How Using Question Stems Changed the Way I Teach Reading

Each school year, it seems like more and more gets added to my school day, but the time I have to teach stays the same.

I’m a firm believer in work smarter, not harder, so I knew I needed to add something versatile to my reading block that allowed me to target standards easily and efficiently.

In came question stems! I pulled together a list of questions aligned to each and every reading standard. I even put them in different formats to meet my changing needs. Check out the game-changing ways that I use these question stems below!

Reading Conferences (1:1 Support)

In my classroom, I like to determine which skills each student needs to work on and keep those skills on a clipboard in my classroom. I update them at least once per quarter or as needed when a student moves to proficiently level with a particular skill.

When I do reading conferences with students, I am sure to bring my clipboard with me! On the clipboard, I have my student list and which skill they’re focusing on, along with my standards-based questions stems.

With each student, I flip to the set of questions that match their skill to know I’m targeting precisely what they’re working on! This makes my life so much easier.

After the quick conference, I am sure to write down the date I met with them. By doing this, I’m holding myself accountable for meeting consistently with each student. I’m also keeping documentation of what we worked on or what I observed when I met with each student. (This is so important for intervention meetings and communicating with parents!)

Reading Conference Checklist

Small-Group Instruction 

During Small Group instruction, I grab my set of question stems for the particular skill we are working on. For example, if we are working on main idea during our non-fiction unit, I’ll grab my RI.4.2 stems.

These questions allow me to move through this small group with ease. I’m never struggling to think about what to ask students, and the questions I’m asking are aligned to the standard because I have them on a binder ring, ready to go!

Reading Centers 

Within reading centers, I’ll often add our skill’s question stems on a binder ring. Here, students will pair up to ask one another a question from the set. I am sure only to do this center after students have done their independent reading for the day.

This practice allows students to practice those vital speaking and listening skills!

I will give you fair warning, though. It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of modeling before this center is running smoothly!

Reader’s Notebook

Using a reader’s notebook is one of my favorite ways to use question stems!

I’ll frequently project a question stem on my whiteboard by zooming into one of the question stem cards in the PDF as a reading response.

Then, I have students journal the answer to the prompt in their Reader’s Notebooks. Finally, I ask students to share this notebook with me during reading conferences to check in on student progress. (Accountability is key!)

Exit Tickets

As a quick formative assessment, I’ll give my students a reading response sheet and have them jot down an answer to a standards-based question.

I’ll present the question to them the same way I do when I have them record their response in their reader’s notebooks by projecting it on my interactive whiteboard.

Parent Involvement 

This is a bonus way that I use my standards-based question stems! I often have one or two parents each school year who ask me how they can best support their child’s reading skills at home. Rather than reinventing the wheel each time I’m asked this, I send home a copy of my question stems! This way, parents can read with their child at home and have a set of guided questions that they can ask.

Providing parents with specific, easy-to-use supports for home goes a long way!

Another way to do this is to send a copy of standards-based questions to every student each time you move on to a new skill! I like to copy these questions on bright paper when I send them home so that they’re easy to find! I also tell parents to look for them in my weekly newsletter home!

Where can you find standards-based question stems for your grade level? 

Right here, of course! 

Question Stems in Fiction and Nonfiction for 3rd - 5th Grades

TAKE A PEEK AT THIS RESOURCE! It has everything you need to make teaching reading SO much easier. 



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Hi, I’m Jenn! With 20 years of teaching in the classroom and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction, my passion is to support teachers and their students by offering helpful teaching tips and quality resources. Thanks so much for joining me here!

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