Can I get a hand with SAQs?

Thursday, August 8, 2013
Brought to you by Lori

Everyone across the state of Texas say it with me! If our kids could just __, their SAQs would be so much better! That __ is almost like a bad word. It's hard to teach. It's hard for kids to do. yells it loud and clear. Inferencing has taken its toll on kids [and teachers] across the state, and we need help in fixing this problem. 

In the fall, Suzanne and I co-taught a class of acceleration kids. These kids had been unsuccessful on the reading test THREE times. They knew what SAQs were. They had done dozens upon dozens of them. They knew graphic organizers. But their product was less that stellar because of the struggle to make that all-important inference. These kids were consistently writing 0s or 1s. 

More than anything I wished that we could make the SAQ feel more like a conversation for the kids. In fact, I wanted to shift to verbal SAQs for the first few weeks of this Hybrid English class. Kids needed to see that SAQs are really just explanations of a good understanding of the story. You write it just like you would explain it to a teacher. 

After some quick research, we landed on our bestie, Gretchen Bernabei's website and her SAQ questions stems. Folks...they are simple, yet genius. Here's how it works:

Answer the question.
  1. How do you know?
  2. Huh? What does that mean?
  3. How else do you know?
  4. Huh? What does that mean?
  5. So...your answer to the question is...what?
Questions 2 and 4 are clearly the most important because that is where the inference lives. Questions 1 and 3 are text evidence, where question 3 guides students to add to the evidence already given. It really does help to connect the students' thinking. Below is the link so that Gretchen can explain it better than I can. Don't be alarmed that it says OER instead of SAQ...the strategy still works beautifully.

SAQ Hand Graphic Organizer

To keep it Curly and do it a little differently, we decided to help kids remember the question stems using their own hand as a graphic organizer. To make it even more memorable, you can teach the kids a song. Use the highlighted words above and sing it to the tune of "Old McDonald." It sounds like this:

Old McDonald had a farm..."HOW? HUH? HOW? HUH? SO..." [except don't sing the Old McDonald part...because that would just be weird]

Want to make it even more Curly and crazy? Use washable markers and have the kids write the highlighted words on their hands. Sing the song and point to your fingers. It's all kinds of crazy fun, and it yields better responses. It helps if the kids can work with this strategy verbally several times before they ever move it to paper. We greatly closed the gap for our struggling students, helping them pick up more points on the SAQ.

Use this strategy in your room, and then lend a helping hand to someone else!


  1. I love this!! I am a new follower but your ideas are genius!

    Instead of the Old McDonald part I'm going to have my kids sing... "We want to answer an OER/SAQ, How? Huh? How? Huh? So..." (we still call them OERs at my school)

    1. Such a great idea! I'm totally stealing this. Thanks for sharing, and I'd love to hear more about how you use this and other strategies in your class!

  2. Thank you so much for posting these ideas!!

  3. Girls, this is great! Can you show me what a finished product looks like when students use this?