EX1: Dense Questions

Incoming president Tim Parker

3b: Using questioning and discussion techniques
Students develop literary questions using Bloom’s Taxonomy and lead their own peer group discussions.

Educator: Tim Parker [Email Tim]
School: Lathrop High School in Fairbanks

Appropriate for Grade Levels: 7-12
Content Area(s): English/Language Arts

How does this lesson or technique improve student learning?

By reading and creating high quality dense questions and then meeting with other students for discussions, student learning increases in many different ways. One way is through deep thinking inside the literature using mostly “why” and “how” type questions and making a personal connection. Another increase to learning comes with the discussion where students ask and answer these deeper questions.

What does it look like in my classroom?

Timeline: Reading Time + 2 class periods

The reading can be done at home on their own, quietly in the class, or read aloud. The creation of the dense question(s) can be done in class or at home. In class does allow for additional teacher support. But it’s the meetings that are really fun. There are two ways to do this: One, if students are all reading the same book or article, then a random grouping works best (I use popsicle sticks), or two, if students have chosen book groups then that is the grouping. It’s critical that students have both read the material and created a high-quality dense question before getting into the groups.

The primary artifact is the high-quality dense question. I sometimes add to the activity by having students write down “five facts” or make a deeper “personal connection.” These two items are favorites of the students. They like to play the “fact game” to start a meeting. It’s a little challenge where they go around their group in a circle and each person says a different fact. They keep going as long as they can. If a student runs out, the remaining continue until there is only one person left.

The key to this activity (why it works so well for this component):

This lesson gets students to think deeply about literature, connect to literature, and engage with others about their deep thinking.

Supporting materials

ABCDs of a Dense Question Handout
Explanation of the parts of a dense question as well as a rubric for assessment

Bloom’s Taxonomy Handout
A 1-page handout summarizing Bloom’s Taxonomy for students

Artifacts to gather for evaluation

  • Student generated dense questions
  • Discussion participation log
  • Student reading & question assignments

The Danielson Connection

This connects most closely to 3b, but it also enhances a few other areas. First, the dense questions put the student in charge of the questioning. Instead of waiting for the teacher to ask a deep question, they must zero in on a quote within the text and probe deeply into its relevance and meaning within the book or article as well as in the world. Keeping the questions high quality is where the great teaching comes in. You must demonstrate and continually stoke this probing by showing your own work as a teacher, showing the work of other top students, and praising top questions when they emerge spontaneously within discussions. The group discussions are student lead, and attention must be paid to equity of voice. That must be taught and reinforced. Making the meetings “the thing” gives students ownership and has the effect of having students police themselves, at least as far as quality goes. They want their peers to ask good questions and provide thoughtful answers to their questions.