Questioning to Understand Content Area Text

As teachers, we’re well versed in the art of questioning. In fact, research shows that teachers typically spend anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of their instructional time asking questions. While there’s no denying that this is a valuable instructional tool, teaching students to ask their own questions is also critical.

As a reading comprehension strategy, questioning helps students set an authentic purpose for reading and creates engaged readers. By asking questions, students clarify meaning and enhance their understanding, make connections, and monitor their comprehension. Experts also believe that questioning helps students retain their thoughts while reading.

Questioning can be employed before, during, and after reading through many different methods. The SQ3R (Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Review) approach involves creating questions from titles, headings, and subheadings. QAR (Question-Answer Relationship) teaches students to identify four categories of questions (Right There, Think and Search, Author and Me, and On My Own). Other methods teach students to differentiate between factual and inferential questions.

Regardless of the method used, it is important for teachers to model asking questions from a familiar text. Concrete experiences and teacher think-alouds provide support and build confidence as students begin to apply the strategy. In Chapter 5 (“Questioning: Fuel for Thought”) of Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading, Tanny McGregor provides a launching sequence for introducing the strategy of questioning to elementary students. Displaying a chart of “thinking stems” provides additional support and prompting for students as they practice the strategy.

Questioning can be used with fiction and nonfiction text. We’ve created a questioning template that can be used in conjunction with this month’s Feature Story, “The Dance of Life.”


Question-Answer Relationship Template
This comprehension worksheet asks students to label questions with the correct QAR type and then provide answers. Students also generate an additional question, label it with a QAR type, and provide an answer. This template can be used with the grades 2-3 or 4-5 version of this month’s Feature Story, “The Dance of Life.”

QAR Literacy Set
This Content Clips set includes all of the materials you need to teach the Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) method of asking and answer questions: a strategy article (pdf document), printable and electronic book versions of “The Dance of Life” and “Sanderlings: Traveling Birds,” and the student template.


Harvey, Stephanie and Anne Goudvis. 2000. Strategies That Work. York, ME: Stenhouse.

McGregor, Tanny and Stephanie Harvey. 2007. Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


An overview of questioning. Includes links to additional resources.

Questioning: A Comprehension Strategy for Small-Group Guided Reading (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, the teacher explains the difference between thin (factual) and thick (inferential) questions, and then models how to compose question webs by thinking aloud while reading. Students practice composing thin and thick questions, as well as monitoring their comprehension, by using question webs independently in small-group reading.

Question-Answer Relationship (QAR)
An overview of the QAR strategy.

Guided Comprehension: Self-Questioning Using Question-Answer Relationships (Grades 3-5)
This lesson introduces students to the comprehension strategy of self-questioning. Students learn the types of question-answer relationships (QARs), identify where and how answers can be found, and demonstrate their understanding of the strategy. The lesson may be adapted for use with any text.

Applying Question-Answer Relationships to Pictures (Grades 3-5)
Students are often asked comprehension questions based on text that they have read. However, it is important for students to consider pictures used in the text as well. Pictures can help increase students’ understanding of the text, topic, or story. In this lesson, students are asked four different types of questions about the pictures found in a wordless picture book. The questions range in difficulty from those with answers that can be found in the text to those that require inferences. Students learn to categorize questions by the four question types and use pictures to help them better understand a story.

The SQ3R Reading Method
An overview of the SQ3R (Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Review) method.

SQ3R Chart Generator
Enter a title or teacher name to generate and print an SQ3R graphic organizer.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright February 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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