During my first few years as a third-grade homeroom teacher, I primarily used a basal reading series to “teach” reading to my students. I did this because this was the reading program of choice in that particular school. At the time, I didn’t know enough about literacy to enhance that program by teaching some effective strategies to my struggling learners; nor was I equipped to debate the merits and/or the shortcomings of a basal reading series. I just knew that this self-contained resource provided me with a comprehensive teacher’s guide, reading passages for the children, comprehension questions, and an accompanying workbook that focused on related skills.
Nowadays, I realize that I was not using the basal reader properly and there wasn’t much “teaching” going on during my reading period. Instead, I introduced a passage, required students to read it and answer the questions that followed, then reviewed their answers aloud. True, I had immediate feedback on students’ ability to comprehend text. Unfortunately, this system had very little to do with teaching.
It is essential that we check students’ understanding of text, and there are many, many ways in which we can. One way is to note their responses to post-reading questions. However, we must first offer direct instruction in how to answer questions. Many struggling readers don’t know what is being asked of them. They assume that all questions can be answered directly from the text; that careful reading will reveal the answers they seek! Not so. Their own prior knowledge must sometimes be applied in order to formulate a reasonable response. Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) (Raphael, 1986) is one instructional technique that will help students categorize questions and connect them to answers. I teach the concept of QARs in one of my graduate courses, and I believe it is valuable tool. During a recent casual lunch, a dear friend shared her successes with QARs and her fourth graders. Not surprisingly, her students’ comprehension is better now than it was at the start of the school year. That conversation inspired this month’s column.
QARs are classified as: Right There (literal—explicitly stated in the text), Putting It Together (inferential—implicitly stated in the text, but requires readers to search through text to piece answer together), Author and Me (critical thinking—not in text, but prior knowledge connects to author’s information), and On My Own (creative thinking—no need to read the text at all). Teachers should model often and with multiple texts. This can be done individually, with small groups, or with the entire class. To start, use a simplistic, familiar text. For example, this nursery rhyme:
Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after
Where did Jack and Jill go? (Right There)
What caused Jack to fall? (Putting it Together)
Why didn’t Jack go up the hill alone? (Author and Me)
Do you think children should do chores? (On My Own)
With practice, readers should be able to define all four question types and classify the questions they encounter after reading a passage. QARs also help teachers, parents, tutors, and peer readers to monitor their own questioning. This practice reduces the reliance on low-level questioning, which sometimes prevails in at-risk learners’ classrooms.
QARs are often presented in an organizational chart-like format, and some include graphics to facilitate understanding. Many are available online and in teacher-resource books, but it is easy to make your own. Eventually, introduce key words and add them to the chart. These words give readers a clue as to whether or not the answer lies in the text or in their heads.
In summary, QAR lessons provide readers with much-needed, direct instruction for understanding questions. They are effective with learners of all ages and abilities, and can be delivered in a variety of ways. Best of all, they can be taught alongside any reading program.
Gipe, J.P. (2010). Multiple paths to literacy: Assessment and differentiated instruction for diverse learners, K-12 (7th ed). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Raphael, T..E. (1982). Question-answering strategies for children. The Reading Teacher, 36, 186-190.
Raphael, T. E. (1986). Teaching question-answer relationships, revisited. The Reading Teacher, 39, 516-522.
Raphael, T.E. & Au, K.H. (2005). QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas. The Reading Teacher, 59, 206-221.
Karen Russo, Ed. D. is an Assistant Professor in the Child Study Department of St. Joseph’s College in New York. There, she teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses related to elementary education and literacy instruction. Before joining the college faculty, she was an Assistant Principal of a New York City elementary school, a literacy specialist, teacher mentor, and staff developer. Dr. Russo has presented at local, national and international conferences and has published articles on differentiating instruction, enhancing motivation of struggling readers and writers, and effective professional development for teachers. She is an Editor for Insights on Learning Disabilities and has served as a Consulting Editor for Reading Writing Quarterly.