Year 1 – Using questioning with picture books
Learning objectives for the lesson
- To empathise with the main characters.
- To make inferences based on what is happening in the story.
- To participate in discussions about books.
Provide groups of children with the book Hansel and Gretel by Anthony Browne and ask them to look carefully at the front cover, which depicts the two children sitting under a tree in the forest. Using sticky notes or recording devices, encourage children to formulate questions based on that picture. Each question must begin with ‘I wonder why … ?’ For example:
I wonder why the children look so sad?
I wonder who lives in the house behind the trees?
I wonder where their mum is?
I wonder why she has dirty knees?
Encourage all responses and provide prompts for those children who may find it difficult to ask questions.
Explain to the children that they are going to put themselves in the shoes of the two main characters, Hansel and Gretel, in order to understand how they felt during certain parts of the story. Begin by reading the story to the children, asking them to predict what might happen next. Use talk partners to ensure that all children are engaged in the learning and listen in to their conversations in order to address any misconceptions around the narrative. Invite responses from individuals and add your own thoughts as to what might happen based on what has gone before.
Organise children into groups based on your assessment for learning during the introduction. Take your group of children outside to the ‘forest school’ area or to an area of the playground shaded by trees. If this is not possible, utilise the classroom to the best possible effect by clearing away some of the tables and chairs and maybe using an indoor tent to emulate the darkness of the forest. Images from the book can be placed around the area in order to initiate a trail. You may want to take one group of children to each picture in turn or divide the class into four or five groups and send each group to a different picture. Organisation and adult support will depend upon your individual setting and you will need to adjust accordingly.
The purpose of this lesson is for children to describe how the characters are feeling based upon what they have inferred from the pictures. Lead your group to each picture in turn and ask questions based on the illustration, asking children to notice the detail in the picture and encouraging them to suggest how Hansel and Gretel may be feeling. Follow up each question with: how do you know? or what makes you think that?, which will encourage children to explain and justify their replies.
Divide the class into groups of four: one child takes on the role of Hansel, one takes on the role of Gretel and the other two children are going to ask some questions. The first pair needs to freeze frame a scene from the book so that the questioners can ask three questions of each character.
A teaching assistant or facilitating adult may also help children ask questions and articulate their answers. It is surprising how our youngest children are able to take on roles and suggest feelings, thoughts and words.
Pairs can then swap roles so that each has a turn at questioning and responding. During the plenary, listen in to their responses so that you can accurately assess their learning against the objectives. Encourage every child to self-assess by asking if they feel they know more about the characters Hansel and Gretel following their discussions with each other. Identify excellent responses and share these with the class so as to effectively clarify success. You may also want to scribe some of the responses to add to your working wall to build upon character analysis.
Assessment (measuring achievement)
Assessment for learning
The introduction provides an excellent opportunity to assess the children in your class against the learning objectives, which will ensure you are providing appropriate support. Scaffolding and challenge for each learner will result in a personalised learning approach. Some children may have had extensive exposure to picture books and be very familiar with discussing characters; some children may have limited vocabulary which would benefit from a different type of questioning, building upon prior knowledge in a more systematic way, and some may require more explicit modelling in order to be able to contribute to a discussion.
During the main teaching activity, you will continue to assess children based upon their responses to your questions and you can adapt your lesson to suit the needs of the learner. Remember to encourage children to articulate how they have reached their conclusions in order to develop a deeper level of understanding: if the children in your class are readily answering questions, you may need to develop their inference and deduction skills through the use of more sophisticated questions.
Assessment at the point of learning
Ensure that anyone supporting children is fully aware of the purpose of the lesson so that they can make careful observations around the learning. Can children describe how the character is feeling? Can they justify why they think that? Use ongoing assessment to formulate more challenging questions to encourage a deeper understanding around characterisation, mood and atmosphere. Use questions to assess implicit understanding of what is inferred through the illustrations.
Assessment of learning
Following your lesson, reflect upon the learning that has taken place. Are there any surprises? Why might this be? Have you made any assumptions? Use the information gained to make assessments against the key criteria for this particular year group. These can be communicated to children at the beginning of or during the next lesson.
Because assessment will be based on children’s verbal responses, you will need to pay particular attention to your questioning. Have you framed your questions in such a way as to ensure understanding? Have you provided each child with sufficient opportunity to meet the learning objectives? If not, additional teaching and learning opportunities will need to be built into subsequent planning to ensure a comprehensive assessment of each child can be made.
Some children may have limited language skills or a reduced oral vocabulary. Opportunities to extend vocabulary need to be included across the curriculum, which encourage children to discuss ideas and require specific modelling from the teacher in many cases.
Bilingual learners and those for whom English is an additional language have a range of experiences and understanding that they bring to the classroom. They may well be able to read texts in their first language and they will almost certainly have a varied vocabulary and oral language skills in their first language. Experiential learning and opportunities to practise and use social language are an integral part of extending their English vocabulary, and offer meaningful situations in which to practise and refine their language.
Take care not to impose a ceiling on children’s learning. From a very early age, children are able to construct meaning from pictures. Illustrations in picture books are a valuable method for developing meaning, and through structured conversations including questions such as: how do you know that … ? and tell me why you think that … children will begin to extend their reasoning skills. Do not simply ask the literal questions but challenge their thinking: make this a feature of your classroom.
For more lesson inspiration and for the theory behind how to develop good lessons, see the Lessons in Teaching Series.