Ask and Answer Questions

4 Picture Books to Excel at Asking and Answering Questions

Question: How do you know which cow is the best dancer? Asking and answering questions while reading is a skill we expect learners to do from Kindergarten to college (and beyond!). Why? Asking questions engages readers with the text. Look at how expectations evolve through the grade levels:

  • Kindergarten: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • 2nd grade: Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
  • 6th grade: Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.
  • 8th grade: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

An unanswered question creates an open cognitive loop. This drives a learner to search for an answer in order to close the loop. Basically, unanswered questions drive people wild. So, how do you know which cow is the best dancer? See which one has the best moo-ves.

Asking and answering questions ties into other skills as well. Drawing conclusions, making inferences, supporting a claim with evidence- all of these skills involve posing a question and searching for the answer.

Teaching Tools: Asking and Answering Questions while Reading

Like all reading skills, asking and answering questions takes practice. Picture books are one tool to build reading muscles (at any grade level!). There are plenty of additional free tools to help emerging readers ask and answer questions. I like this Graphic Organizer and Anchor Chart by Made Whimsically for fiction with emerging readers. (I don’t use the progress measuring tools that come with it, but they look cool, too!) For mixed levels of readers, I like this Sticky Note-Taking Sheet by Kaila Jones. For some reason, sticky notes make everything more fun! This one could be used across many class subjects like language arts, science, math, or social studies.

Pro Tip for High School Teachers: Use picture books as a practice text to teach Socratic Discussion protocols. Then move onto the “meaty” lesson-specific content. Socratic Discussion doesn’t have to be complicated. I like these Accountable Talk Sentence Stems by Gina Le to keep discussion rolling.

ANY book is a good tool to develop the skill of asking and answering questions while reading (even wordless books!) Here are four that I like to use with different kinds of readers. You can also click each picture for a read-aloud to preview the content.

1. Be a Maker by Katie Howes

Audience: elementary, middle

Summary: Lyrical language and straightforward questions follow a young girl ask she goes through a day of making things. This book is a meditation on the many things we make and the ways we can make a difference in the world. 

Ask and Answer Questions: Good learners ask questions before, during, and after reading a text. This picture book great for a picture walk before reading. Learners can question what the title means, what things the characters might make, and what the characters are like. Read aloud to model asking questions throughout the book. Then, use an anchor chart after reading to record questions and their answers.

2. Feathers and Fools by Mem Fox

Audience: middle, high

Summary: Two flocks of birds begin to fear each other because of their differences. The fear grows and they hoard weapons to protect themselves. Panic strikes. In the end, alone in the world, two hatchlings bond over their similarities. 

Ask and Answer Questions: This is the book I use with high school learners to practice Socratic Discussion for the first time. The book is appropriate for kids, but it’s shocking in its text-to-world connections (where birds can represent warring nations). Learners LOVE to talk about this book. One question they always ask: “This book is for KIDS??” That’s a great question to dig into with evidence from the text.

3. Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor

Audience: elementary, middle, high

Describes the qualities to consider in selecting the perfect rock for play and pleasure. 

Ask and Answer Questions: This instructional manual on choosing the perfect rock is surprising and novel enough to inspire questions and idea sharing. A question to kick things off: “Why does everybody need a rock?”

4. Black and White by David Macaulay

Audience: elementary, middle, high

Summary: Four stories are told simultaneously, with each double-page spread divided into quadrants. The stories do not necessarily take place at the same moment in time, but they may be connected.

Ask and Answer Questions: If you have learners who are already question masters, this book is a great challenge to push their skills to the next level. The practice of asking and answering questions can lead a reader to come up with an interpretation of this potentially confusing and mysterious book.

Asking and answering questions is a valuable skill in reading, math, science, social studies… every subject area! It transforms learners from passive acceptance to active participants in their own learning. This is a real-world skill that everyone needs, regardless of their reading level.

Great educators share! Share your ideas of picture books and activities to teach asking and answering questions in the comments.

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