No Series: The Art of Questioning: Content, Meaning and Style


Common core State Standards

  • ELA:  English Language Arts
  • RL:  Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • 11-12:  11th & 12th Grades
  • 5: 
    Analyze how an author'\x80\x99s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

Download Common Core State Standards (PDF 1.2 MB)

The Art of Questioning: Content, Meaning and Style

Lesson Objective: Structure questioning based on content, meaning and style
Grades 9-12 / ELA / Literature


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How does a move from content to meaning to style allow students to better understand text?
  2. What is Ms. Schaefer looking for when she asks content questions?
  3. How does this questioning allow you to assess student understanding of the text?


  • Private message to Evelia Aguilera

I found this video very informative and useful at any level of education.

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  • Private message to Deborah Erdman

The teacher is getting the students to use stepping stones through the questioning which leads the students into the next question.  It encourages deeper thinking then in turn creates deeper understanding of the content.


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  • Private message to Andrea Grindea

This is a great video and informative. It's important for student to often get a more deeper meaning to various texts. 

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  • Private message to Kathryn Warner

I teach 3rd grade but I love this video, and believe if can be adapted for my students to think critically about what they are reading.   Starting with a question that is accessible for all the students and "gets things going" is great and then moving to questions about theme and then structure is something we can aspire to at a 3rd grade level.  I am going to try this. 

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  • Private message to Lisa Coder

I have bookmarked this viedoe because I think the types of questions she asks and the sequence in which they are asked is genius. Really good stuff.

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    My name is Karine Schaefer. I'm a 12th


    My name is Karine Schaefer. I'm a 12th grade English teacher at Bronxville High School, and this is my strategy for sequencing questions when leading a class discussion about a text. What I like about structuring questions in this way, starting with content, then going to meaning, and then tackling style, is that it guides the students through increasing levels of complexity and increasingly difficult questions.
    Ladies and gentlemen, let's spend a little time talking about "The Case of the Red Leg."
    In this lesson, we're discussing a nonfiction essay by Atul Gawande called "The Case of the Red Leg." it's the story of how Gawande, a surgeon, was confronted with a very difficult decision about how to treat one of his patients.
    Based on what you've read, would you want him as your doctor? Could you think of a pro and a con?
    STUDENT 1:
    I think a major positive for having Dr. Gawande as your doctor would be, he has a very good intuition. When the woman in question came in to him, he kind of realized that something was wrong right away, and even though...
    When we're discussing a text, a place that makes sense for me to start is to ask the students to react in some way to the content of the text. It lets the maximum number of students participate right away in the discussion, and we can get the ball rolling.
    STUDENT 2:
    You know that like, he's being honest with you about, maybe he is uncertain about something but that's the way that all doctors are, so knowing that he can admit it more readily is actually, I guess that would then be a pro.
    When I’m choosing a content question, I’m looking for a topic that will require them to go back through the nuances of the text and think about how they felt when they read those two texts.
    Are you saying that you feel like Dr. Gawande does the right thing?
    STUDENT 3:
    I think he made the decision that, to do the surgery and have her have a scar, or even if, like, she ended up losing a leg, it would be less of a consequence than death.
    Once we've done that and I have a sense that they understand what's happening here, I like then to move to the big picture and think about, what is the meaning of this piece?
    Now I’m going to turn to you to see if you can sum up what you think this essay is trying to say. Overall, what's the bottom line?
    STUDENT 4:
    I think that the bottom line of this story is how the mind can subconsciously know the situation before the actual knows person.
    Essentially, they're reiterating or generating a thesis for this essay.
    STUDENT 5:
    He’s saying that, when you're considering taking risks, operating under the assumption that you're in the worst-case scenario it sort of the responsible thing to do.
    Do you feel like this is an optimistic message, or a message that leaves you feeling a little disturbed?
    STUDENT 6:
    I think it is kind of optimistic because it is just showing you how incredible the human mind is. But then it's scary. Everything that's risk-taking is, there's always this chance that like, when you take a risk it's either going to be something really great or really bad, it's not really much of an in-between, because that's what a risk is.
    What I’m asking you to think about now is how this essay structures the argument.
    Then the time is right to ask the students to consider how that meaning is achieved. The style of the writing, the form of this piece.
    I’m interested in whether you think that this essay seems like a thesis essay.
    STUDENT 7:
    To me it did feel like a thesis essay because he is at all times sort of sticking to the point that there is uncertainty in medicine, and that each of the stories back up in evidence.
    The reason that I focus on structure in particular is that I’d like the students to apply what they know about how essays work in school to this essay that they're reading, this published, professional essay.
    STUDENT 8:
    It does not seem like a traditional thesis that we do. It seems as if he's kind of talking to himself and really into himself, like almost as a journal entry.
    What I like about structuring questions this way is that each question leads to the next question. And so, when they're at home by themselves, and they have to analyze a text, they know what the sequence is, they know how to get to some of the good stuff, and they know how to let themselves get there by starting small.
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School Details

Bronxville High School
177 Pondfield Road
Bronxville NY 10708
Population: 363

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Karine Schaefer


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