With the popularity of Number Talks by Sherry Parrish and other resources that discuss higher order questioning as a strategy to increase complexity in our classrooms, question stems and discussion stems have become a necessity to helping younger children begin to understand these types of higher level thinking skills. A great deal of modeling and reflection goes into helping younger children understand the difference between a trivial question and a question that requires more in-depth thinking. Having question stems from which to choose from can guide students to ask more complex questions.

Sentence starters and Question Stems are perfect for math talks and engaging conversations in reading and writing workshop, as well as science and social studies. Question stems allow children to experience higher order thinking and are a powerful tool to use in the elementary classroom.

I would start out with 3-4 to get started. Model how to use each question stem to take the conversation further. Share with your students how you would determine which question stem would work for the situation. Allow students to practice with partners and teams. Make this a regular activity in your classroom, and watch how the conversations take a more meaningful turn.

I have also created sentence starters that help students respond to some of the question choices. Sentence starters give kids a jumping off point and allow reluctant responders an opportunity to share their thinking, as well.

This packet contains 52 question stems/conversation starters, and 14 sentence stems for initiating conversation. Each set comes in a smaller (4 to a page) set that can be laminated and put on a ring for students to have at a team or in their desk. Each set also includes a larger version that is great for bulletin boards, flip charts, or pocket charts. There are many many choices from which to choose. You might want to start with a few at a time to get started and gradually increase the use as students begin to demonstrate understanding. Some conversation starters are geared towards math talks, but many of them can be used for all subjects. (Strategy talk works well in decoding conversations, too.)

Let me know how you are increasing meaningful discussion in your classroom?

Until next time,

Happy Teaching and Learning

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