Increasing Reading Comprehension with Smart Questions

One of the best ways of increasing reading comprehension and promote learning is to ask questions. But all questions are not created equal. Different types of questions focus on the different levels of comprehension.

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The first level of comprehension requires the reader to "read the lines." This level of comprehension is often referred to as literal, concrete, or direct comprehension. These types of questions are the easiest to create. The questions who, what, where, and when are often associated with what is considered to be the lowest level of comprehension. Literal questions focus on what is important, not unusual. (Marzano, Pickering, Pollock 2001) A typical literal question might be: "What is the name of the school Susan attends?"

Progressing up the comprehension ladder to a higher level of comprehension are the types of questions where the answers can only be found by "reading between the lines". This type of comprehension is known as inferential, critical or thinking comprehension. Oftentimes, these questions involve some sort of opinion. (Auman 2008) Questions asking why and how are often used for inferential comprehension. An inferential question might be: "How did Mary feel after she left the principal's office?"

The highest level of comprehension demonstrates whether the reader can read "beyond the lines". Evaluative, creative, analytical, or application are all terms used to describe this type of question. Evaluative comprehension questions prove that the reader knows the information and can use it. (Auman 2008) An example of an evaluative question could be: "How would you have handled the situation differently than Joe to accomplish a better outcome?"

The CROWD question model (Burns, Griffin, Snow 1999) is a good reference for creating a balance of literal, inferential, and evaluative types of questions when increasing reading comprehension. This model can be used by anyone.

C Completion or fill in the blank questions
R Recall Questions
O Open-ended question
W "What" vocabulary question
D Distancing questions - Making connections to life experiences.

Remember, the inferential and evaluative questions may be more challenging to create, but these are the higher level questions that create deeper learning and result in increasing reading comprehension.(Marzano, Pickering, Pollock 2001) Finally, to maximize the effectiveness of carefully crafted "smart" questions allow enough time to answer the question. Allowing time to formulate answers along with a balance of literal, inferential, and evaluative questions allows the reader to demonstrate comprehension on any assignment.

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