Formulating questions to meet information needs of ELL students
This is a multi-activity lesson plan to teach the concept of asking engaging, researchable questions prior to reading. This leads to effective inquiries during project or research work in any content area. Using engaging questions creates a sense of connectedness by linking academic contents with students' personal concerns. The lesson is primarily designed for English language learners although it can be adapted for mainstream students. This lesson can also be modified for use with grades 4-8.
A lesson plan for grades 3–5 English Language Development, Information Skills, and Social Studies
- identify information needs and formulate questions about those needs.
- use questions about the reading to expand comprehension.
- Copies of a graphic organizer (e.g., multi-bubble concept map or KWL chart) - one or two per student and one to project
- Nonfiction, expository text
Document camera or interactive white board
Teacher background information
This lesson is designed to instruct fifth grade English language learners in the techniques of developing a research plan for a class project based on the study of Latin American countries with Mayan heritage. The use of graphic organizers to categorize and organize information provides a visual cue for students with language comprehension difficulties. However, this strategy is appropriate for all students engaged in inquiry activities and can be modified according to grade level and genre of text. Topic areas can be substituted for questions about a central theme (which would be listed in the center bubble) and answers to the questions can be noted around the question bubbles.
- Tell the students that in today’s lesson they are going to learn how to prepare questions before beginning research on a topic. This strategy is called formulating questions for information needs.
- Explain that when you formulate questions, you decide which questions you want to ask and prepare the question about a topic you are going to study. This will help you identify and organize the information you need to find for your project.
- Tell the students why it is important to learn this strategy: By learning how to prepare questions about your topic before you begin your investigation, you will find it easier to know what information to look for. Your questions should ask what you want to know about the theme and think would be interesting and important for other people to know. For example: If you were doing a project about the school, would you be interested in finding out what color the walls are in the cafeteria? Is this question interesting? What information would you like to know?
- Have students respond with suggested questions, and facilitate a group discussion on whether these questions would provide interesting and important information.
Begin by explaining WHAT students will study in the lesson and WHY they need to learn/use the strategy. Because students were asked to write about their cultural heritage in their journals for homework, ask a student to say which country he/she wrote about.
- Tell the students: “When we want to plan what information we want to find out about a particular subject, we can use a graphic organizer to organize our ideas.”
- Project a bubble map on the board and say, “Today we are going to use a bubble map. The bubble map has a place for us to write the name of the theme or topic we are going to study. For example, if we were learning about Mexico, we would write the word ‘Mexico’ in the center bubble.” Complete the center bubble.
- Ask the students: “Imagine you are going to study Mexico for a class project. What information would you like to know about Mexico?”
- If students say they want to know what food people eat in Mexico, respond by saying, “Because you want to know about food, I’m going to write the word ‘food’ in one of the adjacent bubbles.”
- Say, “What questions do you have about food? Remember, we need to think carefully about whether the questions we ask are interesting and important to understanding life in Mexico.” Students are given examples of focused and less focused questions they may be interested in asking. Focused example questions: What is the typical dish in Mexico? How many meals do Mexico eat a day? Less focused example questions: What food do pets eat? How long does it take to cook the typical dish?
- Students share ideas with the class and common questions are noted on the teacher’s transparency, around the bubble containing ‘food’.
- Say, “Can you see how I have organized the information I want to know about Mexico?” Teacher reviews the words completed on the bubble map and how they relate to what they want to know about the country.
Say, “What else would you like to know about Mexico?” Students discuss in pairs other interest areas and complete the bubble map as demonstrated previously. Say, “Now, what questions do you have about that subject? Discuss your ideas with your partner and complete the map with questions as we did before.” Students add suggested questions to the map and read out their ideas for peers to decide if the questions are important and interesting enough to be included on the map. If there is disagreement about a question, students are asked to provide alternative questions. The teacher’s transparency map is completed with example questions taken from student pairs.
In pairs, students are asked to complete the remaining bubbles with themes they would like to obtain information about for Mexico. They complete the bubble map as demonstrated previously unassisted. When finished, each pair of students shares his/her map with another pair for comments to be made concerning the appropriateness of questions. Students edit their maps if desired.
All questions listed on the bubble map are revisited and the common question words what, where, when, and why are pointed out in students’ example questions/teacher’s transparency. Say, “What words do you see that many of your questions have in common? (Wh- question words are highlighted in questions). These are typical words that questions begin with. When you begin your class projects later, I want you to use the strategy we have practiced today for preparing information questions about your topic. Remember these typical question words we have found in our sample questions today, and you can use those words to help you make questions. What are those words again? Let’s repeat them together (students repeat wh- question words together). So, if we are going to do a study on Puerto Rico, what questions would we want answering about this country?” Class elicits possible questions using strategy practiced in lesson and using wh-questions words to formulate questions.
Additional practice is provided for challenged students with an additional central theme and topic areas. Wh- question words will be provided as prompts.
Lower English proficiency students will be paired with more proficient students and/or will complete the bubble map with one-word questions. For example: climate – rain? winter? temperature?
Following the procedure from day one, the teacher explains WHAT strategy the class is going to study today, and WHY they are studying this. For example, the teacher says, “In today’s lesson you are going to learn how to prepare questions before you begin researching your topic. This strategy is called formulating questions for information needs. When you formulate questions, you decide which questions you want to ask and prepare questions about the topic you are going to study. This will help you identify and organize the information you need to find for your project. By learning how to prepare questions about your topic before you begin your investigation, you will find it easier to know what information to look for.”
Students are asked HOW they would begin to formulate pre-reading questions regarding the lifestyles of the Mayans during a focused study on ancient civilizations of Latin America. The steps for completing a bubble map are modeled with student/teacher think-alouds. Students note main theme, topic areas and research questions on the graphic organizer (bubble map or KWL). Students use the questions they generated and wrote on the graphic organizer to find information about the Mayans in a sample expository text about the Mayan culture which is provided by the teacher.
Students are reminded of the WHAT and WHY for using the strategy of formulating questions for information needs. The teacher asks students to tell her HOW they would formulate questions about a topic.
Students are presented with various biographical texts on famous Latino figures such as Cesar Chaves, a Mexican migrant worker who fought for the right of migrant farm workers in the U.S. The pre-reading technique of formulating questions to meet information needs is practiced individually prior to reading following the steps demonstrated in Day 1 & 2. The teacher monitors student progress and assists as necessary.
- Students are assessed on their ability to formulate relevant research topics and questions as can be observed during classroom activities and completed bubble map.
- Students will also be assessed on their achievement of lesson goals once they begin to create their own bubble map of their project theme during the next lessons.
- North Carolina Essential Standards
- Information and Technology Skills (2010)
- 3.RP.1 Apply a research process as part of collaborative research. 3.RP.1.1 Implement a research process by collaborating effectively with other students.
- 4.RP.1 Apply a research process as part of collaborative research. 4.RP.1.1 Implement a research process by collaborating effectively with other students.
- 5.RP.1 Apply a research process as part of collaborative research. 5.RP.1.1 Implement a research process by collaborating effectively with other students.
- Information and Technology Skills (2010)
North Carolina curriculum alignment
English Language Development (2005)
Social Studies (2003)
- Goal 3: The learner will examine the roles various ethnic groups have played in the development of the United States and its neighboring countries.
- Objective 3.01: Locate and describe people of diverse ethnic and religious cultures, past and present, in the United States.
- Objective 3.03: Identify examples of cultural interaction within and among the regions of the United States.