Literal Questions, Like Everything Else in Life – Are Fine in Moderation

I never ask my students the “What street did the character live on?” type of questions. I wouldn’t say that they’re a waste of time, but students can just go back to the text and put their finger on the answer. Fairly straightforward.

 Most – I’d say 99% of the time, I try to focus on inferential and evaluative questions in my classes – Social Studies, Language Arts and Health. Much like you, I’m sure, I want to push my students’ thinking.

Well, as I was planning the other night, I thought that for once – I was just going to have them read a section of text and answer 10 questions (this was for Social Studies). Old school, right?

Literal Questions

Well, first of all, one of the 10 questions was inferential and they sniffed it out in no time. To make a long story short, I was amazed at how these kids just put their heads down and worked for the 40 minute class, finding the answers to some basic comprehension questions. No one said it was boring. No one complained. No one. You’d think I’d given them a gift!

And you know what? They did the same activity today. Read…10 questions. I could never (and would never want to) teach like this on a regular basis. I try to make my students’ brains stretch until they hurt (just a little). However, for the week before Christmas Break, it is survival mode for many.

Give yourself (and the kids) a break and go back to basics at times like these. Let them answer some literal questions once in a while. It won’t hurt them, and it builds up confidence – especially for those who struggle.

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About krystalmills

I am a Grade 7 teacher in Prince Edward Island. Lessons From The Middle shares lessons from the classroom, and occasionally from my life as a mom of two young boys. The goal of this Canadian teacher blog is to share middle school lessons, activities and ideas from my classroom and to collaborate with the wonderful online community of teachers out there as well! Thanks for stopping by!   Find me on Facebook Twitter Pinterest Browse my TPT Store Browse my TN Store

Posted on December 18, 2012, in Education, General Teaching, Literacy, Middle School, Social Studies, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I read your post, and I just had to comment, as I was just talking to another teacher about this very same thing today. I see no problem with these literal questions if this is what the students need. My problem is, should we be asking these questions if students already know the answers? Do all students need to answer the same questions? I believe very strongly in differentiation, and I rarely have all of my students doing the same thing at the same time. I know that certain times of the year can be busy and exciting, and sometimes a quiet activity is nice, but I’m not sure that I want to change things just because it’s the week before Christmas, the week before March Break, or the end of the school year.

    I guess I’m trying to figure out more about your activity. Was it the same for everyone? How did you meet the needs of the students that didn’t need to work on these literal comprehension questions? Just like how did you meet the needs of the students that struggled with the inferring questions?

    I know that this type of activity isn’t the norm for you, but how do you decide when to do it? When should others decide to do this type of activity as well? I struggle with this, and any information you can give me would be great! Thanks!


    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. You’re right, I don’t usually do activities that require students to strictly regurgitate facts. However, I’ve been trying to cross over my curriculum when I can (especially LA and Social Studies). In Language Arts, the reading strategy that we had been working on was questions – asking literal, inferential and evaluative questions and identifying each of these types of questions. I did have all of my students doing the same activity on this day, asking my students who are struggling to complete fewer questions (for various reasons).

      I had students taking the time to answer some literal questions, because I haven’t done much of that this year, because it was the reading strategy that we were working on in LA and also because the next step was to have them write their own literal, inferential and evaluative questions. To me, it makes the most sense to begin with the simplest type and so that’s where I started. Some students may not have needed the literal questions, however, giving them to everyone allowed me to identify who was struggling with even this simple comprehension activity. Then, when students had to read a section and create questions from it, I was able to differentiate for students’ varying needs (spending more time with those who needed help with questioning in general, and especially with inferential questions.)

      Thanks so much for taking your time to read and comment on my blog post! I hope I cleared things up a bit.


      • Krystal, thanks for explaining what you did and why you did it. This makes a lot more sense! I love how you differentiated, but still focused on literal questions. These types of questions are good too, but making the activity meaningful for everyone is the hard part. I really appreciate you sharing more!


      • No problem! Thanks again for your thoughtful response! Differentiation is always something I’m working toward!

        PS, I’m open to any resources and ideas you or others have to share!


  2. Really very nice post and ideas you share are very and very valuable. I like your ideas. It is very nice to motivate the students to give the answers but it is an art too. When a teacher uses different active teaching techniques he finds that teaching is awesome and students are enjoying. Thanks.