Developing Text-Based Answers to Connect to Textual Meaning

One of the shifts that moving to the Common Core standards will require is asking students to have rich and rigorous conversations that are based on a common text that they have been reading. What does it mean to ask students to give a text-based answer? Let’s explore that concept and what it means to ask students to give a text-based answer to what they have been reading. According to the research of Pearson and Johnson (1978) the answer to some questions is textually explicit meaning that that answer is found directly in the text and can be pointed out by the responder.  Questions of this type are like: What color was the wagon in the story?”  Teachers have been asking these types of “right there” questions for generations.

The next level of questioning is textually implicit or questions where the answer is not directly stated but must be implied from the text.  These types of responses have been referred to as “making the connection” or “putting it together” questions.  To respond to this type of question, the reader has to think about what the author has said and perhaps consider information that has been presented in multiple places in the text. An example of a question that fits this category might be:  Why was the stroke of midnight a problem for Cinderella?  In this example, the student must put information together from several places to determine a response. The teacher could then ask the student to cite specific bits of information from the text to support his or her response by asking the student, “What it the text helps you understand this?  Read to us the specific areas of the text (page and paragraph) that helped you come to this conclusion.”   Just and Carpenter (1987) state, “questions that require higher level abstraction (such as the application of a principle) product more learning than factual questions. High-level questions probably encourage deeper processing and more thorough organization” (pp. 421-422).

So, the next time you are creating questions for your students based on their reading – and this strategy works not only for Literature but also for content-based reading, develop some questions that require students to “put the pieces together” and then justify their analysis.  Get students in the habit of providing support for their analysis and allow others to challenge faulty connections and/or assumptions when they are made.  Your class will have much more exciting discussions and thinking will be higher and more productive.

What Good Readers Do When Reading (Part 1)

Connecting to Background Knowledge

Researchers have identified the difference between what good readers do when reading and what poor readers do differently. These insights can help us focus on the skills that struggling readers need to increase their reading performance. When they know what good readers do when reading, they can learn these strategies too.

Good readers use their prior knowledge and information to relate to the text while they are reading. They make predictions about what will happen next in the text. They think about what they might learn in the rest of the text. They make judgments about how the information fits together as a sensible whole.

Connecting with what we already know about a topic (background knowledge) is one of these things. When we connect what we already know about a topic, the easier it is for us to understand and process new information on the topic.

Effective readers are able to spot ideas that conflict with their own background knowledge or with ideas from other articles they have read. They understand that it is alright to disagree with an author’s position on a topic when they can cite evidence that shows inaccuracies. Good readers are able to stop reading and check other reference sources to see if the information is accurate and reliable.

In the age of instant information, helping students evaluate information and look for bias or self-interest is an essential skill.  Students must know that all information isn’t “created equal” and that misinformation and disinformation exist.

Proficient readers use their background knowledge to make sense of what they read. For example, think of the word bank.  This word could refer to a place where we place our money as in “I bank at the City Bank.”  The word could refer to  the sidewalls of a river as in “The water was rising higher on its banks.”  In another article, we might see the phrase, “The plane banked to the left as it rose.” In this case, the word bank would be referring to the movement of the plane.

By using our background knowledge about the topic, we are able to connect word meanings to the right meaning of the word being used in context. Effective teachers know this and help students activate relevant prior knowledge before asking them to read.

Students who do not have a rich storehouse of background knowledge or who come from a different culture, need to have greater levels of pre-teaching before being asked to read. Some ways that you can help your students connect to the texts they are reading include:

  1. using visuals,
  2. directly introducing to new vocabulary they will see in the text before reading,
  3. using graphic organizers to help students visualize and organize content,
  4. and using appropriate realia to enhance background knowledge prior to reading.

Good Readers Create Mental Images As they Read

Good readers create images of the characters in a story and the action taking place. They can do this by drawing pictures or creating and sharing mental images. Creating mental images is like seeing the “movie version” played out in their heads as they read.

Effective readers become emotionally involved with what they are reading. How many times have you been so emotionally involved with a good book you couldn’t put it down? That’s what good readers do when reading. They identify with the text and become emotionally involved in their reading.

Help your students think about the visual images they get while reading. Besides mental images, you can use graphic organizers to help students organize information and see meaningful relationships between and within concepts.

Good Readers Know and Use “Fix-Up” Strategies When Needed

Strong readers know that text should make sense as they are reading. They know when what they are reading makes sense and when it doesn’t.

They know how to use a wide variety of “fix-up” strategies when they lose meaning while reading. Some helpful strategies to use are: skipping ahead, re-reading, reading aloud, and slowing the pace of what is being read. Good readers also know how to ask questions about what they are reading to reconnect with meaning in the text.

Effective readers know they lose meaning while reading. They know that when this happens, they need to stop and figure out how to regain meaning before they continue.

Model the reading strategies you use for monitoring your own comprehension by reading aloud to your students. Stop at strategic places to model how to use fix-up strategies that are appropriate to the text. In this way, your students can hear your thinking and see what you do to reconnect to textual meaning.

Help your students understand that all readers lose meaning from time to time. Using effective strategies when meaning has been lost increases reading comprehension. It’s what good readers do when reading that poor readers do not know how to do.

Find more great ideas for building strong readers in my books:

The Threads of Reading: Strategies for Literacy Development (K-5) and

Literacy Strategies: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading (6-12).

Strengthening Reading by Building Rich Language

Children love to be read to so a great way to expose children to a plethora of wonderful language that can build those verbal skills is by having them listen to stories online or on their iPods. Listening to oral stories can also strengthen visualization skills in young children. There are many free podcasts and even phone aps on iTunes that you can download for children to enjoy over and over again. Two of my favorite websites for great primary stories are and Both of these websites have wonderful selections of oral stories that can help stretch imaginations and build those important vocabulary skills. Be sure to check out the wonderful materials available there.