Book Talk or Story Conference Suggestions and Sample Questions


Page contents

  • Overview
  • Child and adolescent development and how it affects student responses
  • Goals to achieve quality responses
  • Question guidelines and suggestions to achieve these goals
  • Sample questions and investigative suggestions

Children read/listen/watch literature for many reasons: to dream, learn, laugh, enjoy the familiar, and explore the unknown. They are motivated for pleasure and engage the literature at their developmental level discovering ideas that match or challenge their present understandings and values. A balance between the familiar and unknown must create, sustain, or increase anticipation and expectations to motivate a reader/listener/viewer to continue their involvement for a meaningful transaction.

Before a book talk, conference, or discussion can begin, there has to be this meaningful transaction. So selection is critical. Looking at the numerous studies on students' interests we find it too diverse to be of much help other than students have different desires and if you they don't have a desire to read, listen, or view a piece of literature, then it might be good to attempt some motivational strategies. Consider, first what is appropriate for their developmental level and abilities. Second, is to support and challenge the student when they begin and to sustain the child's motivation until they are able to sustain it themselves. At the beginning generously ask questions and cautiously provide suggestions as student's motivation will be proportional to their immersion in a story. This will result in a discussion were students are eager to share their opinions and different views about the story and support their thinking logically with evidence. Students will need encouragement and a good model on how to do this, which hopefully the information here will supply. The result being a serious discussion where students recognize each other as knowledgeable thinking people. Where disagreement is recognized as good and often times necessary to establish alternative perspectives and new ideas.

To get the communication started sometimes all it takes is asking students what they would like to talk about or what they liked or found interesting with their reading, viewing, or listening. Additionally it is helpful to have a small set of questions or an activity ready to push their thinking beyond what they suggest.

The questions or activity needs to be an invitation to students to share their different views about the story and support their thinking logically with evidence. Students need encouragement and others to model how to do this.

A book talk, conference, or discussion should result in being a serious discussion where students recognize each other as knowledgeable thinking people. Disagreements are recognized as good and often times necessary to establish alternative perspectives and create new ideas. When they arise, students know to go to the text, video, or other media, find evidence, and use reasoning to discover solutions or to support their claims.

A quality discussion will relate to a strong educational philosophy. One that emphasizes knowledge to satisfy curiosity, survivability, caring, sharing, enjoyment, the power of knowledge and how to cooperate as a democratic learning community.

Child and adolescent development and how it affects student response

While reading and comprehension skills are attained with experiencing literature, simple experiences with the text alone are insufficient to move students to be skilled in critical analysis of literature. Personal intellectual development: such as conservation skills, systematic logical reasoning, and other mental structures necessary for complex types of thinking which may be attained from experiences outside literature, are necessary for higher understanding of literature and hence greater appreciation of it.

Resources related to child and adolescent development in general and specifically to literature.

Goals to achieve quality responses


Organization or Syntax of Conference or Talk

A simple three step syntax can be used to plan:

  1. Before,
  2. During, and
  3. After reading, viewing, or listening.

Think of some specific ideas that can be done during these times. However, always be careful to be flexible enough to allow for individual student differences and creative needs. Simple focus questions or ideas that encourage reading and anticipate possibilities in the before and during phases and wonderment for quality and enjoyment after.

Following are guidelines for preparing for and conducting a book talk, conference, or discussion for each step. Below them is a list of 47 general suggestions and questions. Enjoy!

Question guidelines and suggestions to achieve these goals

Before reading, viewing, and listening

  1. Confront ambiguities and uncertainties.
  2. Heighten anticipation and expectation.
  3. Heighten awareness for problems to be solved, difficulty to be faced, gap in information to be filled.
  4. Build on existing information or skills.
  5. Raise concern about a problem.
  6. Stimulate curiosity and desire to know.
  7. Make the familiar strange or strange familiar by analogy.
  8. Beware of inhibiting actions.
  9. Look at the same material from several different psychological or sociological viewpoints.
  10. Ask provocative questions requiring the learner to examine information in different ways and in greater depth.
  11. Make predictions, even from very limited information.
  12. Provide only enough structure to give clues and direction.
  13. Encourage thinking beyond what is known.
  14. Provide warm-up (easy to difficult, familiar to unfamiliar, bodily involvement...).

During reading, viewing, listening

  1. Raise the awareness of problems and difficulties as the activity progresses.
  2. Encourage creative thinking about character's personality, characteristics, or predisposition.
  3. Encourage inquiry and search for possible problems and solutions.
  4. Encourage creative thinking.
  5. Require deliberate and systematic exploration of a variety of literary elements.
  6. Ask questions for students to question completeness of information when information is incomplete.
  7. Encourage comparing and contrasting a variety of elements even ones that seem or prove to be irrelevant.
  8. Explore and examine mysteries.
  9. Maintain open-endedness.
  10. Maintain story outcomes as not being completely predictable.
  11. Require students to make predictions from limited information.
  12. Encourage reading with imagination. Make it sound like the real thing happening. Develop the sounds, sights, smells...
  13. Facilitate the search for honest and real understanding.
  14. Encouraged the use of inquiry skills and have students or the teacher model the use if needed.
  15. Encourage deferring judgments until enough data has been produced to make a judgment.
  16. Heighten anticipation and use surprise.
  17. Encourage visualization.

