Keys to Literacy Newsletter

Summer 2014
Volume 12

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Our newsletter provides guidance and resources about literacy instruction in grades K-12.  We hope you find the tips helpful ... and feel free to forward this to your friends and colleagues! 


In this issue, the focus is on
text-dependent questions for close reading lessons.


In order to help students reach deeper levels of comprehension, teachers can insert text-dependent questions at critical junctures in text. The questions help students decipher the meanings of words, sentences, inter-sentence connections, and discourse organization in order to understand what is going on.  These questions teach students to reread portions of the text multiple times, just as an advanced reader does to comprehend challenging text.

What makes a question text-dependent?


Answers to text-dependent questions should not rely on any particular background information extraneous to the text, and should only be answered by referring explicitly back to the text. 


Text-dependent questions ask these kinds of questions:

  • What does the text say?
  • How does the text say it?
  • What does the text mean?

Text-dependent questions:

  • Can only be answered with evidence from the text.
  • Can be literal (checking for understanding) but must also involve analysis, synthesis, evaluation.
  • Focus on word, sentence, and paragraph, as well as larger ideas, themes, or events.
  • Focus on difficult portions of text in order to enhance reading proficiency.
  • Can also include prompts for writing and discussion questions.
Click here for A Guide to Creating Text-Dependent Questions available from the Achieve the Core website.

Click here to practice identifying questions that are and are not text-dependent.

Click here for a Question Generation Planning Template available from the LAUSD.
Types of Questions
Writing image

Teachers should generate questions that tap different levels of thinking. General understanding and key detail questions should be used more frequently, while questions that require inference should be used less frequently. Text-dependent questions can be asked about the whole text or parts of the text (word, sentence, paragraph, section). Questions can expect students to perform one or more of these tasks: 

  • Analyze paragraphs, sentences
  • Consider choice of vocabulary
  • Probe each idea, argument, key detail
  • Examine shifts in the text
  • Question beginnings and endings
  • Note patterns of writing
  • Consider what is unstated
Fisher & Frey (2012) have developed a progression of text-dependent questions that moves through these stages: general understandings; key details, vocabulary and text structure; author's purpose; inferences; opinion, arguments, inter-textual connections. Click here for their detailed article.
Common Core Connections


The introduction to the standards includes this quote: "Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complete works of literature".  (Common Core 2010, p. 3)  



There are several reading standards that are related to the skills that can be taught using text-dependent questions.

Click here for more details.

Using Text-Dependent Questions as 

Part of a Close Reading Lesson

Using text-dependent questions is an essential for conducting an effective close-reading lesson. 


They are used at these stages of a cycle that repeats during a close reading lesson: Read a Little, Think a Little, Talk a Little, Write a Little.


Click here for more detailed explanations of close reading and close reading lessons.

Additional Resources Related to Text Dependent Questions

Here are some excellent resources:

  • Achieve the Core offers a free, 4-hour PD kit "Understanding Text-Dependent Questions" that includes PowerPoints and activities. Click here! 
  • Christina Hank's blog entry "Defining Deep Reading and Text-Dependent Questions"  Click here! 
  • David Coleman Video "Text-Dependent Analysis in Action"  Click here! 
Keys to Literacy News

Our new Keys to Content Writing training book is now available! The first copies arrived from the printer last month. Click here to order!


Keys to Literacy programs were featured in a recent article by Marion Cronin titled "The Common Core of Literacy and Literature" (English Journal 103.4, 2014, National Council of Teachers of English). Marion shares her experience as a teacher at the North Central Essential Charter School where teachers have been using our Keys to Literacy routines for the past several years. Click here to access the article. 


Joan's picture
Message from 
Joan Sedita
This newsletter, about text-dependent questions is related to our last newsletter that focused on tips for teaching close reading. We started offering Keys to Close Reading training last fall and I am delighted to report that participants are sharing very positive reactions to this professional development. Dayna, a 6th grade teacher, recently sent me this email:


"I am writing today to express my gratitude for your program. Last Friday, I had the pleasure of taking the Close Reading training. I employed several of the strategies that I learned on Friday in a lesson I presented today. I was being observed by two parents and evaluated by my principal during this lesson. I received this feedback from my principal: Dayna did a masterful job of getting the students to understand a complex poem. She skillfully walked her students through the process of grappling with something that they did not truly understand. Students were comfortable sharing misconceptions that they had made about the material. At the end of the lesson the students exhibited a deep understanding of the material without any input from the teacher. By having high standards for her students and working to stretch their thinking, Dayna clearly helped her students develop new skills for understanding difficult content."


I agree with the focus of the Common Core State Standards on requiring students to have the skills to closely read more challenging text. However, I am concerned that teachers will start using complex text without knowing how to teach the skills required to do so. Many students have not developed even the basic comprehension skills that are included in our Key Comprehension Routine, and many more do not have the more advanced comprehension skills included in our Keys to Close Reading. I hope you will have an opportunity to experience Keys to Literacy training so, like Dayna, you will have instructional strategies to present an effective close reading lesson.


Best wishes for a happy summer!
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