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3 Types of Comprehension Questions to Always Ask

Inside: The 3 types of comprehension questions to be sure to increase reading comprehension skills.

Reading comprehension is the skill of reading a text, understanding what it is saying, and making personal connections. How do you, as a teacher, help your students master this skill? By asking the right type of questions!

Let me tell you a story about when I did NOT know the right questions to ask.

We have a Goldendoodle dog named Penny. She was a puppy at the time, so it was our first time taking her to get groomed. We had never had a dog who needed to be groomed before and had no clue what to expect.

When my husband dropped her off, we didn’t ask any questions about how they normally cut a Goldendoodle or what we should expect when we came to pick her up.

Needless to say, we were a bit surprised when our cute fluffy dog looked like a completely different dog when we went to pick her up.

We weren’t happy with her haircut. The problem is… we didn’t even know what questions to ask to get the result we wanted. And that is half the battle!

As with dog grooming or anything else in life… we need to know the right questions to ask when teaching reading comprehension to check for understanding.

teacher reading to students- 3 types of comprehension questions you should ask

What are the 3 Types of Comprehension Questions you should ask?

The 3 types of comprehension questions are 

  • Activating background knowledge
  • Comprehension questions from the text
  • Deeper thinking questions

When it comes to teaching reading comprehension to kids, there are three types of questions that we make sure to include in our teaching (and our reading passages!). Let’s learn more about these types of questions!

Activating Background Knowledge

Like my story about getting Penny groomed, I like to do something with the kids to help them activate their background knowledge before they read about a topic. One of the best ways to do this is to have an activating background knowledge question about a passage before the kids begin reading.

Our reading passage, Volleyball Club, which we have differentiated for each grade in our Differentiated Reading Comprehension and Fluency Passages, is about a girl named Song, who tries out for the Volleyball team but doesn’t make it. Song talks about her disappointment with her friend, Nia, who then invites Song to join a Volleyball Club.

In this passage, the “Activating Background Knowledge” question goes something like this, “Describe a time when you felt disappointed. What made you feel better?” Everyone has had an experience that they can write about, and by getting into that mindset, they can relate better to Song in the story.

I believe that activating background knowledge is the most underrated skill. Why you may ask? Let me tell you 5 reasons! 

  • Using a KWL can help with your assessment– KWL stands for “What I Know”, “What I Want to Know”, and “What I Learned”. Students start by brainstorming everything they know about a particular topic for the K. Next, they ask questions about things they want to know for the W. Finally, the L signifies things they learn after reading. The questions answered in the W column don’t always get answered in the L column, and there may be findings that students didn’t anticipate. KWL is often used in a chart or table. Students can collaborate on a KWL chart or fill it out individually. Activating background knowledge with KWL will help students activate their schema, the map in our minds that we have about a topic, according to Teacher Vision.
  • Students Gain Interest– Posing an overarching question to your class can pique their interest and help activate background knowledge. You’ll not only find out what your students know, but their answers to these essential questions will help your students get excited about what they’ll be reading and make connections to their new knowledge. Asking essential questions before reading is a simple, but effective way for students to activate their schema.
  • Class Discussions Before Reading lead to Meaningful Learning– It doesn’t hurt to simply ask your students what they know about a topic. Asking your students what they know about nouns, states of matter, or order of operations, for example, can help jog your students’ memories and let your learners show their classmates what they know. Allowing students to build off one another’s answers also builds community and fuels class discussion.
  • It’s A Stepping Stone to Making Connections– Asking students to connect to what they’re learning and reading can activate prior knowledge. Since they are already thinking about the topic before they read, they are already applying the topics to what they know. After students preview the text or ask initial questions, have your students make text-to-text, text-to-self, or text-to-world connections. Making connections to what they’ve read in prior texts will help students understand new knowledge. Personal text-to-self connections are often the most valuable. Making learning meaningful and authentic really helps knowledge in acquisition and comprehension. Students tend to recall things that relate to their own personal lives. The text-to-world connections are also ways for students to help focus outside the classroom on current events in the community, city, state, country, and world.
  • Make Your Students More Engaged Readers– You may find yourself asking why activating background knowledge is the most underrated reading comprehension skill ever. Students who activate background knowledge (or schema) are able to make connections and retain new knowledge. By showing what they know and connecting to new learning, students will increase their comprehension. Try some of these strategies in your classroom to aid in activating background knowledge. Something as simple as asking an essential question each time your students read will help them activate their schema and feel more connected to what they read.

Comprehension Questions from the Text

This is the type of comprehension question we most often think about with reading comprehension. “Comprehension Questions” refer back to the text. 

These questions are also the easiest to come up with because they come right from whatever you are reading! 

You can ask these questions as you read, or you can wait until the end and have students refer back to the text to find their answers. 

Have your students highlight or underline the specific part of the passage where they find their answer. This helps them relate that their answers are from the text.

Our Volleyball Club reading passage includes “Comprehension Questions” such as:

  • Who is telling this story?
  • What is the message of this story?
  • How do Song’s feelings change throughout the story?

We include both multiple-choice and free-response questions that hit the core standards for each grade in our passages.

To help children practice referring back to the text to find their answers, we put a crayon next to these questions, so children can use that color to underline where they found their answers.

Deeper Thinking Questions

The final type of comprehension questions to ask is Deeper Thinking Questions. 

The answers to these questions aren’t given directly in the text but will require students to reflect on the text and dig deeper. Asking “Deeper Thinking Questions” is also a great way to integrate other grade-level standards into your reading lessons by asking questions that will practice those skills.

These questions will provoke critical thinking, a major skill we want our students to learn!

Grab our reading passages with the 3 types of comprehension questions to ask already included for you!

Want to try them first? Check out our FREE reading passages here. Check out what Amy has to say about our reading passages!

“I love that the storylines continue across all grade levels so I can differentiate from more than one grade level without needing multiple stories. It is great for comprehension practice so we can all discuss the elements of the story together while providing both my lowest and highest readers with options that are best suited to them. Absolute amazing timesaver!!”

Let me know if I missed one, what kind of comprehension questions do you like to ask?

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