Learn what works

Generating questions while reading is an important way for students to improve comprehension of text. Initially, teachers can model and teach students when and how readers ask themselves questions as they read. Students will learn that good readers are constantly questioning while engaged with text. Students can then practice by generating questions for peers to answer. As their skills develop, students will develop awareness of their own cognitive processes and be able to generate questions independently as they are reading on their own.

Asking appropriate questions during reading improves comprehension in several ways. It helps students to:

  • Recall information
  • Focus on important information
  • Make connections to background knowledge
  • Read actively

Generating Different Kinds of Questions

Various kinds of questions should be asked. These can be modeled explicitly so the students learn to generate different kinds of questions when they read. One method of generating different kinds of questions is by using a template like Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) that delineates between two categories and among four kinds of questions:

  • In the Book Questions
    • Right-there questions that can be answered from a sentence or two of the text.
    • Think-and-search questions that can be answered by combining information from several paragraphs or pages.
  • In my Head Questions
  • Author-and-me questions that make connections between the text and students’ background knowledge.
  • On-my-own questions that ask students to reflect on concepts within the text, but do not require pulling any information from the text.

The following documents will be helpful in understanding how to teach questioning/answering skills and at what grade levels various types of questions are appropriate.

Generating Questions of the Author or Text

Another questioning strategy students can be taught is Questioning the Author (QtA). In this questioning strategy the reader is asking questions about the author’s message–what the author is trying to say, why the author is saying it, and why the author said it in a particular way. In QtA the reader assumes the author is fallible and may not communicate the message clearly or may communicate it in a biased way. QtA is first done as a discussion. However, the goal is for students to generate the same types of questions as they read on their own.

In classroom textbooks and other non-fiction text, questions can be generated using text features as a guide. Under each heading or subheading, students can be taught to generate several questions they think will be answered in the text segment. Questions of this sort might also be generated around tables and charts, maps, or pictures.

Finally, it is particularly helpful with younger readers to teach them how to generate questions based on text structures they are encountering. The questions asked while reading a cause-effect passage would explicitly draw out the cause(s), effect(s), and relationship between the two. While questions asked within a fact-opinion passage would help students notice the differences between the factual information and opinions based on the facts.

It is important to remember that teachers initially need to model these strategies for generating questions. Then, using the gradual release of responsibility framework, the strategies must be transferred to the students. It is by internalizing these strategies that students become competent readers.

Steps for QtA
Sample Questions for QtA
Sample Questions for Text Structure

See how it works

Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) Kindergarten
QAR Grade 2
QAR Grade 4
QAR Grade 6
Questioning the Author (QtA) Elementary Lesson
QtA Adolescent Vignette
Questions based on text structure

To begin teaching students how to generate questions while reading, the classroom teacher may begin with explicit instruction in the strategy. During the explicit instruction [link me], the teacher will describe how to use the strategy and why it improves reading comprehension. The teacher will model the process of generating questions by verbalizing the thought process involved.

Then using the Gradual Release of Responsibility, the teacher will involve the group in generating and answering questions together. This may be done with a large group, or during small group instruction. It’s important to emphasize that the questions should not be formed to “trick” others, but rather to help everyone better understand the text. Next, students should be given the opportunity to general questions collaboratively–in small groups or pairs. During this time, the classroom teacher may work with students who are having trouble mastering the technique. Finally, students should be given the opportunity to practice the strategy independently. This may at first be done in writing so that the classroom teacher can assess how effectively students are using the strategy. Written samples may also be collected from time to time throughout the course to continue monitoring use of the strategy.

Do what works

Explicit Instruction planning guide
QAR Student Chart
Questioning the Author planning guide
Think-aloud implementation form
Questions based on text structure


  • Duke, N. & Bennett-Armistead, V. (2003). Reading & Writing Informational Text in the Primary Grades. New York, NY: Scholastic.
  • Duke, N. & Pearson, P. (2002). Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension. In A. E. Farstrup & S.J. Samuels (Eds.)  What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (Third Edition). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
  • Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2004). Improving Adolescent Literacy: Strategies at Work. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Iowa Department of Education. (2008). Every Child Reads.
  • McKeown, M., Beck, I. & Worthy, M. (1993). Grappling with text ideas: Questioning the author. The Reading Teacher 46(7).
  • National Institute for Literacy. (2007). What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy. Washington, D.C. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
  • Vacca R. & Vacca, J. (2002). Content Area Reading. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Wilhelm, J. (2001). Improving Comprehension with Think-Aloud Strategies. New York, NY: Scholastic.