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3 elementary students writing on flip chart in social studies unit


Question Generation: A Key Comprehension Strategy

Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to teach students how to generate questions while reading. Research shows that generating questions at different levels of thinking can strengthen students’ memory, integration and identification of main ideas, and overall comprehension.

There is significant evidence that learning to generate questions while reading improves memory, integration and identification of main ideas, and overall comprehension (Rosenshine et al., 1996; National Reading Panel, 2000; Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002). 

Good readers automatically engage in critical thinking by asking themselves questions to make sense of what they read. Students who have questions on their minds are really thinking critically, and the quality and level of the questions determine the depth of that thinking. However, the ability to generate questions does not come naturally to many students who are accustomed only to using who, what, where, and when questions that require relatively simple, factual information to answer.

Begin by teaching a continuum of thinking

Factual questions are important, but students must also learn how to generate the kinds of questions that require them to go beyond readily available information if they are to engage in deeper critical thinking. Teachers should begin by teaching students that there are multiple levels of thinking that range from low-level remembering to high-level synthesizing and evaluating. We suggest using Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956) to explicitly teach different levels of thinking. The chart below provides a brief description of the six levels of thinking represented in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

RememberingRecalling information (facts) recognizing, listing, identifying, retrieving, naming, finding 
UnderstandingExplaining ideas or concepts (in your own words) interpreting, summarizing, paraphrasing, describing, explaining 
ApplyingUsing information in another familiar situation (use, do it) implementing, carrying out, executing 
AnalyzingBreaking information into parts to explore understandings and relationships (compare/contrast) comparing, organizing, deconstructing, distinguishing, arranging 
EvaluatingJustifying a decision or course of action (fair/unfair, right/wrong, ranking) debating, hypothesizing, critiquing, appraising, judging 
CreatingGenerating new ideas, products, or ways of viewing things      
(what if?) 
designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing 

Teach question terms and prompts

Some students are not able to generate or effectively answer questions, including those on standardized tests, because they are not familiar with question terms. Thus, an important component of instruction for question generation is teaching question terms and phrases for prompts. You can provide a list (or hang a poster) of question terms and prompts that are typically associated with each level of thinking. 

Sample question terms

Give an exampleDiscussDemonstrateCompareDebateConstruct
LabelRestate in your own wordsMakeExamineJustifyImagine

Sample question prompts

Bloom’s LevelPrompts
  • Where is…
  • What did…
  • Who was…
  • When did…
  • How many…
  • Locate it in the story…
  • Point to the…
  • Tell me in your own words…
  • What does it mean…
  • Give me an example of…
  • Describe what…
  • What is the main idea of…
  • What would happen to you if…
  • How would you solve the problem…
  • If you were there, would you…
  • Find information about…
  • What other ways could…
  • What things are similar/different?
  • What kind of person is…
  • What things could not have happened in real life?
  • What caused ___ to act the way she/he did?
  • Rank the events in order of importance.
  • Which character would you most like to meet? Why?
  • Select the best … why is it the best?
  • Was _____ good or bad? Why?
  • Would you recommend this book? Why or why not?
  • What if…
  • What would it be like if…
  • What would have happened if…
  • Tell/write a different ending…
  • Use your imagination to draw a picture of…
  • Pretend you are a…
  • Design a…

Adapted from Checking for Understanding, Fisher, D.B., and Frey, N. © 2007, ASCD, Alexandria,VA.

Classroom examples

The examples below show questions at every level of Bloom’s Taxonomy for different subject areas. At first, the teacher needs to model how to generate questions, then gradually release responsibility to students following this sequence:

  1. Teach just one or two levels of questions at a time, starting with remembering and understanding.
  2. Have students work in small groups to identify the level of thinking required to answer a set of sample questions provided by the teacher. Start with questions about familiar topics, then use questions about content reading.
  3. Have students work in small groups to generate questions about a familiar topic.
  4. Have students work in small groups to generate questions about content reading.
  5. Have students work independently in class or for homework to generate their own questions.

ELA: The novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

RememberingWhat gift did Brian receive from his mother? 
UnderstandingDescribe what happened when the plane crashed. 
ApplyingHave you ever been lost in the woods (or someplace else)? Share your experience with your group.  
AnalyzingCompare and contrast Brian with Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins. 
EvaluatingShould Brian have told his father “the secret”? Justify your answer. 
CreatingCreate an alternate ending to the story. 

Social studies: short article

RememberingLocate the name and the picture of Jean Francois’s favorite animal. 
UnderstandingExplain why Jean Francois studied books about Egypt. 
ApplyingWrite an interview with Jean Francois, asking him three questions about his discovery. 
AnalyzingContrast the Rosetta Stone with our alphabet. 
EvaluatingWhy is the hieroglyph for sandals a good symbol for Jean Francois. Justify your answer. 
CreatingCreate a hieroglyph to represent you. 

Science: short video

RememberingList the steps of the water cycle. 
UnderstandingIn your own words, tell what happens in the water cycle. 
ApplyingIllustrate the steps of the water cycle. 
AnalyzingAssess how pollution affects water conservation. 
EvaluatingDebate whether it is better to take a shower or a bath.  
CreatingIf you could only use one gallon of water a day, what would be the best way to use it? 
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