After reading, viewing, listening

  1. Keep using ambiguities.
  2. Use awareness of problem, difficulty, gap in information.
  3. Beware and acknowledge pupils of their potentialities based on responses and encourage students to do the same for themselves.
  4. Raise concern about problems.
  5. Participate in a constructive response for the problem.
  6. Provide continuity with previously learned skills, information, ...
  7. Encourage constructive, rather than cynical, acceptance of limitations.
  8. Dig more deeply, go beyond the obvious.
  9. Make divergent thinking legitimate.
  10. Encourage elaborating upon what is read.
  11. Encourage elegant solutions.
  12. Create an empathetic metaphor to give new feeling or facilitate understanding of object, person, or state.
  13. Experiment.
  14. Make the familiar strange or strange familiar by analogy.
  15. Use fantasy to find solutions to realistic problems.
  16. Encourage projection into the futures.
  17. Go beyond the text.
  18. Think about the impossible.
  19. Make the irrelevant relevant.
  20. Examine how the knowledge from one field relates to another.
  21. Look at material from several different viewpoints.
  22. Encourage manipulation of ideas, objects, information.
  23. Encourage multiple hypotheses.
  24. Try to let one thing lead to another
  25. Examine paradoxes.
  26. Encourage pushing a fundamental law to its limit.
  27. Discuss possible causes and consequences.
  28. Ask provocative questions.
  29. Discover and test potentialities .
  30. Reorganize information.
  31. Returning to previously acquired skill and information to see new relationships.
  32. Encourage self-initiated learning.
  33. Practice inquiry.
  34. Facilitate synthesis of different and apparently irrelevant elements.
  35. Encourage systematic testing of hypotheses.
  36. Facilitate thinking beyond what is known.
  37. Provide for testing and revision of predictions.
  38. Encourage transformation and rearrangement of materials.

Sample questions and investigative suggestions

  1. Why did you choose this story?
  2. Do you ever have some problems like the characters in the story? How do you solve these problems?
  3. What do you think of this story?
  4. Would you recommend it to a friend?
  5. When you read this book did you get any ideas which were not actually put into words?
  6. Was the main character perfect or did she/he make mistakes?
  7. If this story were a three act play, what main event would make up each act?
  8. Are there key words in the story that had more than one meaning? What were they and how did they affect the story?
  9. What did you learn from this story?
  10. Find an illustration and explain how and why it was or wasn't essential for the story? Describe what happens before and after the particular incident illustrated.
  11. If you were to write the author a letter, what would you say about his/her book?
  12. Did the story end the way you expected it to end? Tell me about the ending and why you think it was or wasn't appropriate. How might you have written it to change the outcome?
  13. Which of your classmates and friends do you think would like to read this book? Why?
  14. Do you think the author might have children of her/his own? What makes you think this way?
  15. Was there anyone in the story who seemed lonely? Would it have been possible to change this? If so, how could they have changed it?
  16. What was this story really about?
  17. What was the author trying to get the readers to understand?
  18. Show me the index, table of contents, title page, copyright, and publishing company of your book.
  19. Have you read other books similar to this book?
  20. How are they similar?
  21. Do you think you would enjoy living like or being like the person in the story? Why?
  22. What are some other books your author has written that you have read? How are they like this book or different from it?
  23. What character in the story did you dislike? Why? Are you like this person sometimes?
  24. Has anything ever happened to you similar to what happened to the characters in the story? Is that good or bad?
  25. Can you show me an unusual word from your book? What does it mean and how could you use it.
  26. Is the author writing about people living today or people who lived a long time ago?
  27. How does the title of the book relate to the story?
  28. If you were asked what kind of a book you would like for a gift, what would you say?
  29. What was the setting of the story?
  30. What was the plot of the story?
  31. Was the main character in the story popular or unpopular? What makes a person popular?
  32. In your book, show me: a root word, a word with a prefix, a word with a suffix, and a word with both a prefix and a suffix.
  33. What part of the book did you particularly enjoy? Why?
  34. Would you like to add to the ending of the book or change it in any way?
  35. Do you think the author wrote this book purely for enjoyment or for information? Explain your answer.
  36. What is the difference between fiction and non-fiction?
  37. How does the setting of the story affect the plot? How could you change the setting and still have the same plot?
  38. Did any part of this book bore you? Tell why.
  39. Would it be possible to get into an argument about this book? Which side of the argument would you take? Why do you feel this way?
  40. Did the action in the story remind you of something you have done?
  41. What is the name of the author? Find something about him/her.
  42. Did you like the book? Why?
  43. Can you find a word or two that had a different meaning when you read them somewhere else? What is the difference? Use it in a sentence.
  44. After you read this story, did you feel as though you wanted to do something about something? What would that be?
  45. Did anything in this book make you change your mind about something? If so, what was it?
  46. Did the book make fun of anyone? Explain the circumstances?
  47. State the main idea of the book in one sentence.


Dr. Robert Sweetland notes