Investigating Informational Text  

January 29, 2014
According to the 2003 National Reading Panel, self-questioning is simply a process in which students ask and answer questions while reading. Strategically asking and answering questions while reading helps students with difficulties engage with text in ways that good readers do naturally, thus “improving their active processing of text and their comprehension”. In the November 2013 edition of Educational Leadership, Molly Ness describes how one 3rd grade classroom teacher created an enormous poster titled “The Parking Lot” where students were to write questions down that he couldn’t answer. The teacher initially had great intentions to pull questions from the parking lot to answer but much of the time the questions simply died there.

Below you will discover what Ness does to mentor this classroom teacher in order to help students use their own curiosity to examine informational text:

Out of the Parking Lot……..
The questions from the parking lot were studied and it was determined that almost all of them could be answered through the use of informational text. Informational text appeals to a child’s natural curiosity about the world around them. The mentor and classroom teacher implemented weekly 15-minute small group sessions where students would attempt to answer their questions by exploring informational text. It was their hope that students would increase time spent reading informational text and spark an interest in reading for authentic purposes, such as answering their own questions.

And Onto the Freeway……..
The first session students were able to see some of their parking-lot questions had been answered and were written on sentence strips. Students were asked if they remembered posting the questions in the parking lot and many hands were raised. The students were then asked what prompted them to ask such thought-provoking questions and where they got the ideas for their questions. Many students responded that many of their questions come from movies, books and everyday experiences.

The mentor and teacher then modeled how they would answer their own question. They presented one picture book and one informational text to the students. The mentor explained where she was during her exploration of the picture book when she asked herself a question. Then she introduced the table of contents from the informational text and explained how it could guide her to relevant pages. The classroom teacher then read aloud a statement explaining details to help answer the question. One student suggested that the class create a freeway poster where answers to the parking-lot questions could go.

Students were then placed in leveled guided reading groups and given text appropriate questions. Students in the high reading groups were given more challenging text, English language learners relied on lower-level, picture filled books, and the lowest reading groups were given books with sticky notes to flag the pages where they could find the answers. The teacher and mentor collaborated to create ways to further differentiate instruction. The higher-level reading groups began using a set of texts to address one question from a variety of perspectives. They were also offered texts that would leave their question unanswered. The students started to become more proficient at navigating informational text by utilizing text features such as; illustrations, the table of contents, the index, subtitles and titles, and typography which enabled them to find information quickly and efficiently.

A Lot That Never Empties……....
This classroom project became very popular with the students and the parking lot was the main attraction. Over time, the parking lot questions increased in number and students started to see authentic purposes for their questions. The quality of their questions also became more analytical, evaluative, and interpretive. During independent reading time, students were veering toward reading more and more informational text than ever before.

Stay on the Freeway…………..
The challenge for teachers is to stay on the freeway! The author challenges teachers, parents, and school leaders to tap into students’ natural curiosity and wonderings and lead them to informational text to answer their own thought-provoking questions.

-by Dallas Lewandowski, Professional Development Coordinator

Ness, Molly (2013). Unpark Those Questions: Use students’ own curiosity to get them to investigate informational text. Educational Leadership. Vol. 71, No. 3, 74-76.