How to Change Your Reading Comprehension Questions to Improve Writing

Tessa Polizzi
September 2, 2015

Teachers often divorce reading instruction from writing instruction. While essays may be based on the texts that students read, reading activities often consist of single sentence responses where students provide an answer from the text and evidence to support their claims. But in the busy world of education, where every moment matters, there is a way to use reading comprehension questions to help support writing instruction.

Students struggle to write well-thought out, well-organized paragraphs in their essays. While students write essays regularly, they may not always be practicing the art of composing well-constructed paragraphs. In most classes, if students are not writing, they are probably reading and answering some kind of reading comprehension questions. But when we write these questions, we often require merely a “complete sentence” for the answer. We will ask a dozen of these questions, but when we ask students to write essays, we expect them to convert these short answers into amazing paragraphs. But students do not yet have enough practice, and they often get stumped or overwhelmed.

In the past few years, I have drastically changed the way that I approach reading comprehension questions: for a short text, I try to stick to just four questions. Every time my students respond to reading, they write a paragraph.

Of course, I do not just expect well-written paragraphs because I require them. My instruction includes addressing and modeling the elements of a strong paragraph. I require tons of explanation and examples. For each paragraph, students answer the standards-based question, provide evidence, explain how each piece of evidence proves the answer, and, if applicable, analyze the effect of the literary device. If students struggle to write a complete paragraph, I help them figure out how to add evidence and explanations to make their paragraph exceptional. Because I do this repeatedly with every text we read, it gets to the point where my students can easily write a paragraph about anything and have no trouble providing evidence to back up their answer because I am always making them write a whole paragraph full of evidence.

With these reading comprehension practices, when the intimidating essay comes, it turns out that it isn’t so bad for my students. We just have to work on introductions and conclusions, but students have the whole body paragraph, topic sentence, supporting sentences, and concluding sentences thing down. It helps to be able to show them that they have already been able to write four paragraphs all about one story, so taking the next step to a five paragraph (or longer) essay, doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. Most importantly, students become experts at providing evidence--and not just one piece--to support their conclusions AND explaining how or why that evidence proves their conclusions.

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