Tying Depth of Knowledge and Text-Dependent Questions Together

Understand the six levels of text-dependent questions and the positive effect they can have on your classroom.

By Matthew Spinogatti


Students answering text-dependent questions

The right question at the right time can have a monumental effect on student understanding and comprehension. This is why we have been hearing so much about both text-dependent questions and depth of knowledge (DOK) through the rollout of Common Core. However, not everyone is able to see the bridge that these two new resources can create for our students.

Text-dependent questions are those that rely on scholars revisiting and/or referencing the text in order to appropriately answer the question. This guarantees a dedication to close reading strategies and a separation from opinion-based answers. DOK questions are those that provide both a foundation and a more nuanced level of understanding for any text.

These two resources should be used in unison in order to achieve the maximum level of comprehension and meaning from a text. The next six levels of questions correlate with the DOK chart and when implemented, will create a strong foundation for students to work through a text.

General Understanding

These questions lay the foundation for deeper level of thought to be built upon. Before one can begin to analyze or apply levels of meaning to a text, he must first understand the big idea, main focus, or claim that the author is attempting to make. This level of question is meant to pave the way for more complex level of understanding. However, if this step is skipped, readers may end up going down the wrong road and miss out on deeper insights later on.

Key Details

These are the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions. The information in this type of question will have been presented directly in the text. Nothing from this level of question has to be implied but instead, simply located. However, they should not focus solely on minutiae or “busy work” but instead be used to scaffold. These levels of questions will lay the groundwork for more complex questions as well.

Vocabulary and Text Structures

If general understanding and key detail questions are the foundation of a house, then vocabulary and text structures are the walls. Every piece of writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, is constructed by the author to meet a desired result. Whether the goal is to inform, inspire, or entertain, authors use specific vocabulary and text structures in their writing. By having text-dependent questions that aid in the exposure of this structure; students have walls on which they can begin to hang meaning, context, and author’s tone.

Author’s Purpose

If we are to continue with our house building metaphor, then author’s purpose is the roof that rests upon the foundation and walls. The purpose is the roof that covers and contains. Why are students reading this particular piece? What is the point or purpose? What questions have been answered or what lessons have been learned from reading this piece of text. The author has used basic details, evidence or support, and a specific text structure in order to hold up the purpose of their piece. In order for students to continue on their path of DOK questions, they need to both analyze and understand the author's purpose.


Inference allows students to step back and view this newly built house as a whole. It now has a foundation, walls, and a roof. Inference questions require them to have read the piece of writing in its entirety and derived both understanding and purpose from the text. The questions that they have worked through up to this point will have prepared them to now see the text as a complete unit of argument. At this point they can ask themselves, what is this text arguing and how is it supporting its argument? They are then able to understand and analyze the validity of that argument as a whole compared to other arguments being used.

Opinions, Arguments, Intertextual Connections

This level of text-dependent question lines up with level four of depth of knowledge and should be used sparingly in the classroom. At this point, students have read the same piece of text several times and are now able to cast an opinion on the piece or integrate it into an original argument. They are able to compare it to other texts of similar or contrasting arguments and justify or negate its validity. By being able to accomplish this level of text-dependent question, they are exemplifying a deep understanding of the text in question.

Additional Resources

Text Dependent QuestionsIncrease Reader AccountabilityAcademic Language in Motion