Comprehension Questions: Beyond the 5 W’s


Teachers like myself sometimes have to scramble to find the right ways to use comprehension questions and the right materials for the job. I know that comprehension is such a vital skill for reading.

I use my teaching skills of asking comprehension questions to check in with my students. But too often, I find myself relying solely on the 5 W’s of comprehension questions: who, what, where, when, and why.

I also know that my students need to be fluent readers to comprehend what they are reading. (Click on the links when you see the words fluent or fluency for some great blogs and activity ideas!). ?

I have found in my teaching that using the 5 W’s works for some students. But, I need to delve deeper into their understanding AND really focus on their fluency. So I am here to share with others how they can improve their comprehension questions by going beyond the 5 W’s with some general strategies for reading comprehension.

Making Connections

Students comprehend better when they have background knowledge of a text. Can they relate to it? Do they know some things about the text already? Can they make predictions about a text by using their background knowledge? These answers can guide us into choosing great comprehension questions!

Sometimes, our students have more limited knowledge due to their experiences. Often, our kids have incorrect knowledge of a topic. We may need to provide key vocabulary words that they may find during their reading through direct instruction for all of our students. Or, we may need classmates to model their answers to open-ended comprehension questions.

I like to use these Monthly Mini-Books with Vocabulary Cards, Sight Word Activities, and Writing Prompts in my room. The writing prompts provided will allow students to make a connection and respond to the story. And, the mini-books help students to practice their reading fluency and extend their vocabulary.

Retelling and Predicting

Our students need regular practice in answering questions about things within the text or passage. Answering comprehension questions about the characters, the setting, and the key details demonstrates how students understood the key components of their reading.

It is interesting to see how my students’ minds work when predicting things in a text. What do you think the character will do next? What may happen next in the story? How do you think this story will end? How do you think the character is feeling?

You can find these comprehension questions and more in this variety of Fluency and Comprehension Passages.

Fluency Practice

Becoming a fluent reader requires practice at the students’ level using both fiction and non-fiction texts. The goal of fluency isn’t to create faster readers. The goal is to boost reading speed as it impacts comprehension. Kids love to track their fluency and see how well they can improve with practice. I really begin to notice the impact of fluency when I see how my students answer comprehension questions better once their reading rate goes up!

Sometimes finding non-fiction passages for my kiddos is tough! Many texts and passages are suited for my higher readers only. I love that Education to the Core considers all of my readers by creating passages for practically first grade; perfect for my high kinders, beginning firsties, and ESL students! And they come in a digital version which has been absolutely perfect for my distance learners this year!

Comprehension Questions Suggestions

Extend Reading Comprehension

  • Peer discussions–having students work together to answer comprehension questions before, during, and after reading helps students examine others’ viewpoints and opinions.
  • Book Critiques–let your students analyze a book or text for the author’s meaning and purpose. Have them determine their likes and dislikes about content. Have them study the structure of the text or book. Ask them about the illustrations and the plot.
  • Ask Open-ended Questions–Fill-in-the-blanks, multiple-choice, and true/false type comprehensions are great for testing our students’ understanding of a text. But how do we get students to use their higher-level thinking abilities? Ask questions that require students to look back in the text and re-read!

  • Teaching visualization to students allows them to create mental images. Have students share either in a drawing or verbally what they picture when they read. Students who learn visualization will have better recall of the story or text than those that don’t. I use visualization with Phonics Fluency Poems. The text is simple and easy for students to draw a picture of.

  • Story Maps can help students understand elements of the story. They can compare and contrast with other stories, and they can better summarize stories. Asking comprehension questions to complete these tasks plays an important part in higher critical level thinking for students.

Phew, there is so much information out there for teachers on reading and comprehension that it often is so overwhelming to root through everything. I hope that I have shared a few new ideas or reinforced some old ones on developing better reading comprehension for your students.

Did you check out some of our great blogs on fluency by clicking on all the links? If not, go back through and click on them for some more great ideas!

Written by:  Suzanne Kelley

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