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Decipher Literal v. Inferential Reading Questions
February 13, 2013
There is a direct relationship between a question asked about a reading passage and the type of answer required. When students don’t understand this, they spend time looking for answers they aren’t going to find and guessing at answers that are literally stated in the text. For this very reason, Taffy Raphael (1986) developed the concept of the Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) and suggests teaching it to our youngest readers.
Taffy’s research identified four specific types of QAR. However, it’s best to introduce primary students to this concept by targeting the two broader categories that encompass them.
In-the-Text Questions are literal. They ask students to find specific details stated within the text. Students don’t need any background knowledge on the topic in order to answer these questions. They just need to be able to find the information.
- When you first introduce students to this type of question, represent it with a visual image or icon, like a reader looking into a book.
- Discuss the words that often signal an in-the-text question: Who, What, Where, When, List, Find, Name, What kind, and How many.
- Reveal a traffic light image. Call these questions the “Green Go” questions. When students see these questions, they should immediately go into the text and find the answer.
In-My-Head Questions are inferential. They require students to stop and think about the text. They ask the reader to draw a conclusion, give an opinion, or make an inference. And often, these questions require that students not only make an inference but prove their thinking with specific details from the reading.
- When you first introduce students to this type of question, represent it with a visual image of a reader thinking. Explain that readers have lots of facts and knowledge in their heads, and some questions require them to think about what they know.
- Identify the words that often signal in-my-head questions: Why, How, Predict, Would you, Why did the author, What is the main idea.
- Reveal the traffic light image again. Call these questions the “Red Stop” questions. When students see these questions, they should not go into the text looking for the answer. Rather, they should stop and think about the reading in light of the question.
Bringing it all together
Integrate the QAR language into your read alouds. Encourage students to determine if a question is a Green-Go question or a Red-Stop question. Then ask students for the clue words that helped them determine the question type. If students can determine the kind of question being asked, they can then choose the right place to look for the answer. For more information on all four types of QAR, check out QAR Now by Taffy Raphael.