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Teaching kids to understand text-dependent questions
MONDAY, JUNE 15, 2015 10:31 AM

One of the key shifts in the Common Core Standards for English/language arts is that students should be able to use evidence they've gleaned from texts to answer questions, participate in discussions and write responses. This shift asks elementary, middle and high schoolers to read texts carefully and critically so they're able to answer text-dependent questions from their teachers or on assessments. But while these questions are not a new idea, the Standards now want them to be more complex, asking students to analyze and make connections. Here's more information on text-dependent questions and how to help students become comfortable answering them:

Text-dependent questions and the Common Core
According to the Common Core, the text-dependent questions students should be able to answer "depend on [students] having read the texts with care," rather than being able to answer based on prior knowledge or experience. In short, they require students to understand how to read critically, and analyze and evaluate the text, its overall meaning and its relation to the real world. Text-dependent questions can be as simple as, "Who is the main character?" Ideally, though, they should be more complicated, such as asking students to use evidence to support what they believe the author meant or what the main theme of the story might be. 

Encourage students to re-read
To help students answer text-dependent questions, the first step is to get them into the habit of re-reading. They may not have time to read an entire text twice, but as they answer questions they should feel comfortable returning to the specific paragraph or passage referenced in the question and analyzing what it means as part of the text as a whole. This is an essential step for more complicated questions that may require higher-level thinking.

Have students write their own
It's often effective to teach students to view questions from the perspective of the person who wrote them. What is the author asking for? An analysis? A description? The easiest way to get students to read questions from this viewpoint is to have them write their own. Assign a certain text or passage, and have students read it over, annotating or underlining complex or confusing ideas. Then have them craft their own questions about what they've annotated. Encourage them to use words like why, how, justify and support to ensure the questions are thought-provoking and involved. Then choose some examples from your students and discuss the questions and their answers as a class.