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Friday, March 5, 2010

That's a Good Question! Encouraging Inquiry through Nonfiction Texts

Students are naturally curious. How can we channel that curiosity into learning? By simply feeding it, of course, with books that not only provide answers, but ask more questions! The first step of our time-proven scientific method is, after all, to pose a question. What better way to open our minds to new ideas?

That's why I love books that encourage questions. One treasure I just recently discovered (which I wish I had owned when teaching third grade) is Does It Really Take Seven Years to Digest Swallowed Gum? and Other Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask.

In this fun, inviting book you'll find the answers to that question and more, including
  • Does the average human consume four spiders per year while sleeping?
  • Can reusing plastic water bottles cause cancer?
  • Is there a special chemical that will detect urine in swimming pools?
  • Is the number of people alive today greater than the number who have ever lived?
  • Does Jell-O gelatin really contain animal bones and skin?
The answers, of course, are interesting to know (especially if you poll your students ahead of time to tally their responses), but the explanations of the answers are equally intriguing, and often invite further exploration.

The perfect classroom extension would be to collect similar questions to answer, and myths to debunk. You're apt to find out that many of your students are Myth Busters fans! Collect the questions, the urban myths, and the "folk wisdom" and post them for all to see. Discuss ways that students might possibly find the answers. Not only will this encourage critical thinking, but it's an easy and highly motivating way to interest students in the research process. Some suggested resources:
  • Research Rocket (pictured) was recently featured at my Teaching that Sticks blog, and is highly recommended if you're looking for a fun, interactive way to teach the research process.
  • Brain Pop is a popular site featuring short videos on many nonfiction topics. If your school doesn't have a subscription yet,
  • Cool Science for Curious Kids explores four science "mysteries" by first posing questions.
  • Did You Ever Wonder? is a cool site where scientists discuss what they're exploring. Each scientist is introduced with a question which reflects the kind of work they're doing on a daily basis. Nice exploration into careers as well.
  • Exploratorium features explorations into many topics, using articles, simulations, and games.
  • MicroAngela features amazing microscopic views of insects, organisms, parasites, cells, and more.
  • ScienceMaster features articles, scientist biographies, and more; best explored using menu links on left.
  • The Why Files is subtitled "The Science Behind the News," and that's exactly waht it provides: a kid friendly site which helps students understand the science behind the headlines.
  • Wonderville includes age-categorized activities including 3-D animations, self-checking quizzes, printable at-home science explorations, and science career videos. Highly recommended!
Does It Really Take Seven Years to Digest Swallowed Gum? is written on a third to fourth grade reading level and its sections are short and well illustrated; your students will absolutely be able to read and enjoy it on their own. The best news of all, its a part of the Is That a Fact? series from Lerner Books which includes:
If your audience is a bit older, or if you're working with a gifted group, I'd also recommend The Nobel Book of Answers. Although not a picture book, this title aimed at young people features the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and other Nobel Prize winners providing answers to some of life's little known mysteries, including:
  • Why can't I live on French fries?
  • What is love?
  • Why is pudding soft and stone hard?
  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Why do I forget some things and not others?
  • Why does 1 + 1 = 2?
  • Will I soon have a clone?
The surprising, humorous, and sometimes touching answers by these profound thinkers will answer questions while prompting others. Isn't that, after all, what a good book should do?


Ticia said...

Great post with lots of great resources to go check out someday.

The Book Chook said...

I'm not a kid, but I would love a lesson like that. Great resources and ideas as usual, Keith. Love the poll idea.

The Process said...

Wow, sorry I didn't put a direct link to your site, but I was just using my blog as a place for reflection, with no intent of anyone else reading it besides me. :) How did you locate it?

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing these books! You may want to check out Nature Got There First: Inventions Inspired by Nature. It's one of my favorite books to get kids thinking.

Keith Schoch said...

Ticia: Glad you dig it! You can always use the search bar at top right to find this stuff again when you need it.

Book Chook: Thanks for the visit! I know you're busy with your own site, so I feel honored when you stop in.

The Process: Found you through a Google Alert! No secrets on the Internet, it seems. Glad you find the resources useful here.

Michelle: Thanks for the recommendation. I'm always on the lookout for the good stuff!