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Teaching Effective Learning Strategies: Generating Questions
Teaching Effective Learning Strategies: Generating Questions

What We Know

Teaching students to generate their own questions as part of the learning process is an effective way to boost metacognition and encourage higher level thinking. Explicit instruction in questioning has been used in mathematics and science problem solving and in writing. One of the most valuable effects that this cognitive strategy can produce, however, is improving comprehension of texts across the content areas (Rosenshine & Meister, 1994; Rosenshine et al, 1996).

McKeown et al (1993) have suggested that the difficulty students experience in attempting to make meaning from their textbooks rests with the writing of the passages. These texts, they say, are often "inconsiderate" - incoherent and requiring high levels of background knowledge. The "objective" and tone of textbooks can inspire a perception that the information source is authoritative and infallible. Such features inhibit comprehension and cause students to blame themselves for being poor readers.

Instruction in self-questioning or in generating questions for someone else to answer can help students focus on main ideas and self-regulate to ensure that content is understood - two factors that lead to improved comprehension (Rosenshine et al, 1996; Taylor & Frye, 1992). Reciprocal teaching, which includes instruction and practice in questioning, has been shown to be an effective way to increase comprehension, particularly for upper elementary and middle school students (Lynsynck, 1990; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994; Taylor & Frye, 1992). Whether reciprocal teaching or another approach is used to teach questioning skills, research shows that it is important for teachers to provide students with procedural prompts in the form of signal words or generic question stems and scaffolding that includes modeling and think aloud and a gradual increase in difficulty and independence (Rosenshine et al, 1996). For younger children who are particularly put off by the authority of textbooks, it is recommended that teachers help students to engage students in a direct questioning of the author. By seeking out ideas behind the author's words, engagement and motivation are increased, and by thinking more carefully and deeply about the text, comprehension increases (McKeown et al, 1993).

Self-questioning as part of note-taking and review can improve students' retention and performance on assessments (King, 1992; Laidlaw, 1993). This has implications for both oral learning, such as through lectures, as well as reading comprehension (King, 1992).

Key Terms

Metacognition is thinking about one's own thinking or a self-awareness of thought processes.

Reciprocal teaching involves strategy training in summarizing, questioning, clarifying and predicting. Instruction includes teacher modeling and scaffolded support followed by peer-assisted instruction. The approach was developed by Palinscar and Brown in 1984 and has been researched extensively, with highly positive outcomes.

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