It is commonly thought that our little guys can't handle essential questions. They are too young. They are too immature. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Since taking a course in Understanding by Design I have been using essential questions in my teaching, and in my teaching of very young students. While it's true that it takes time, practice and a bit of comfort in answering open-ended questions, it really can be done.  Here is a little on how I have used essential questions in my teaching of 6-year-olds:

Every morning I have a morning message (just as many teachers of young students do) where I introduce what we will explore for the week/day (this week we are exploring families). Then I embed an essential question into the morning message in which students first think about the question, then turn and talk to their neighbor about their thoughts. Then we share out (ok, it's just your typical think-pair-share situation at hand). In the beginning of the year when we first start out thinking about questions and answering them with a partner, it really is tough. Kids do not automatically know how to converse with one another in a collaborative manner. Nor do they understand that there might be multiple answers to one question. This comes with time, and with planning.

To battle the first part, collaborative conversations, it's important to actually teach students those skills. They won't automatically know it or display it. Using posters to show what is expected during a conversation is helpful when you initially teach the skill of conversing (eye to eye, one student listens while the other speaks, then the partners switch, etc.). This alone, however, doesn't do much in teaching the skill of a collaborative conversation. One must then extend the teaching into how to respond (using sentence starters is helpful, teaching different questions they could ask, etc.), and finally how a conversation goes back and forth and built up (we practice by using math cubes; each student adds a different colored cube to their "conversation". This can be done in small groups or partnerships).

Finally, the idea of multiple answers to a question is not obvious to young students. When you begin asking essential questions, initially they think you are looking for one right answer. However, it is up to us, the teacher, to really value the different perspectives and cultivate the ones that really drive the conversation closer to the big idea. Soon the students begin to see that their own unique perspectives are valued and worthwhile, and they begin to feel more comfortable with this sort of questioning, and when this happens their thinking deepens and beautiful things happen.

Do you use essential questions in your own teaching? I would love to hear all about it!!

     I love finding new resources, especially when they are reading resources. This summer I found a new book site called "Get Epic". This is a fantastic site where educators may sign up for free. There are books for ages 2-12, so there is quite the variety. With several options to look for books on the site, my favorite way is to look up books by theme (we are learning all about communities right now). This allows me to add to the available books we have in the classroom through these virtual books!

How you may use Get Epic:

* As an educator, you may add students to your account so they may read the books in class.  They can do this from a computer or iPad. Since I have both a student computer and 5 iPads in my class, this Get Epic will be an option students may use during reading time (I rotate the iPads by table groups each day. Ex: Monday group 1 uses the iPads, Tuesday group 2, etc.) From my understanding, parents have to pay if they want to download the app at home, but they do have the option to do so if they want their child to have access to the app at home.

* Read Alouds: I have been using Get Epic books for read alouds in my class. Since I have an iPad, I read it straight from the iPad, only showing the picture after I read each page (just like I would with a real book).

* Shared reading: When I want to use an Get Epic book for shared reading, I project the book from the computer onto my screen and we will read the book straight from there. In this way I increase the number of enlarged texts we have in the classroom.

If you begin to use (or currently are using) Get Epic, I would love to hear about it!

Here is the link to the site:

Happy Reading!

We are on a nonfiction unit and learning how to form questions as we read. To help encourage student questioning (and make it somewhat kinesthetic), I decided to create a "Wonder Wall". Essentially a wonder wall is a compilation of student questions (derived from their nonfiction reading) placed on a wall. I did this by creating a poster where questions on sticky-notes could be placed, and the poster later put on the wall as a reminder to form questions as they read. Here are the details of how I did this:

First, I modeled questioning during our read alouds (and had students practice it right there at the carpet). Students were asked to continue to practice this strategy as they read independently. Then in my reading groups students read from nonfiction books. They were asked to form questions as they read. After they did a first read (I did not want them to be distracted by the sticky notes), I gave them about three sticky-notes. They were asked to do another read (to help them remember their questions) and this time write their questions on the sticky-notes. They had to place the sticky-note down on the table in front of them. They were strictly advised not to place their questions onto the poster until they had all their questions written. Once they were finished, though, they could add all their sticky notes. It was very enjoyable for the kids, and it was great practice for them to question as they read. Now that we have our questions, the poster will be a great reminder to the students to form questions as they read.

What do you use sticky-notes for?

How do you get kids to practice forming questions?

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