lessons · teach with literature

children around the world ~ a lesson in questioning and observation

Late in September, we spent several days engaging in a lesson from Expeditionary Learning which used the book My Librarian is a Camel to generate discussion and prompt students to make observations and ask questions.

I collected several images from the internet to show children borrowing books and reading in a variety of settings. The lesson called for them to make observations about each photo and then ask questions. My students had a lot to say about the images and certainly had questions but I realized very quickly that they would need more support putting them into writing. What they wrote was often vague and not nearly as insightful as what they were saying out loud.


Using the VTS method of discussing works of art, we looked at the photographs together with a focus on having students do the following:

  • Look carefully at works of art
  • Talk about what they observe
  • Back up their ideas with evidence
  • Listen to and consider the views of others
  • Discuss many possible interpretations

On chart paper, I modeled some of the things they could write to capture their thoughtful discussion without having to write complete sentences. Though it wasn’t what we were focusing on, we also talked about the difference between observations and inferences. Making inferences in this case helped lead to much more specific questions. After doing some work together as a whole group, I had them go back to the charts and revise the statements and questions there in groups of three or four. Powerful stuff.

The lives of children in other places was an engaging topic for the students. That was important in this work, I think, because we spent many days talking about the same images. The original lesson was intended for a single day but ultimately took more time than I had originally planned. The extra time was well worth the effort. The students’ improved observation and questioning skills have been helpful in all subject areas, especially in reading and sciences.

Another post from the New York Times online magazine that I plan to use to continue our work is this one, Rise and Shine: What kids around the world eat for breakfast.

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How do you develop observation and questioning skills with your students?

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