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QAR  #1
9-12 Comprehension Instruction

Essential Element:  Comprehension

Framework:  Reading
                     Standard 9:  Students shall apply a variety of strategies to read and comprehend printed material.

Preparation for the secondary English teacher has traditionally not included instruction in reading comprehension strategies; moreover, the typical reading focus for English classes has been the extensive and intensive analysis of literature.  While teachers have not been fully equipped to teach reading, at the same time they are being asked to deliver instruction to an increasing number of students who find the complexities of grade-level literature inaccessible.  Expecting teachers to be able to support struggling readers without equipping them with information and strategies is both unrealistic and unfair.  However, when teachers do have this kind of help and information, they can embed comprehension strategies in their delivery of curriculum content.  More importantly, reluctant and striving readers can become more engaged and can acquire proficient-reader strategies, thus becoming more successful in both language arts and other content areas.  (Note:  For additional information on reading comprehension strategies, see Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis).   

Because the ultimate goal of reading instruction is to improve critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, content teachers must include explicit reading strategies as an integral element of their instructional plans.  They should integrate effective comprehension strategies before, during, and after reading.  “Pre-reading prepares students for learning by activating their prior knowledge.  Pre-reading activities can benefit those whose background knowledge, command of key concepts and vocabulary may be insufficient.  In addition, pre-reading activities help students focus attention on what is most important…  Pre-reading strategies often used by proficient-level readers involve making connections, generating questions and determining important concepts…  During-reading activities prompt students to visualize, make inferences and monitor their comprehension. . . Using during-reading activities, the teacher can help students prioritize what is most essential and connect this information in a meaningful and organized way.  After-reading activities deepen understanding, helping students summarize and understand what they read. . . [these activities] go beyond merely identifying what was read and assist students with integrating new learning with previous knowledge”  (Literacy Across the Curriculum, Gene Bottoms).


  • Interesting and engaging authentic literature in a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, and content specific areas, i.e., science, history, etc.  (These pieces may be chosen for whole-class instruction or they may be chosen on an individual basis to stimulate interest in reading.)

These comprehension activities are research based strategies taken directly from the Smart Step/Next Step Strategies for the Content Areas.  (Many of these activities are designed as mini-lessons requiring five to ten minutes.) 


9-12 QAR  #1
Question Answer Relationships

The Question Answer Relationships (QAR) activity benefits reading comprehension in several ways:

  • It creates an awareness of different ways in which proficient readers comprehend text.
  • It provides structured practice in different ways of discovering meaning.
  • It promotes the development of critical thinking skills.
  • It asks students to access their background knowledge and use it to discover meaning.
  • It requires students to infer meaning based on evidence from the text.
  • It asks students to revisit the text several times as they work through the QAR process.
  • It promotes engagement.


  • Students need a passage of text, either informational or fictional.
  • A set of questions prepared in advance by the teacher.  These questions should demonstrate the varying relationship between questions and answers: 
    • questions whose answers are right there and can be found by scanning the text to locate the information
    • questions whose answers you discover on your own by accessing your background knowledge
    • questions for which you must think and search to find the answer; these questions ask the reader to infer meaning based on evidence in the text
    • questions for whose answers you discover on your own along with information from the author are author and me

See “They’re Made Out of Meat” (at the end of this lesson) and related questions for samples to use in modeling this activity with students.
Guided Practice

  1. Review with students some of the ways in which a proficient reader comprehends text.  The following is a sample:

    “The questions that a reader might have about a particular passage of text can usually be answered in one of three ways.  Let’s think about a story that we all know well—The Three Little Pigs.  If, for example, you were asked why the first two houses were destroyed, you could easily answer.  Why did the house of straw and the house of sticks blow down? “ [Allow volunteers to answer.  Straw and sticks don’t make good building materials; they are not very substantial; they can’t withstand any kind of direct force.]  “How were you able to answer the question?  Obviously you had background knowledge; you knew some things about straw and sticks.  Good readers often have to draw on their own background knowledge to answer questions that come up in their reading.”

    “Here’s another Three Little Pigs question.  Out of what did the third pig build his house?  This is a no-brainer, right?  Bricks, of course.  How did you know the answer to that question?”  [Allow a student to answer.  The story tells you that he used bricks.]  “This type of question is one where the information is right there in the text; the answer comes directly from the reading.  You will encounter lots of questions like this one in your reading.  A good reader knows that many of his/her questions will be answered by simply reading directly from the text.”

    “Now try this question:  What kind of fellow is the third pig?  What kind of character does he have?”  [Call for volunteer responses.  He is hard-working, resourceful, wise, able to think long-term, generous and patient with his foolish brothers.]  “The text of the story never discusses his character, so how do you know what he is like?  You know because you read between the lines; you infer.  The details of what he did help you to make reasonable assumptions about what kind of fellow he is.  You think and search through the text to make these inferences.  Good readers constantly make inferences as they sift through the facts of what happens in a story.

    “And lastly, why did the third pig’s house withstand the forces of the big, bad wolf (beyond the fact his house was made of brick)?”  [Allow a student to answer.  He took the time to plan and build his house without listening to the other two pig’s criticism.]  “To answer this you must have information from the author plus add that to your thoughts about why the third pig was successful.  The author and you, together, come up with the answer.

  2. Hand out a passage of text (or direct students to a passage in their textbooks) and provide time for students to read the text.

  3. When students finish reading, hand out copies of the questions that have been prepared in advance; these questions should provide practice in four different ways of comprehending text:  “Right There” discovered from scanning the text; “On Your Own” discovered from using their own ideas and experiences to answer, “Author and You” found from connecting their own background knowledge to information presented in the text, and “Think and Search” found from reading several paragraphs or passages within the text.

  4. Allow students to answer the questions. Give students time to work in pairs to compare and revise their responses.

  5. Ask students to share answers to the questions, renforcing the kinds of comprehension skills used to discover the answers.
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