Developing Organizing and Supporting Questions
Developing Organizing Questions and Supporting Questions
The chosen context for learning will form the basis for students to investigate an issue, problem, or unusual situation. Focus for the investigation should evolve through careful questioning on the part of the teacher.
Organizing questions are the "big picture" questions. They can engage students in meaningful exploration of the community and local environment. Posed by the teacher, organizing questions provide students with a framework for learning in many areas: general and disciplinary knowledge; thinking and problem-solving skills; basic life skills; and understanding of their local environment as it relates to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Effective organizing questions are those that
- arouse and sustain student interest
- encompass both natural and social systems and topics
- encompass the essential Science Standards of Learning content to be covered
- stimulate inquiry and focus student work
- allow for creation of interdisciplinary activities and investigations
- require students to propose and evaluate a variety of solutions rather than lead to one "obvious" response or one "right" answer
- are stated in language easily understood by students
- are related to everyday life
- require students to revisit the problem frequently as knowledge and understanding evolves
- recur naturally throughout the completion of an interdisciplinary program.
Prior to class time, teachers should determine (1) what question they want the students to answer or (2) what question to use as an example so that students can determine a question they as a class would like to answer.
Examples of organizing questions
- What impact does our school have on the Chesapeake Bay?
- In what ways does development in our community affect the Chesapeake Bay?
- How does the Chesapeake Bay affect the economy of our community?
- In what ways does our school parking lot affect the natural systems of a nearby stream?
- Does our schoolyard provide a healthy habitat for a wide variety of organisms?
- What vegetation can we plant in our schoolyard to attract native animals?
Students will not have enough knowledge at the start of the project to answer the organizing question. Therefore, teachers must generate supporting questions that will help students find the missing information needed to answer the organizing question. These smaller, supporting questions can help provide direction and keep the class moving if students are stumped.
Before presenting an organizing question to the class, teachers should determine what major concepts will be involved and should prepare supporting questions that introduce the concepts. A good initial brainstorming technique here is to create a large web of supporting questions that branch out from the organizing questions.
As they generate supporting questions, teachers will want to include questions that bring in a variety of subject disciplines: English, science, mathematics, and history and social science, as well as other areas that may apply.
To illustrate, if the classroom focus is to be biodiversity, the teacher may first need to introduce the concept of habitat and the idea that different animals need different environmental conditions to survive. The teacher may ask supporting questions such as
- What is an animal that you can see near the school?
- What do you see this animal doing during the day?
- What does it eat?
- What does it drink?
- Where does it sleep?
- What dangers does it face?
- How does it stay safe?
- What things does it need in order to live?
- Have there always been animals of this type around here?
- How many of these animals do you think live in this area?
- Why are there so few (or so many) of these animals around here?
The organization question that could then be asked of the students is "How could we increase the number of animals living on or near our school grounds?"
Teacher Planning Activities
Using KWL Charts:
At the beginning of the questioning process, Know-Wonder-Learned (KWL) charts are an effective way to identify what students already know about a topic, determine what they would like to learn or discover, and assess their progress as the unit proceeds.
The chart will also provide a way to assess what the students have learned. Teachers can make KWL charts on large sheets of paper (they can use an electronic table or spreadsheet) and have students revisit the charts periodically to fill in the "Wonder" and "Learned" columns. The "Learned" column can get very long, so it is important to leave a great deal of space. See the KWL chart handout PDF • Word.
Create a Web diagram with an organizing question in the center and the supporting questions radiating from the center. See the Web of Questions handout PDF • Word. The supporting questions must focus on the organizing question.
Once a few organizing questions and several supporting questions are developed, the students should work through the same activity. The students could create a graphic organizer, such as that in the Brainstorming Questions handout PDF • Word.
Teacher Planning Activities
Generating Supporting Questions by Discipline:
One of the purposes of the Lessons from the Bay planning process model is to construct connections between disciplines. "Bridge" questions can help you analyze a situation from the perspective of multiple disciplines.
Let the Bridge Questions handout PDF • Word assist you in constructing your supporting questions for each subject area. Collaborate with other teachers at your school to think of more interdisciplinary connections.
Making Interdisciplinary Connections:
To go a step further and fully integrate several subject areas into the Lessons from the Bay model, you may wish to map your plan. Setting up a chart can ensure that all selected disciplines are covered and that each is sustained throughout the learning process. See the Making Interdisciplinary Connections handout PDF • Word.