Text Dependent Questions and Tasks

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

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.  

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Rhonda Kaye,
Aug 13, 2013, 7:32 AM