Create College-Ready Readers with Text-Dependent Questions

Build content literacy and cater to the Common Core State Standards by creating text-dependent questions to accompany reading passages.

By Stef Durr

college-aged students

There’s a strong push for content literacy in all classrooms across all domains. As the Common Core State Standards attempt to prepare students to succeed in college, teachers are pushing them to analyze texts, investigate word choice and meaning, make inferences, and use text evidence in the process. Now that literacy is a shared goal, bring text-dependent questions into your classroom to encourage a deeper analysis.

What Are Text-Dependent Questions?

Text-dependent questions require learners to refer back to the text to answer the question. They cannot answer the question based on background knowledge or other experience; they must find the answer in the text. Below are two example questions that a teacher might give to a class reading Hatchet. One is text-dependent, and one is not.

  • Text-dependent example: When Brian finds the turtle eggs, he repeats the phrase “just an egg” several times. What is the significance of these lines?
  • Non-text-dependent example: Brian was able to survive in the wild for months. Could you do the same? How would you ensure your survival?

The first question points to specific lines in the text, encouraging careful comprehension. The second question asks pupils to make a connection, but it does not require thoughtful analysis of the text.

Why Are Text-Dependent Questions Important?

One of the main reasons students drop out of college is text complexity. If we start challenging them with complex texts in middle and high school, while also teaching them analysis skills, they will be equipped for complex texts when they reach college.

How Do You Create Text-Dependent Questions?

First, read the text section that you will give to your class. As you read, look for the following:

  • Difficult words that can be defined using the context.
  • The author’s stylistic choices, if they impact the reading or meaning of the text.
  • Any sections that might prove especially difficult for students to comprehend (which might lend to a close reading).
  • Lines or sections that encourage readers to make predictions/ inferences.

Next, create specific questions that reference particular lines, words, or information given. Remember, if pupils can answer the question successfully without using the information found in the text, then it is not a text-dependent question. For middle schoolers or particularly difficult texts, consider embedding the questions throughout the text in order to orient the reader. They should be in the same sequence as the information is provided. This will help students develop an understanding of the information as they read or re-read.

You can paste the questions throughout the text, or you can use a basic, three-column format. In the first column, paste the text that pupils will be reading. Be sure to chunk the text (meaning that certain paragraphs or sections are separated from others to ease the reading). In the second column, list and define any vocabulary words that students won’t likely encounter soon, but whose definitions are necessary for comprehending the text. In the final column, present your text-dependent questions (physically aligned with the information needed to answer them). Here is an example of what that might look like using a non-fiction article my class read last week:



You can also challenge your scholars to use text evidence in their answers to help them explore the text further. For example, you could present a question like, “Why are so many adolescents and teenagers emigrating from Mexico into the United States? Use textual evidence to support your answer.” This question requires them to practice re-reading and pulling a specific line of text from their reading.

After creating and formatting the questions, align each question with a specific skill, or standard, to direct your focus. Assessing your students’ skills will be easier when each question is attached to a specific standard. When you identify a common pattern of success or struggle within your classroom, you can use this information to direct your teaching or reteaching of specific standards.

Remember that pupils don’t have to encounter text-dependent questions five days a week in your class, but aiming to present this type of challenging question at least twice a week will help them master close, analytical reading. How are you teaching content literacy in your classroom? Help our Lesson Planet community explore new ways to teach reading and writing skills in any classroom by leaving your comments below!