Teaching Critical Thinking Using Literature: Part 1

In part one of this series, I'll be looking at the importance of asking how and why questions when reading.

Questions keep us in learning mode whether we’re having a conversation with someone, sitting in a class, or sitting in a meeting. When we ask questions, we open ourselves up to deeper understanding. However, asking questions also requires us to be vulnerable. Oftentimes people don't ask questions because they're afraid and they don't want to risk being embarrassed. While I'm generally not afraid to ask questions, when I started at my new job a couple of years ago, I found myself silent when I really wanted to speak up. I was in a teleconference when I thought of a question. However, for fear of seeming ill-prepared for the role, I opted to ask my question after the meeting in a one-on-one situation. The presenter told me that he'd wished I had asked the question during the meeting because he was sure other people wondered the same thing! That was a lesson learned for me.

Asking questions requires us to consider the following things:

  • What we already know
  • What we don’t know
  • What we will do with or think about the information once our question is answered

It is important to teach children to question what they read, especially in this day of "fake news" and the intentional spread of misinformation. But you may be wondering, what questions should be asked and when should we ask them?

When it comes to children's literature, especially children's picture books, oftentimes adults view them as overly simplistic and lacking substance. However, deep revelations can be gained from many different children's books from picture books to young adult novels. 

Why teach children to question their texts?

We should teach children to question what they are reading to gauge whether comprehension is taking place. Sometimes children, especially beginning and early readers, associate pronouncing words correctly with understanding what they've read. In fact, I'm reminded of being in my Spanish III class in high school. I always loved to read aloud because I wanted to perfect my accent and I liked the way the language sounded. So, I'd quietly rehearse a passage under my breath in preparation to be called on. After reading flawlessly, sometimes my teacher would commend me and immediately ask me to interpret what I'd read. The times when I was focused solely on perfecting my pronunciation, not my comprehension, my only response was a blank stare and "uh..."

Additionally, asking questions helps children to stay engaged with what they're reading. We all have active imaginations and free-running thoughts. Sometimes, these thoughts derail us from what we're supposed to be paying attention. However, if we have question in mind that we're trying to answer or if we're reading a text in anticipation that we're going to have to discuss it, our brains become engaged.

You may be wondering when the best time is to ask your children questions about what they are reading. The answer is simple: before, during, and after reading!

Jumbo House Publishing has put together a FREE guide. Literacy Guide: Asking Questions provides a list of generic before, during, and after reading questions and questions to go along with David's Dinner Party. To receive your free guide click here!



Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

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