Text dependent questions

The Student Achievement Partners website achievethecore.org asks that we steal their tools to prepare for the Common Core State Standards. Below is one of their tools entitled: A Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions for Close Analytic Reading.

I took the liberty to steal it and place it on my blog. Here goes…

A Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions for Close Analytic Reading.

Text Dependent Questions: What Are They?

The Common Core State Standards for reading strongly focus on students gathering evidence, knowledge, and insight from what they read.  Indeed, eighty to ninety percent of the Reading Standards in each grade require text dependent analysis; accordingly, aligned curriculum materials should have a similar percentage of text dependent questions.

As the name suggests, a text dependent question specifically asks a question that can only be answered by referring explicitly back to the text being read.  It does not rely on any particular background information extraneous to the text nor depend on students having other experiences or knowledge; instead it privileges the text itself and what students can extract from what is before them.

For example, in a close analytic reading of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” the following would not be text dependent questions:

  • Why did the North fight the civil war?
  • Have you ever been to a funeral or gravesite?
  • Lincoln says that the nation is dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.”
  • Why is equality an important value to promote?

The overarching problem with these questions is that they require no familiarity at all with Lincoln’s speech in order to answer them. Responding to these sorts of questions instead requires students to go outside the text. Such questions can be tempting to ask because they are likely to get students talking, but they take students away from considering the actual point Lincoln is making.  They seek to elicit a personal or general response that relies on individual experience and opinion, and answering them will not move students closer to understanding the text of the “Gettysburg Address.”

Good text dependent questions will often linger over specific phrases and sentences to ensure careful comprehension of the text—they help students see something worthwhile that they would not have seen on a more cursory reading.  Typical text dependent questions ask students to perform one or more of the following tasks:

Analyze paragraphs on a sentence by sentence basis and sentences on a word by word basis to determine the role played by individual paragraphs, sentences, phrases, or words

  • Investigate how meaning can be altered by changing key words and why an author may have chosen one word over another
  • Probe each argument in persuasive text, each idea in informational text, each key detail in literary text, and observe how these build to a whole
  • Examine how shifts in the direction of an argument or explanation are achieved and the impact of those shifts
  • Question why authors choose to begin and end when they do
  • Note and assess patterns of writing and what they achieve
  • Consider what the text leaves uncertain or unstated

Creating Text-Dependent Questions for Close Analytic Reading of Texts

An effective set of text dependent questions delves systematically into a text to guide students in extracting the key meanings or ideas found there.  They typically begin by exploring specific words, details, and arguments and then moves on to examine the impact of those specifics on the text as a whole.  Along the way they target academic vocabulary and specific sentence structures as critical focus points for gaining comprehension.

While there is no set process for generating a complete and coherent body of text dependent questions for a text, the following process is a good guide that can serve to generate a core series of questions for close reading of any given text.

Step One: Identify the Core Understandings and Key Ideas of the Text

As in any good reverse engineering or “backwards design” process, teachers should start by identifying the key insights they want students to understand from the text—keeping one eye on the major points being made is crucial for fashioning an overarching set of successful questions and critical for creating an appropriate culminating assignment.

Step Two: Start Small to Build Confidence

The opening questions should be ones that help orientate students to the text and be sufficiently specific enough for them to answer so that they gain confidence to tackle more difficult questions later on.

Step Three: Target Vocabulary and Text Structure

Locate key text structures and the most powerful academic words in the text that are connected to the key ideas and understandings, and craft questions that illuminate these connections.

Step Four: Tackle Tough Sections Head-on

Find the sections of the text that will present the greatest difficulty and craft questions that support students in mastering these sections (these could be sections with difficult syntax, particularly dense information, and tricky transitions or places that offer a variety of possible inferences).

Step Five: Create Coherent Sequences of Text Dependent Questions

The sequence of questions should not be random but should build toward more coherent understanding and analysis to ensure that students learn to stay focused on the text to bring them to a gradual understanding of its meaning.

Step Six: Identify the Standards That Are Being Addressed

Take stock of what standards are being addressed in the series of questions and decide if any other standards are suited to being a focus for this text (forming additional questions that exercise those standards).

Step Seven: Create the Culminating Assessment

Develop a culminating activity around the key ideas or understandings identified earlier that reflects (a) mastery of one or more of the standards, (b) involves writing, and (c) is structured to be completed by students independently.

About Anitra Butler

Ms. Butler received her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Bowie State University, a Master’s degree in Reading Instruction from Bowie State University, and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Bilingual Special Education from The George Washington University. She has also finished her third Master's degree in Instructional Design for Online Learning at Capella University. Ms. Butler plans to pursue doctoral studies in Language, Literacy, and Culture. Her research interests include comparative education visual literacy, sociolinguistics, and participatory program evaluation.
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