CHANDLER, ArizonaWhy do some questions ignite exciting classroom discussions while others fizzle? What's a "fat" question? And what's a "skinny" one?
Those are just a few of the intriguing topics gifted students ponder in Ruth Sunda's language arts class at Kyrene de las Brisas Elementary School. In fact, much of her class time could be described as "thinking about thinking."
Sunda gets the ball rolling by introducing her fourth- and fifth-graders to Bloom's Taxonomy of Higher-Order Thinking Skills. She uses presentation software to explain Bloom's three levels of critical thinking (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), then has students break into smaller groups for discussion. Working with a book or story they already know, they try their hand at writing questions that will prompt higher-order thinking skills. She calls these "thinking-cap questions"ones that require children to "use their heads."
Next, students go online in pairs to investigate existing Web sites that offer study questions to accompany literature units. They evaluate the quality of the questions, based on their understanding of higher-order thinking skills. They sort questions into "fat" and "skinny" categories. Fat questions are meatier and require more mental processing, such as performing a certain thinking skill or task. Skinny ones can be answered with a word or two, often the simple recall of a specific detail.
To apply what they've learned, these nine- and ten-year-olds next set out to create a literature unit for primary-level readers. They read perennial favorites, such as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle or Freckle Juice. This time, though, they're reading for a new purpose: to create study aids such as vocabulary lists, questions targeting literary elements, "thinking cap" questions that require critical thinking, and a "fun" activity such as a crossword puzzle or word search that uses details from the targeted book.