Deep or Shallow

Reading to Learn

Lessons for Teaching Children to Ask or Answer Questions

By: Rebecca Smith


Rationale:  Comprehension should be a major focus when teaching reading.  If we did not comprehend anything the story would not be worthwhile.  To help students learn to comprehend what they read, it is important that students learn how to start asking themselves questions.  It is also important that students learn to ask good questions.  That is what this lesson focuses on.  Students should learn to ask deep questions that are important, ones that make them search for more.  They should not be asking shallow or factual questions.  This lesson will encourage students to begin asking themselves questions that will help them to comprehend the story.



1. Hank the Cowdog, copies for each student

(I have tailored this lesson to this story, but it would be very easy to tailor it to any other chapter book you may be working with at the time.)

2. Sticky notes, plenty for the whole class to have several each

3. Chalkboard and chalk

4. Checklist (below), a copy for each student

Can I find the answer to my question by rereading?

Do I have to make an inference to answer my question?

Could there be more than one answer to my question?



1. Explain Why:

-Ask students if they know why it’s important to read.  Allow the students to answer, but also make sure that they understand that, “it is important to learn to read so that we can communicate with each other and so that we can understand written language.”  Ask the students to give examples of reasons why it is important to read.  Some examples are items in the grocery store, driving signs, newspapers and many more.  “It is also important to comprehend what we read so that we can understand the full message.  Otherwise we just read and never get anything out of what we are reading.” 

 2. Review

-To review with the students you can discuss silent reading or other reading strategies that you have been working with.  “Can anyone tell me about silent reading?  What is it?  Why is it important that we learn how to read silently?”  Make sure that the students understand that silent reading is the way most adults read, otherwise, think of how loud the grocery store would be, reading labels and things!  Explain to the students that reading silently means that you are reading alone, but you need to make sure you are actually reading and comprehending.    

 3.  Explain How:

-“A good way for us to make sure that we are comprehending what we read when we read silently is to ask ourselves questions.  These questions will help us to think about what we are reading and help us to remember what it is that we are reading.  If we ask good questions we will better understand the story.  So today we will begin a new story and learn about different types of questions and which ones are better to ask ourselves while reading.”

 4. Model:

-“There are two types of questions you can ask, deep or shallow.  Shallow questions are factual questions."  Write on the board, "Sally is wearing a bright pink shirt."  "An example of a shallow question would be, what is the color of Sally's shirt today?  Pink, that is a fact, but it does not make you think further.  Now what if I asked you, why do you think Sally is wearing the bright pink shirt today.  There could be a lot of different answers to that question, and you have to think about it.  I think maybe she was wearing it because she was in a very good mood, or because pink is her favorite color.  One way to remember which question is which is to think of the ocean.  In very shallow water, do you find many fish?  No, they are usually in deeper water.  Just like in the shallow water one question doesn’t lead anywhere, but a deep question opens up to all of the other questions around.  Does that make sense?”  Make sure the students grasp this concept.  In fact, you may want to ask the students to provide you with examples of a shallow or deep question. 

5. Simple Practice:

-“Now lets talk more about how you know when a question is shallow or deep.  If you can find your answer by rereading the story or if it is something that was clearly stated in the book, what kind of question do you think that would be?  A shallow question.  What if you asked a question where you had to guess about some information you have not yet read about or if there is more than one answer to it?  That would be a deep question.  I will start this new story off by reading the first chapter to you.  Then we will talk about some questions afterwards.”  Read the first chapter of Hank the Cowdog to the students.  When you finish, ask the students to give you some examples of deep questions and shallow questions from the reading.  An example of a shallow question could be, what kind of animal did Hank pounce on?  An example of a deep question could be, why do you think Hank has such a since of responsibility and Dover just runs at the sight of trouble?

6.  Whole Texts:

-“Now, I want each of you to read the second chapter on your own, silently.  As you do so I want you come up with a few deep questions that would help you to comprehend the story.  Look at your checklist to make sure that you are writing deep questions.  Then, write those questions down on sticky notes and we will look at them once everyone is finished.”   

7.  Assessment:

- I will look at the questions they wrote on the sticky notes, asking students to share what they wrote.  In this way, I will assess each of the students individually to make sure that they comprehend the types of questions we discussed today.  Then I will wrap up with asking the students once again what it means to ask deep or shallow questions and why this is important.   


Erickson, John R..  Hank the Cowdog.  Penguin Books, Ltd., 1983.

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