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Teaching Strategies | English Language Arts | February 29, 2024

Use Text-Dependent Questions to Guide a Close Read

English Language Arts standards require students to refer to the text they have read when answering questions. This article will demonstrate ways to use text-dependent questions to guide students through close reading and offers a Text-Dependent Question Prompts resource for teachers to use with students.

What is Close Reading?

Close reading is a method of analysis in which readers look closely at the details of a text to discern its meaning. Anchor Standards for Reading prioritize the close reading skill. Students need to be able to extract evidence from text and make inferences when reading complex texts. Close reading is a critical component of implementing the standards.

What Are Text-Dependent Questions?

Text-dependent questions (TDQs) are questions whose answers cannot be derived directly from the information in a supporting text. To answer TDQs, students must go beyond simply repeating information and instead make inferences using evidence, supporting claims, and connecting ideas from texts. Rather than quoting directly from the text, the answers to text-dependent questions require that students create a connection or an interpretation between the text and its implicit meaning. These text-dependent questions should encourage inference and be designed to help students to increase their analytical skills. Text-dependent questions must direct students to carefully examine the unique text in front of them for evidence, and not rely on prior background knowledge.

TCM_UseText-DependentQuestGuideCloseRead-650x520-2What’s the fuss about text-dependent questions? National and state standards for English Language Arts require students to refer to the text they have read when answering questions. Good text-dependent questions are a key element of close reading.

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?

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, and so on (as the standards 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, 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 these questions should be helping students to get at the deep meaning of the complex text.

When crafting TDQs, teachers can rely on simple guidelines and sample stems. The stems provide a structure to follow to support teachers in customizing them to their needs and the text students are reading closely.

Modeling Thinking

Finally, just asking the questions does not ensure that students are learning how to read deeply. Teachers must model the thinking required to find the information and formulate text-dependent answers.

Make your close reading questions text-dependent questions in order to ensure that students can extract evidence from and make inferences while reading complex texts. These skills are a priority for standards-based English Language Arts instruction.

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.




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Sharon Coan, Retired Teacher and former TCM Editor-in-Chief

Sharon Coan is a retired teacher and former Editor-in-Chief at TCM. After 21 years of classroom teaching experience, Sharon Coan joined Teacher Created Materials as an editor in 1989. Growing into the role of editor-in-chief, Sharon oversaw the growth and development of the supplemental curriculum materials TCM produces today. Now retired, Sharon serves in a strategic planning role for the company with an emphasis on new technologies and alternate delivery systems.

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