Asking questions is central to good learning. Every good thinker knows that questions are more important than answers. The best questions are ones that have yet to be answered; they pave the way for innovative answers or solutions. Asking the best
questions, though, requires practice with asking simpler ones. Reading offers one of the best ways to develop this skill.
The questions you should ask while reading can take many forms. The most basic prompt for a question is, “That doesn’t make sense.” When you experience this feeling, stop reading! Create a question. Try to figure out an answer. Don’t assume that the answer is obvious.
- “I thought I knew this word. Why doesn’t it make sense here?” (Use a dictionary. There’s a good chance the word has a secondary meaning that you don’t know.)
- “What’s this historical event that the author is referring to?” (Use an encyclopedia. It’s good to expand your background knowledge.)
- “It doesn’t make sense that the character would express this emotion.” (Reread the passage. Perhaps you have misunderstood what is happening. Or perhaps you are overlooking irony or sarcasm.)
- “It doesn’t make sense that the characters overlook this way of handling their problem.” (Ask someone else for help. Maybe there is a cultural or historical context that you are overlooking.)
There are more advanced questions, of course; we cover them in courses on literary analysis. But if you just ask questions like those above, you’ll see your reading comprehension advance dramatically.
Do whatever you can to encourage your child to ask questions about a book he is reading. They shouldn’t be simple comprehension questions, like the ones found in a school anthology. Children need to ask questions that are genuinely puzzling to them-
perhaps even puzzling to you. Consider giving a reward for coming up with questions that are difficult for you to answer.