Question generating and answering is often taught as part of Reciprocal Teaching, a powerful set of techniques that also includes peer-to-peer strategies for summarizing, predicting, and clarifying. Students are invited to generate questions about a text (oral or written) and work with others to find the answers in the text. Students can work in pairs or in teams, with individual students leading the team and asking questions while the rest of the group finds and discusses the answers.

Question formation in English is quite difficult for English language learners, since many questions require the use of “do support” (e.g., How does an earthquake happen? Why do we need alternative energy?”). The structure of questions may need to be pre-taught for ELLs and they will likely require additional practice before they can form questions easily and focus on the content of the text. Informational texts work well, but for beginning level students, personal narratives can be used. Some teachers use question generating to help students focus on literature concepts (character, plot, sequence, conflict, etc.).


Question generating (or asking) encourages students to engage the text and pay attention to key content information. It is part of a set of strategies found to be effective in increasing comprehension of texts. Asking and answering questions with a partner or as part of a group engages all students, and students get significant more time on task and opportunities to grapple with the text. Shyer students are more likely to participate since their answers (and possible mistakes) are not made public. Using team leaders as “experts” who ask comprehension questions for others to answer provides more proficient students with a challenge and offers examples of “cognitive apprenticeship” to others as they listen to their peers formulate questions.

What to Do

1.To introduce Question Generating and Answering, use a text that is slightly above the skill level of the students and contains interesting information.

2.Let students know that question asking and answering is a great way to help them understand and remember what they are reading.

3.Model the strategy first with the entire class asking questions about both literal content and information to be inferred. Use the Think Aloud technique to allow students to see how you select a question to be asked. Be sure to include both “yes/no” and open-ended questions. For example, when reading “The 7 Habits of Successful Readers,” you could begin with a warm-up question such as “Yes or No: The article discusses the habits of struggling readers” or “How many habits are discussed in the article?” and move on to “What are 3 things that successful readers do?” Ask the class to answer either orally or in writing. Provide feedback.

4.Select another section of the text and ask a question (e.g., What do successful readers do before they start to read?). After students answer, invite a more proficient student to ask a question using the same or the next section of the text. Help the student formulate the question if necessary by gently rephrasing. Invite the class to answer. Emphasize that this is a comprehension activity and questions have to be such that the answers can be found in the text.

5.Introduce the text to be read. You can do choral reading of the text to start or use a reading that students studied for homework. Break the class into pairs or teams and designate a student to ask questions for others to answer.

6.Debrief by asking selected teams to report out. Reemphasize both the structure and purpose of the activity and discuss with students the benefit of learning with this strategy.

Keep in Mind

Question asking is challenging in English where some questions require Do Support (What do you like to do on Sundays?) while other questions (those using be and modals like can, would, etc as in Where are you from? and Could you help me? But Do you need help?) Provide plenty of input using the different question forms for students so that they recognize questions.

Use Word Walls to write up question patterns as they occur in class and practice saying them with the class. Ask students to interview each other first using simple questions (Where are you from? What is your city? What is your favorite food?) before you introduce more complex structures (What do you like to eat?).

Teach students that they can ask a question simply by using question formation Work-arounds such as saying You like what kind of food?  You are from where? Or You want me to be at the office at what time?