Using Student Questions in Your Storyline

November 2, 2019 No Comments

I get so many questions asking about the relationship between storylines and phenomena, but I am rarely asked about student questions.  In an ideal scenario, student questions would be at the heart of your storyline.  Check out this definition from .

Storyline Definition

As you can see, student questions are really at the heart of building storylines.  However, in practical terms, using student questions can be overwhelming.

When I first started thinking about this concept, I envisioned a life where I could never plan ahead because I would have to wait for students to generate questions before I could plan my lesson for the next day.  The reality is that you don’t have to live that way.  Here are a few tips to help you use student questions to build your storyline without driving yourself absolutely crazy.

1. Select excellent phenomena.


As I have said before, phenomena should be relevant, and engaging.   The phenomena you choose sets the flow of your entire storyline. They should lead to a wide-range of student questions.  I have talked extensively about phenomena in other blog posts here,  and here so check out those posts if you would like to learn more.

2. Anticipate student questions.

question-mark-2123967_1280When presented with a phenomenon, people will often come up with similar questions.  Gather your team, ask them to put on their “student brain”, and generate as many questions as you can.

If you don’t have a team, recruit your loved ones.  Present them with your phenomenon and let them come up with questions.  I also like to ask non-science teachers at my school.  I often think that the non-science people generate better questions that more closely resemble the questions that might be asked by the students.

3. Build out your storyline using the questions that were generated.

Check out this post about the process that I use to create storylines.  As you can see, when I am building my storylines, I start with questions here on the left side.  Storylines Questions.png

From left to write, I create a sequence that will lead my student to discover a piece of the Disciplinary Core Idea or Crosscutting Concept.  I follow this general sequence for lessons.  (To learn more about how I build lessons, check out this blog post.)

Lesson Sequence

4. Teach and collect student-generated questions.

Present the phenomenon to your students and make sure that you record their questions.  I may have them generate questions in table groups and collect their questions.  Or, I may ask them to share questions out loud and record them on the board.

Blog Post Using Student Questions

It’s also a good idea to create a parking lot for student questions somewhere in your classroom.  Students should generate new questions as they progress through your lesson sequence and having space for them to put their questions is a great way to make this happen.


5. Swap in student questions.

It’s time to swap out the questions that were used in step 2.  I use the questions as investigative questions that show up on my daily agenda.  I make sure that I credit the student who came up with the question because it helps build engagement in the lessons.


You will find that the questions that were anticipated match some of the student questions so there will likely be several quick swaps.  If you have a great lesson that doesn’t match any of the questions that students generated, that’s okay too.  You can continue to use the questions that were generated ahead of time.

(If you are interested, here is the agenda template.)

6. Revise your storyline.

I like to revise my storyline immediately after I collect questions from students.  I am comfortable making some of these changes even after I have started the instructional sequence, but you might not be. If that doesn’t work for you, revise the storyline before you teach it the following year.

Erin Sadler

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