Using Sources to Guide Questioning
Lesson Plan

In this lesson, secondary students will create questions about a specific topic based on background knowledge from analyzing a variety of sources.

SUBJECT: English / Language Arts

Social Studies

GRADE LEVEL: Middle School

High School

OBJECTIVES: Students will analyze a variety of sources through the lens of inquiry.

Students will explore background knowledge on a topic to help them create questions they want to answer.

Students will answer an overall question about the main topic.

MATERIALS: A way to project/share questions created as a group

A physical or digital way to record and share individually created questions

TIME NEEDED: Three to five class periods


Educator Note: I collaborated on this lesson with our AP Seminar teacher. The focus for the semester was on the theme of Wealth and Poverty. Each week, we explored a different topic related to the overall theme. Topics have included the word gap, food deserts, the Olympics/sports, minimum wage, and the digital divide. For this particular lesson, we focused on the digital divide. For your version of this lesson, you can use whatever topics and sources make sense for the grade level or content area you are working with. This will probably work best with topics that are unfamiliar to your students, or where their background knowledge is limited. This could be a standalone lesson on the art of asking questions, or the introduction to an inquiry/research project.


Using Pear Deck (or other means), students share their background knowledge of the topic by answering questions like:

  • What do you think the digital divide?
  • What do you already know about the digital divide?
  • What does the digital divide make you think of?

Examining Sources

Each day, students interact with a different type of source on the given topic. Pick as many or few sources as you have time to explore. This will determine how many days will be needed for this lesson. Students can read/view/listen to items independently or with the whole group.


Day One: An article from one of the library databases
Day Two: An article from a website
Day Three: Pieces of artwork/political cartoons related to the topic
Day Four: A TED talk on the topic

For each of the sources, students answer the following (you can adjust to fit the needs/skills of your students):

  1. Is this a trustworthy source? Why/why not?
  2. What bias could this source/author have on this topic? Why?
  3. What bias could the audience have about this topic? Why?
  4. What is the main point of this source?
  5. What evidence is provided to support this main point?

Students work independently or in small groups to answer these questions.

Discuss answers and additional perspectives/insights gained from the source as a whole group.

Asking Questions

At the end of each class period, students write questions they still have about the main topic after exploring that day's source. These questions can be crafted individually or in pairs/groups, but they will eventually be shared with the entire group, as they will be used later on. We used a shared slide deck in Google slides, but there are many possible ways to submit the questions.

After the students have finished typing in their questions, go through them as a group. If wording needs to be adjusted based on the discussion, do so right then on the slide.

Here are some of our Day Three questions:

  • How is geographical context important when examining the digital divide?
  • How would fixing the digital gap benefit different groups of people?
  • How has the issue of the digital divide changed over time?

And some of our Day Four questions:

  • How does the digital divide affect health and education issues?
  • How did the government target internet access of different racial groups in the past and how are they still recovering from it?
  • Which areas/locations in the United States, and the world in general, are most affected by the digital divide?

Final Day

Students re-examine the questions created in the previous lessons. As a group, go over each question in the slide deck again.

Students will select one overall question that interests them. They can choose one from the list, they can revise a question on the list, or they can craft a new question not already shared.

Student Example: One of our students, during this final class, wanted to know, "What methods did the U.S. government use to target the internet access of different racial groups in the past and how are they still recovering from the impacts?" After a little time spent searching, they were struggling to find information to answer this question. We discussed that changing the question to a more broad look at how the digital divide affects racial (and socio-economic) groups overall might elicit more results. The original question was too narrow, and the data to answer was not readily accessible. Their question ended up being "What are the racial effects of the digital divide?" and the paper was titled "The Connection between Race and the Digital Divide."

Once students select their final questions, they will explain why they chose that question and provide possible search terms they can use to find sources to answer their question. This can be done as a group in class, if time allows.

Possible Next Steps

Students can use their selected question as their focus for a short independent research paper. Students can then locate 4–6 sources that help answer their question. Their selections can include one of the sources shared in class and one from one of the school's databases.

Students create an annotated bibliography for each of their chosen sources that includes answers to each of the five questions listed in the Examining Sources portion of this lesson. Provide work time during the search process so that students can seek help if needed.

Have students meet individually with you or their teacher (if you are collaborating) prior to beginning writing their research report to discuss the sources they found and how well they answer their question. Some students may need help refining their search terms or reworking their question, if they had difficulty finding sources.


Formative feedback can be given as students share/explain their questions for specificity and nuance. Assessment can also be based on the final question and on how well the resulting research report addresses that question.


Get more ideas about engaging students in the process of questioning in Courtney Pentland's editorial, "The Art of Asking Questions" and in her Elementary School lesson, "Asking Thin and Thick Questions."

About the Author

Courtney Pentland, MEd, is the school librarian for North Star High School in Lincoln, NE, adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha Library Sciences program, and a past-president for the Nebraska School Librarians Association. She is the current president-elect for the American Association of School Librarians. She earned her master's in secondary education and master's endorsement in K-12 library science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. You can follow her library adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary.

MLA Citation

Pentland, Courtney. "Using Sources to Guide Questioning." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2023, Accessed 28 Jan. 2023.

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