This teaching strategy helps students comprehend and interpret text by requiring them to answer three types of questions about the text: 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. “Levels of Questions” provides a way to meet the needs of different learners because you can focus students’ attention on the level of question most appropriate to their reading ability. This strategy can be used to prepare students for a class discussion or activity, and it could also be used as an assessment tool.
Step One: Preparation
This strategy can be used with any text – historical documents, literature, newspaper articles, films, artwork, photographs, etc. Prepare questions that students will answer. We suggest writing 2-3 categories in each of the following categories:
• 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.
You may want to prepare a “Levels of Questions” worksheet to guide students through this process. Click here for an example you can adapt for your own students.
Step Two: 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.
Step Three: Respond to questions
Students can answer the questions individually or in small groups.
Step Four: 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 large 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 two questions and advanced readers 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 question.
To see how “Levels of Questions” has been used in a lesson plan, refer to lesson four of the unit "Decision-making in Times of Injustice".