Use Text-Dependent Questions to Guide a Close Read

What Are Text-Dependent Questions?
What’s the fuss about text-dependent questions? The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts require students to refer to the text they have read when answering questions. In the past, a typical question about the Gettysburg Address, for example, might have been, “Is war worth the number of lives it costs?” This is a very thought-provoking question, which requires students to access their background knowledge about war, but it does not require reading the speech. A text-dependent version of this question would be, “Did Lincoln believe that war is worth the lives it costs? What in his speech supports your answer?” Recently, I heard a speaker comment that the use of text-dependent questions, which do not rely on previously acquired information, levels the playing field for those students who lack rich backgrounds.

Why Use Text-Dependent Questions?Magnifying Glass
Text-dependent questions are used during a close read to guide students back into the text to locate the specific information needed to provide support for responses regarding the text. In other words, they serve to help students find—within the text—evidence, themes, points of view, structure, language, etc. (as the CCSS/ELA require) to support deep understanding, discussion, and writing about that text or a group of related texts.

Creating Text-Dependent Questions
Fisher and Frey suggest that there are categories of questions, arranged in hierarchies, which can help students “move from explicit to implicit meaning and from sentence level to whole text and across multiple texts.”  (Fisher & Frey, 2012, 2013) First of all, let it be noted that these hierarchies are not rigid, and questions can be asked in any order. They merely suggest a progression of each type of question. Questions can move from the word level through sentence, paragraph, text segments, to the entire text and across texts on the same topic. And, questions can move from general understandings and explicitly stated content to higher level skills such as opinions, arguments, and inter-textual connections. All of these questions should be helping students to get at the deep meaning of the complex text. And a final note, just asking  the questions does not insure that students are learning how to read deeply. Teachers must model the thinking required to find the information and formulate text-dependent answers.

Adapted from  Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (in press).  Common State Standards in Literacy (Grades 3-5).  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree

Fisher, Douglas and Nancy Frey. 2012.  “Text-Dependent Questions.” Principal Leadership, September, 2012, National Association of Secondary School Principals. 70-73.  Accessed April 25, 2013

Fisher, Douglas and Nancy Frey. 2012.  “Text-Dependent Questions.”  Engaging the Adolescent Learner, International Reading Association. April, 2012.  Accessed April 25, 2013.

For more posts in this series click on the links below:
Post # 1: How Do We Help Students Access Complex Text?
Post # 2: What Is Text Complexity and Why Do We Care?