Category Archives: Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Question-Answer Relationships in Science

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What are QARs?

Has this happened to you, as a teacher?

Student B (age 9, 12 or 18… it doesn’t matter) sits with a scientific editorial, and an essay assignment. The prompt asks him, “Does the author believe that nuclear power is a benefit to society, or a danger? Use evidence from the editorial to answer your question.” At the end of class, the student turns in a blank paper: “I don’t know what to write — it didn’t say.” Sigh.

Researchers developed the concept of QARs, or Question-Answer Relationships, to help students understand that there is a relationship between the type of question asked, and the place the student goes to find the information to answer the question. By quickly determining the type of question, the student is better able to figure out how to answer the question.

Types of Questions

Reading response questions fall into four categories, based on where the reader must go to find the answer:

  1. “Right There” Questions
  2. “Search and Find Out” Questions
  3. “Author and Me” Questions
  4. “On My Own” Questions

If students can learn to identify the hallmarks of each type of question, then they can more quickly determine what they have to do in order to craft the appropriate response. Here is a general overview of the categories of questions:

Right There Questions

  • assess literal comprehension: there is little need to think beyond the text in order to answer
  • the answer is readily identifiable directly in the text (e.g., a definition, a specific fact, a quote)
  • tend to be lower Bloom’s levels (because the reader merely has to identify or locate the answer)
  • are text dependent: the reader cannot answer the question without reading the text
  • may include the words, “according to the text”
  • may include the question words, “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” or “how.”
  • may contain words in bold print
  • Example: “What is an igneous rock?

(c) gregw66, 2011 via Creative Commons

Search and find out questions

  • assess literal comprehension
  • the answer is identifiable in the text, but the reader must read through a more extended portion of the text to find all the parts (e.g., several reasons, multiple steps)
  • involve more summary and extrapolation, so are higher than “Right There” questions, but still lower level questions
  • are text dependent
  • may also include the words, “according to the text” and the question words “who-what-where-when-how”
  • Example: “What are the three major kinds of rocks? Explain how each is formed.

(c) gregw66 (2011), Jonathan Wilkens and Ken Lund (2010) via Creative Commons

Author and me questions

  • assess inferential comprehension
  • are text-dependent (the reader must have read the text in order to answer), but cannot be answered with the text, alone
  • involve interpretation and reflection, so are higher order
  • may include the words, “why,” “in your opinion,” “you,” or “use evidence from the text to explain your thinking.”
  • Example: “Find five rocks outside. Use the table on page 5 to classify them as igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary, and explain what characteristics helped you decide.”

(c) 2008, Gwen and James Anderson via Creative Commons

On my own questions

  • are not text-dependent: the reader does not have to have read the text at all to answer the question
  • involve connections to personal experiences
  • can vary in Bloom’s level, depending on the question
  • may include the words, “you/your,” “think of a time,” “when have you,” or “have you ever.”
  • Example: “List ten things in your school or schoolyard that are made from rock.”

(c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011

The Reading Lady has an excellent overview of QARs in .pdf form. It’s thirteen pages long, and includes planning sheets for teachers to plan different levels of questions for a lesson, or to classify the kinds of questions at the end of the chapter (so you can add others that are lacking). It also includes organizers for students to classify or create their own questions for each level — a very powerful task for student learning.

QARs in Science

The above examples show how QARs can be used to help students make sense of science texts. The Tantasqua School District (Massachusetts) has developed examples of how QARs can be used in other content areas – very useful for supporting literacy across content areas.

But can we use the same levels of thinking in non-text-based tasks? What would that look like?

Let’s go back to the original levels, and what they stand for:

  1. Level 1 (Right There): just reporting the proper information
  2. Level 2 (Search and Find Out): the information is there, but you have to work to get it
  3. Level 3 (Author & Me): you process the information based on your own thought and experiences
  4. Level 4 (On My Own): only your experiences are needed

Here is a suggestion for encouraging these four levels of thinking, even when text is not used. This is helpful thinking, for working with struggling readers who are not struggling thinkers, for making grade-level content accessible to students with disabilities, for making input comprehensible to students who are second language learners, and for ensuring overall rigor of thinking for all students.

Level 1 (Right There) questions

  • Involve direct observation using the five senses

Some data can be directly observed, using the 5 senses. (c)  lara604, 2011 via Creative Commons

Level 2 (Search and find out) questions

  • Involve indirect observation
  • Involve using text resources, simple tests and simple tools to gather additional data not directly observable
  • Involve knowing that some data cannot be directly observed

Simple tools and tests can be used to gather more information. (c) 2012, Kim M. Bennett

Level 3 (Author & Me) Questions

  • Involve extending beyond the observations to possible causes and effects
  • Involve applying prior learning and knowledge to new observations
  • Involve prediction based on knowledge and present data

Level 4 (On My Own) questions

  • Involve generalizing to the real world
  • Involve establishing relevancy and real-life connection

Comparing the new with the known, the student generalizes to similar observations and experiences. (c) Alastros Oistros, 2005 via Creative Commons

Fostering Thinking…

To help organize students’ thinking at these four levels, I created a simple reporting sheet that can be used with many types of science tasks, from experiments, to outdoor observations, to science centers. I also made a companion sheet for using QARs with text-based tasks, in science or any other content area. Click on the image to download a copy.

QARs for Science: an Organizer for Download

QARs: an Organizer for Download

For More Information…

For more information on strategies to help foster literacy in science, see 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy. From some of the best-known authors in the field comes a book that provides all middle and high school teachers with practical information about improving students’ reading, writing, and oral language development. Every teacher needs to use instructional routines that allow students to engage in all of these literacy processes. Classroom examples from science, social studies, English, math, visual and performing arts, and core electives ensure that all middle and high school teachers can effectively integrate literacy instruction into their lesson delivery. Click on the link (above) or the image (below) for ordering information.

50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy, $27.60 from Barnes & Noble.

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