The QFT at play: how I use it to support reading comprehension

In a previous post, I wrote about how I use the Question Formulation Technique with my EAL learners. Now I would like to show you some sample materials and a lesson plan of how I put the QFT into practice as a way to support reading comprehension.

My year 7 students had to tackle a challenging text about the greenhouse effect and its contribution to global warming. After spending a few lessons on activating schemata through visuals and pre-teaching vocabulary related to the topic, we dived right in like this:

QFocus: the reading text

I showed students the text they had already read once for gist. I elicited some ideas for the kinds of questions they could ask. At this stage, I reassured them that any question is ok as long as it is related to the text and that all of their questions are valuable. I also reminded them that they should write down every question and that they shouldn’t answer them just yet.

The QFocus
The QFocus: a text adapted from Baker, C. and Mitchell, L. (2014) Cambridge Global English Coursebook.

Scaffolding:

  1. I showed them how I divided the reading text into 4 parts and I asked them to do the same. They were also given a handout with numbers corresponding to the grouped paragraphs.
  2. The students had to work individually at this stage and write at least 1 question for each paragraph. I monitored closely and provided individual support as and when needed. Early finishers were prompted to write more questions or to correct mistakes in their existing questions.

Producing questions about the reading and improving them:

The learners were working in groups and they shared their questions with each other. They took turns reading their questions. The others had to take note of any questions that were similar or the same. This gave focus to the students who were listening and meant that they stayed on task.

Scaffolding: The previous stage where the students were allowed to spend time reading and individually thinking about questions ensured that they all had something to contribute.

QFT handout
Scaffolding through giving students a handout for the QFT

Prioritising questions:

After reading out all of their questions and grouping together the ones that were similar, the groups had to agree on the 5 questions that they deemed most important to the text.

Scaffolding:

  1. I showed an example of an open and a closed question on the board and asked them which one they thought was better in the context of the text. The two examples were: What is CO2? and Why is CO2 important for the greenhouse effect? We agreed that in this case, the second question was better because it got closer to the heart of the text.
  2. I gave students a handout that specified they needed to choose 5. This provided a structure for the activity and focused the prioritization.
  3. I monitored and scaffold the discussion by listening in and responding to direct questions from the students.

Discussing the next steps:

This stage calls for the students to decide how to use the questions they came up with. However, I made that decision for them. I shuffled the questions so each group could look at a different set and they had to find the answer to as many as they could. I reminded the learners that it was ok not to find the answer to all of the questions, but that they needed to note down the questions without answers for a later activity.

While monitoring, I jotted down the questions that proved most difficult to answer. We looked at these together at the open class feedback stage. These questions were boarded together with the ones the students could not find any answers to. First, we sorted out the difficult questions that did have answers. This was a useful stage in training learners to read for detail and to work out the meaning from context. Next, we all worked together to find answers to the rest of the questions by using Google. Each group got some questions to look up and to report back to the class.

Scaffolding:

  1. In a way, deciding what to do with the questions was a scaffold in itself. While you could argue that this made the QFT more teacher-focused and contrived, I felt that my students’ level of English and their lack of fluency would make this very difficult for them. I fully intend to train them to be able to tackle this step in later lessons though.
  2. Shuffling the questions around until every student had the chance to work with every set meant that they engaged with the text several times. This allowed them to read for detail very carefully and to really engage with the text.
  3. Students were still working in their groups, which lowered their affective filter. They didn’t have to worry about answering all of the questions by themselves, they had their teammates to rely on.
  4. The stage when we looked at the most difficult questions together provided me with an opportunity to include some reading strategy training. This is especially important as students are preparing for the Checkpoint exam, where they will have to use some of the same strategies.
  5. Using Google to find answers might have been the most engaging part of this process. The learners had a vested interest in finding the answers to their own questions and they were highly motivated to learn what they didn’t know.

Reflection:

The following list of questions were on the board to help students reflect:

  • How did it feel asking your own questions?
  • What did you find difficult about it?
  • What did you find the most interesting?

Scaffolding:

  1. I gave students some preparation time to jot down ideas before they had to discuss the questions in their groups. This allowed me to support them by giving them sentence starters (e.g. I felt good/nervous/excited/ … about asking my own questions. What I found difficult was …. The most interesting thing was …) or by prompting them to extend their answers (e.g. Why do you think so? What made you feel like that?)
  2. Reflecting in smaller groups instead of as a whole class made this stage less threatening. Students could contribute to the group discussions and then the chairperson (who I nominated!) reported back to the whole class.

If you’d like to find out more about the Question Formulation Technique, check out the Right Question Institute website.

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