Cover for article titled Reading Comprehension Strategy #3: Ask Questions showing a boy reading with question marks over his head.

Reading Comprehension Strategy #3: Ask Questions

Today’s post in our reading comprehension series is to ask questions while we read. A reader who is actively engaging with the text by asking questions will deepen their understanding of what they read and better connect it to their background knowledge they bring to the reading experience.

The skill of asking questions is important for developing critical thinking skills, too.  So while we will focus on improving reading comprehension today, creating a culture of asking questions in your home will have many benefits.

Below I explain why asking questions is the key to independent learning and how you can help your children ask good questions.

Click here to read the last two posts about visualizing what we read and connecting background knowledge with what we read.

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Why is it Important to Ask Questions?

The first part of the word question is quest.  A question sends us on a quest to learn more.  So questions are the key that unlocks independent learning. In a book, questions also keep a reader turning pages to find the answers.

Children are born question askers.  They know this is how to learn about the world around them.  We need to encourage these questions no matter how tired we get of answering them!

And, in our homeschools, we need to slow down and make sure our kids have time to ask questions and find answers to them.  Creating a culture of asking questions will support children in their independent learning and reading.

By asking questions, a reader shows they care to learn more.  They care where the book is headed.  Even, if we don’t always find the answers to the questions we ask, the questions will keep us involved in the book and thinking deeply about it.

Questions Vary By Type of Book

The type of book we are reading will determine the types of questions we ask.  In a fiction book, questions will likely be about what will happen next, why a certain character acts the way they do, what events have led up to what is occurring in the book, or what the relationship is between two characters. They may also lead a reader to connect the book with their own lives.

In a non-fiction book, questions deepen the understanding of the material and lead the reader to new ideas.  In an informational text, you might ask more why and how questions.  For example, if you read about how hot the sun is, you may ask “Why is the sun so hot?” or “How does it make heat?”  If you read about a bear hibernating in the winter, you may ask “How does it go so long without eating?”  These types of questions are part of the process of scientific inquiry and encourage your children to think like scientists.

Regardless of the type of book we are reading, it is good to encourage children to ask questions before they read, while they read, and after they have finished a book.  Here is how you can encourage this in your children…

Step 1: Start with the Cover

In our last reading comprehension post, step 4 was to activate background knowledge by starting with a book walk. This book walk is the perfect place to encourage our children to start asking questions.

Start the book walk by looking at the cover of the book with your children and seeing what questions come to your minds.  Make sure to take some time and look closely at the details.  Below is the cover of a book in one of our Adventures Through History we are doing this year.

What do you wonder looking at it? Maybe you are asking “Why are the girls dressed the same?” or “Why is one girl wearing red socks while the other girls all have dark socks on?” Or maybe the title has caught your eye and you wonder what it means.

Cover of the book Fatty Legs, which shows five girls standing in school uniforms and one of them is wearing red socks.


Step 2: Model Asking Questions

Modeling questions can be as easy as stopping now and then during a read aloud and wondering a question aloud.

I a great sentence starter to model for our children.  You can then use it as a prompt when needed…”what do you wonder?” and kids can learn to prompt themselves with it, too.  So the above questions about Fatty Legs would become… “I wonder why the girls are dressed the same?” and “I wonder why one girl is wearing red socks while the other girls all have dark socks on?” After modeling those, you can turn to your children and say “What do you wonder?”

You might want to write everyone’s questions down somewhere like a whiteboard or poster to help create that culture of question asking.  It will also remind you to look for the answers and connect them back to your original questions when you find them. You can add other questions to the list as you think of them during your reading.

If your children need some additional models of how to ask questions, think about what kinds of questions would interest them.  For example, whenever I read historical books, I find myself on google maps looking for the houses where people lived and curious about the area around them and what they look like today.

However, I know my oldest child is motivated by sports and relationships between people and my youngest is interested in science.  So I model questions on those topics when reading with them.

Here are some ideas to get you started modeling a variety of questions…

Types of Questions

In addition to the “I wonder…” prompt, “What will happen next?” is a question we can often ask while reading.  Another ‘generic’ question to use over and over is “Why?”  A question that encourages deeper thinking might be “What does this mean?”

