the surface because of the first set of questions they were researching.

graphic organizer…(2 column note taking form)

The first draft of research writing:
Students began to understand that these questions (4-W’s) and answers would help them to organize the written part of the magazine pages. These background questions should have empowered them to ask more probing questions, probing deep enough to challenge their assumptions and get at the real answers, not just superficial ones. It was now that I wondered if some of us should try using the graphic organizer, “Peeling the Fruit” that was presented in our PD. I was thinking that by asking deeper and deeper questions that build on the answers students would be more likely to discover what really matters for their topics. I thought it would also challenge students to think a little more than usual. I was wrong they only asked the same questions that they used in their 2 column notes. I was disappointed because I had hoped it this graphic organizer might help them probe a little deeper. Next time I will not give them the 2 column note taking form and see if they attack the “Peeling the Fruit” strategy with a little more vigor.


  1. I think your idea for the questioning graphic organizers are great. I understand your disappointment with the results of the graphic organizers. I find with my students that I get really excited about sing a thinking routine and jump in only to be disappointed with the results. I am really excited to continue teaching, because it seems like the more I make thinking routines a habit, the deeper the students get. I think your reflection on how you will use the questioning graphic organizers in the future is great.

  2. I give you kudos for jumping in to this activity and trying to use the peeling the fruit routine to deepen your students' questioning... I think your reflection is the most important aspect of this whole routine: how you could use it differently next time. It seems that you found two means to the same end! It may just be in structuring discussions in a different way that you can get them to go deeper...? It also occurs to me that the type of questioning you wanted your students to get to would take a whole lot of modelling. Really great launch to the unit!!

  3. Research and note-taking can be very challenging for fifth-graders, and I applaud you for trying different ways to attack the research beast. Students need so much guidance when researching, and your organizer and questions seemed to provide that guidance. It's funny that they can recite what they learned about their topic, but trying to get it organized into a usable form is tricky. Your reflection on the experience provides insight for all of us, and we would never know if a strategy works if we don't try it. I learn more from my "failures" than successes. Unless you have months to build deep connections on a topic, there's no organizer that will take the place of time and practice.

  4. Phyllis, I love how you used many different approaches. I would love to sit with you and figure out how I can do something like this in science next year. I would love to have the students leave us with a great understanding of note taking and also the ability to find a strategy that works for them.

  5. Just reading your posts on nonfiction research made me exhausted!! Overall, do you feel like the graphic organizers helped? The scaffolding and structure you provided had to be helpful for some students without a doubt. It would be great if fourth grade could set up some time to vertically plan with you guys, because determining what is important and forming a thick question is extremely tough. Jeff and I have worked hard over the years to improve our process and provide more scaffolds, but it would be great to communicate with you and your team as well. I wonder what background knowledge the students are coming in with. (Are they retaining any of it (truly understanding) or just completing a task in fourth grade? Are we as teachers using common language? I hope this unit went smoothly for you, and I'm anxious to have a meeting of the minds in the future. Good work Phyllis!