The Levels of Questions strategy helps students comprehend and interpret a text by requiring them to answer three types of questions about it: factual, inferential, and universal. This scaffolded approach provides an opportunity for students to master the basic ideas of a text so that they can apply this understanding and “evidence” to conversations about deeper abstract concepts or complex historical events. Because you can focus students’ attention on the level of questions most appropriate to their reading ability, this strategy can meet the needs of different learners. You can also use the Levels of Questions strategy to prepare students for a class discussion or activity, or as an assessment tool.
- Prepare Questions
This strategy can be used with any type of text—historical documents, literature, newspaper articles, films, artwork, photographs, etc. Prepare questions that students will answer. We suggest writing two to three questions for each of the following categories:
The following are example questions related to the story “Those Who Don’t” from Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street:
- Factual questions (level one) can be answered explicitly by facts contained in the text.
- Inferential questions (level two) can be answered through analysis and interpretation of specific parts of the text.
- Universal questions (level three) are open-ended questions that are raised by ideas in the text. They are intended to provoke a discussion of an abstract idea or issue.
- Factual: According to Esperanza (the narrator of the piece), how do “those who don’t know any better” define the identities of the people in her neighborhood? How is this different from Esperanza’s ideas about the people in her neighborhood?
- Inferential: Who are “those who don’t know any better”? What does the line “That’s how it goes and goes” mean?
- Universal: What are stereotypes? Why do people form stereotypes of “others”? When are stereotypes harmful? What prevents people from forming damaging stereotypes of others?
- Students Practice Active Reading
Have students watch or read the text silently or aloud. As they read (or watch), ask students to underline or record key words and phrases.
- Students Answer Questions
Students can answer the questions individually or in small groups.
- Review and Discuss
Review responses to level-one and level-two questions to make sure everyone understands the text. As you go over level-two questions, encourage students to share different interpretations of the text and use evidence to explain their answers. The universal questions make effective prompts for a larger class discussion.
- Student-Generated Questions: After using this strategy a few times, have students generate their own questions in each of the categories. In small groups, they can write questions. Then groups can trade questions and respond to these as a way to assess their understanding of the text.
- For Heterogeneous Classrooms: You can have struggling readers focus on level-one questions, average readers focus on level-one and level-two questions, and advanced readers be responsible for addressing all three levels of questions. As a student’s reading ability improves, they can be asked to address the next level of questions.