And our five wh-questions and the question word how are great prompts, too.  “Who is he talking about?”, “Who is she talking to?”, “What is he looking for?”, “What does she need?”, “Where is he going?”, “Where was she?”, “When did that event happen?”, “Why doesn’t he like that person?”, “Why did she make that decision?”, “How are they going to accomplish that?” Variations of these questions are great to model for our children.

We also want to make sure to point out unknown vocabulary words and wonder aloud what they mean.  Show your kids how they can try to determine the meaning from the text and then use resources if that is difficult.  Defining words from the context around them can be hard and sometimes a dictionary is needed.

If your child naturally asks what a word means, praise them for asking a great question.

We should also ask questions when something in the text does not make sense.  Be intentional about modeling “This does not make sense to me.  I am wondering…”

Step 3: Practice Asking Questions

Just like any other skill, our kid’s ability to ask quality questions will get better the more they practice.  Don’t worry about the quality in the beginning, though.  Just praise that they are being asked.

As children become comfortable asking questions, you can expand on the questions they ask to improve quality.

An example from the introduction of a character in <em>The Enigma Game</em>...

“Daddy said I lost my Jamaican accent in one year.  One year at the rather posh London school where my mother taught music, and I had a polite accent I’d picked up from my schoolteachers.” –Elizabeth Wein

So let’s pretend your child asked “What does a Jamaican accent sound like?”  That is a great question!  You can praise them for asking it and research it a little bit.

But…is that question going to keep them turning the pages and engaging with the book?  Maybe not…so you can piggy back on the question by saying “Your question just made me think of another one…I wonder if her dad is happy or sad she lost her accent?”

Then, you might prompt your child to see if they have any more questions. If not, you might model something like “I wonder why she moved from Jamaica to London?” Questions like these last two will make a reader want to keep reading to find out the answers.

All of these questions send the reader on a quest.  But, some of the quests will lead readers outside of the book and some will take the reader deeper in the book.  All are good and we definitely want to encourage a variety of questions.

While it is great to practice asking questions during what you are already reading in your homeschool, you may decide that your children would benefit from more of a ‘lesson’ on asking questions.  Poetry is great for this!  Poems are often written in a way that leaves the reader with lots of questions regarding what the poet was writing about.

Here is the first stanza from <em>On Turning Ten</em> by Billy Collins...

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light-
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

One’s initial question is likely “What is he talking about?” or “What is so bad?”.  If you have connected the title of the poem with the first stanza, your question might be “Why is turning ten so bad?”.  Then you might ask yourself “What feels worse than a stomach ache?” or “Do I get headaches from reading in bad light?”.  Children might wonder about the meaning of some of the words…measles, mumps, disfiguring.

You can write all of these questions down, which might lead to more questions…like “If chicken pox are disfiguring, what do they look like?”  And then you are off on a quest to find more answers.

Step 4: Recording Questions

As your children become skilled at asking questions, they will need a place to record them.  So you will want to set up a system for this.  We have already talked about writing questions up on a board or poster, but you will also want to encourage your kids to ask questions when reading alone…not near a whiteboard.

Two good ways of doing this is telling them it is ok to write in the margins of books (if you own them, of course!) or writing on sticky notes and sticking them in the books.  If you choose the latter, then you will want to make sure you have sticky notes in convenient places around your house.  You could also stick a small pad of notes inside the cover of a book when they start reading a new book.

If you find your children are not recording questions and you would like to encourage them to do so, then give them a challenge.  For example, you could have them write one question per chapter.  Or one 1-2 questions during each reading session.

Check in with them afterward and see if they wrote any questions.  Praise them for any question regardless of quality!  This can be a good time to ask them if they thought of any more questions related to the one they wrote down.  And if not, you could model a question that their questions make you think of.  This way you are slowly building deeper, higher quality questions.


Have your children asked any questions during reading that are especially fun or insightful?  Comment below!  And if you are interested in more ideas for including question-based discussions in your homeschool, check out Easy Tips to Incorporate a Socratic Style of Teaching.

Our next reading comprehension strategy is about how to draw conclusions from what we read.  This is definitely a higher level skill compared to just answering basic questions about the facts of a text.  And some kids might struggle in making this jump.  So make sure to come back next week for some concrete strategies.

If you enjoyed this post then you may be interested in reading 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!

7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!
  • Zimmermann, Susan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 07/22/2003 (Publication Date) - Harmony (Publisher)