Text Dependent Questions

As we transition to the Common Core State Standards, I will be posting information about specific areas of emphasis found in the CCSS. A recommended area to begin the ELA transition is a focus on text dependent questions.

The standards focus on students’ ability to read closely to determine what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it. Rather than asking students questions about their prior knowledge or experience, the standards expect students to wrestle with text dependent questions: questions that can only be answered by referring explicitly back to the text in front of them.

For example, in a close analytic reading of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” the following would not be a text dependent question:


Lincoln says that the nation is dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” Why is equality an important value to promote?


The overarching problem with this question is that it requires no familiarity at all with Lincoln’s speech in order to answer it. Responding to these sorts of questions instead requires students to go outside the text. Such questions can be tempting to ask because they are likely to get students talking, but they take students away from considering the actual point Lincoln is making.  They seek to elicit a personal or general response that relies on individual experience and opinion, and answering them will not move students closer to understanding the text of the “Gettysburg Address.”

Good text dependent questions will often linger over specific phrases and sentences to ensure careful comprehension of the text—they help students see something worthwhile that they would not have seen on a more cursory reading.

For more information go to: achievethecore.org