Comprehension Questions: Breaking Them Down

Students are given loads of information and strategies on how to answer specific questions.  This is how we assess their comprehension, but all of these skills and strategies are typically taught in isolation.  We’ll teach main idea for a week.  Then we will teach cause and effect for a week.  Students are creating mini ‘file folders’ of information in their brains each time we teach about a specific reading skill.  But how do we teach our students to decipher which strategy is being asked about when all of them are mixed up together?  Breaking down comprehension questions is one of the BEST strategies you could ever teach your students, and I’m going to teach you how!

comprehension questions

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Comprehension Questions:  Why is it important?

  • Students have too much information stored, and don’t know where to begin with their thinking?  Which ‘file folder’ should be access to answer this particular comprehension question?
  • This strategy helps students analyze questions at a deeper level.  Instead of quickly reading and writing an answer, students take the time to think through the processes it needs to answer the question.
  • It helps students to focus on a specific strategy, once identified, rather than just answering the question.  Many times, students simply answer the question, unaware that there was a specific skill they needed to use to actually answer it.  By using this comprehension question strategy, student are more aware and use the skill more specifically.
  • It also helps their explanations in written response questions.  Since students are using and are more aware of the skills they are using, they can use that information in their written response answers as well!

Comprehension Questions:  Breaking them Down

So what’s this secret strategy?  It’s simple!  TEACH your students to recognize key words or phrases that are linked to each reading skill or strategy that we teach.

comprehension questions

With each reading strategy or skill that we teach, specific words are associated with it.  When comprehension questions are written, these words pop up and students can use those words to help identify what skill or strategy they need to use to best answer the question.

For example, for main idea the question might say ‘central point’ or ‘mainly about’.  Also, for theme it may say ‘lesson’ or ‘message’.  We all know, unfortunately, that standardized tests like to try and ‘trick’ students.  They will word questions in various and unique ways.

We need to give our students the power to be able to decipher any question that is thrown their way.  Teaching them to break down comprehension questions is definitely the way to go!

Comprehension Questions:  Getting Started

This is typically a strategy that I teach starting mid year.  I want to make sure that students have enough time to learn all of the reading skills and strategies that I’m going to teach before I introduce it.  That’s usually around December or January.  That also gives us plenty of time to use and practice is before the big standardized tests take over our lives.

I begin by having student create a foldable, with one section for each of the most important skills and strategies that we teach.  I create a poster size visual from the colorful anchor chart (seen above) for them to use to fill out the foldable.

comprehension questions

After the foldable is created and we’ve talked about each skill in the foldable and the ‘key words’ for each, I move into our first official lesson.

I have a story prepared with 10 different comprehension questions.  These questions are asking students to use a variety of skills within the text.  This is our first chance to break down these comprehension questions and use our new foldable!  We highlight the key words we find in the question and write above each question what the skill is that we’re using before we answer it.

Comprehension Questions:  A Big More Practice

The key to this strategy is to use it over and over again.  I try to intertwine it as much as possible weeks/months after introducing the strategy.

One thing I use, is this mini task card set.  I keep a few sets of these with recording sheets available as early finishers.

comprehension questions


Using this strategy helps to give more power back to my students.  It’s been a true game changer and I hope it is for you too!  If you’re interested in grabbing the above resources, you can grab them for *F*R*E*E* below to help get you started!

Comprehension Questions


If you have any questions about the strategy, feel free to email me and let me know!  Happy Teaching!

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Comprehension Questions



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I’m a wife, a mommy of 3, blogger, and a full time teacher author and presenter. I love to read, shop, and spend time with my family! My hands are always busy, but my heart is so full!

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