17: Using Student Questions to Build Storylines

September 18, 2020

In this episode, Erin explains why you should be using student questions to build your storylines. She also explains how you can build your storylines ahead of time and still use student questions.

How do student questions improve your storylines?

Students’ questions are a vital part of your storylines. The relationship between student questions, storylines, and phenomena can be summarized by this quote from

A storyline is a coherent sequence of lessons, in which each step is driven by students’ questions that arise from their interactions with phenomena…. A storyline provides a coherent path toward building disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts, piece by piece, anchored in students’ own questions.

Thinking about student questions in your storylines can be overwhelming.

Erin felt overwhelmed when she saw this definition of a storyline. She worried that this meant that she would never be able to plan her lessons ahead of time. She pictured that she would always be doing her planning last minute in order to incorporate student questions.

On this podcast, both Nicole and Erin have discussed how much time it can take to build a good storyline. Building your storyline while you are teaching it is impractical and improbable.

Still, an NGSS class is inquiry-based. So, you should be striving to answer the questions that students are asking. Erin has developed a plan for using students’ questions, while still having the ability to plan ahead.

How to Feature Student Questions in your Storyline Using Practical Strategies

Here is a step-by-step guide to building storylines without being overwhelmed by last-minute planning.

1) Make sure that you have great phenomena.

As we have said before, the phenomenon should be relatable to students. This helps students be curious about the content. And, if your students are curious, they will ask great questions.

2) Present your phenomenon to non-science teachers or family members and have them ask questions about the phenomenon.

Find people outside of your science team and present them with the phenomenon. This does two things:

  • It allows you to see if the phenomenon is as engaging as you thinking it will be.
  • It helps you to find out what questions a non-science person will ask.

3) Use the questions generated by your non-science people to build a tentative storyline.

Step two provides you with some initial questions to work with. Use these questions to build an initial storyline.

Since you got these questions from non-science These are questions that will likely be asked in your actual class.

4) Present your phenomenon to students and collect their questions.

Use these questions in one of the following ways:

  • Use the questions to edit your storyline when you have time to revise it.
  • SWAP out questions that are similar to the ones that you’d already planned on incorporating into your storylines.

Driving Questions Board

Create a place to display these questions. Ideally, this is a location where students can also add questions as the think of them throughout the lesson sequence.

Credit your students when you use their question.

Erin always credits the student who asked the question. She uses these questions as a driving question for a lesson or sequence. Then, she writes the name or initials of the student on the board or agenda.

This is a great way to create buy-in in your class.

Don’t be afraid to stray from your original lesson plan to include student questions.

This strategy allows you to build a tentative storyline and swap student questions for the questions that are used here. However, it is important that you still allow for some flexibility in your storyline.

Make room in your lesson sequence to investigate questions that you did not anticipate. Because you have planned most of your lessons ahead of time, you will have more time to make adjustments for these investigations.

Use additional questions as extension or elaboration projects.

You won’t be able to address all of your student questions in the time that you have allocated. So, consider using these questions to build extension activities.

Want to learn more?

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