Use details to ask and answer literal and inferential questions about a text (Inclusive Big Idea #1)

What are students learning?

Reading Informational Text

Grade 4: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #1: Use details to ask and answer literal and inferential questions about a text

Standard: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. RI.4.1

How could I teach this?

Think about how instructional strategies and activities can give students multiple ways to engage with learning. One way won’t work for all, so how can you remove and reduce barriers for all students?

  • Anchor Text: Use an anchor text such as So You Want to Be President?, by Judith St. George. After reading or listening to the text, provide an adapted version of the text with pictures-paired-with-text to any student who chooses to use that version. With any text, model how to refer back to the text to find supporting details about the main idea.
  • KWL Charts: Before, during, and after reading or listening to a text, model how to create a Know, Wonder, Learned (KWL) chart to answer questions about key details in the text. See this TIP Sheet for more information on how to make graphic organizers more accessible and engaging for all.
    • What we Know about a topic
    • What we Wonder about a topic
    • What we Learned about a topic
  • Instructional Conversations: Individually, in small groups, or with the whole class, engage in a conversation about a content-area topic. Activate background knowledge by asking students to record what they already know about the topic. Provide options for how they can build their knowledge about the topic. Have prompts with different questions about the topic and allow the group to have an open conversation about the topic. Providing an option to use graphic organizers with sentence starters may help students to record their ideas as they listen to the verbal conversation. Highlight how students can support their ideas by using information they learned from books or other multimedia sources. See this TIP Sheet for more information on Whole Group Discussions.
  • Prediction: Model how to pause during a reading to make predictions. Predictions require students to pull together their comprehension of the text so far with schema and other background knowledge to predict what will come next in a text. Have sentence starters or other prompts to help guide the predictions. Pre-record a video model so that students have the option to listen and watch how to make a prediction multiple times with captions.
  • Think Aloud: The purpose of asking students questions about texts is to get them into the habit of self-questioning as they read by themselves. To model this, read or listen to an informational text. Highlight how to periodically stop and ask questions and begin answering the questions yourself. Pre-record think-alouds so that students have the option to listen and watch them multiple times with captions. Providing an option to use graphic organizers with sentence starters may help students to record their ideas as they think aloud. See this TIP Sheet for more information on how to model using a Think Aloud.
  • Response Cards: After reading or listening to the text, model how to record the details of the text. Highlight how to make an inference using their background information. Provide a response card with potential answers.
  • Three Level Comprehension Guide: This graphic organizer asks students to be active readers as they record their understanding of a text. Level 1: Literal Comprehension asks students to record what is explicitly stated in the text. Level 2: Interpretive asks students to interpret information from the text and read between the lines. Level 3: Applied asks students to make connections between the information in the text and their own experience/knowledge.

Don’t stop here! Remember to reduce barriers for all students.

Make reducing barriers a process - take a few minutes to think about your process! Is there a barrier related to:

  • interest or engagement? Think about how to incorporate student’s lived experiences, culture, and interests… 
  • background knowledge? Think about how to highlight key ideas and define key vocabulary… 
  • showing what they know? Think about having options for how they use learning tools and technology to communicate…

For example, one possible barrier is the amount of information that a student needs to hold in mind.

Ideas to reduce this barrier could include:

  • be aware of how much sensory input occurs at once, perhaps offer the option to use headphones
  • show examples and provide answers to check along the way
  • provide templates or graphic organizers
  • allow use of spell checks and other tools 

Use these Inclusive Strategies to help reduce barriers.

Tell me more about this Inclusive Big Idea (I need a refresher)

Brush up on the content of this Inclusive Big Idea. It will help you and your colleagues to understand and teach this content better.

  • The Big Idea: Use details to ask and answer literal and inferential questions about a text
  • Tell me more about… Using Details
    • The supporting details of informational text are information that helps to clarify the reader’s understanding of the most important points that the author is trying to make about a specific subject. Identifying and categorizing main ideas within informational text is critical to successful readers. You support your main idea by explaining it, describing it, defining it, or otherwise giving information about it.
  • Tell me more about… Asking and Answering Questions
    • In order to answer a question correctly, students have to know where they can find the key details necessary to learn the answers.
      • Right There questions: Answers to this type of question are explicitly mentioned in the text.
      • Think and Search questions: Answers to these questions require students to pull key details from multiple parts of a text to draw a conclusion.
      • Author and Me questions: Answers to these questions require students to make connections between key details from the story and their own experiences.
      • On my Own questions: While prompts such as these are aligned with the text, answers to this type of question require the students to pull key details exclusively from their own experiences and thoughts.
  • Tell me more about… Literal Questions
    • Literal understanding is the comprehension of what is explicitly stated in the text. Answers to this type of question can be found in the text.
  • Tell me more about… Inferential Questions
    • Inferential thinking is a complex skill that requires readers to merge their prior knowledge with clues from the text to draw conclusions, predict an outcome, and find emerging themes. Learn more about making inferences with this TIP Sheet.
    • Teaching Inferencing: Provide explicit instruction and encourage students to…
      • find clues in the text to get answers
      • add those clues to prior knowledge
      • realize there may be more than one correct answer
      • support inferences with evidence from the text


Looking for more suggestions? Target student common misconceptions, build on interdisciplinary links, and implement strategies and supports across multiple lessons or units.

Common Student Misconceptions

  • Answering Questions: Not all answers can be found in the text; some answers rely on the reader to incorporate personal experience and perspective. There can be more than one acceptable answer.
  • Inferences: Inferring requires higher-order thinking skills, which makes it a difficult skill for many students. Often, being taught how to make inferences is overlooked and thought to be implicitly learned. Also, teachers often assume that all students have the same or similar prior knowledge. Teachers must be diligent to provide examples, explicit instruction, and background understanding. Helping students understand when information is implied, or not directly stated, will improve their skills in drawing conclusions and making inferences.

Everyday Connections

  • In the Kitchen: Find real-world examples to engage students in how important details are to help describe something. For example, you could highlight how important details are for explaining to someone how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • After School: Gather information to figure out the key details for how to play a game or join a club or team at school or in the community.

Explore other Inclusive Big Ideas to think about the content you are teaching. How can you connect what you are teaching now to what has been taught before or what will be taught in the future?

Other TIES resources:

Inclusive Big Ideas: Standards-based resources for inclusive classrooms | TIES Center

The Inclusive Big Ideas were adapted from resources created by the NCSC Project , a federal grant from the US Department of Education (PR/Award #: H373X100002), However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and no assumption of endorsement by the Federal government should be made.

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