Hacking Reading Comprehension: Part 3 – Some other words you need

The summary so far

Back again.. I’ve got one thing to add to finish off my mini-series of Hacking Reading Comprehension.

I started out by discussing some of the reasons why you might need to hack reading comprehension and when you should use my non-scientific list. One of these reasons was that you might need to familiarise your learners with the kinds of questions they are going to face in more formal testing situations.

My basic idea is that you should analyse the structure of the questions that your learners are going to face and then adapt this structure to your own context and content. This would then mean that your learners would get the benefit of practising really relevant reading comprehension questions written by you in the style of the formal assessment, but narrowly focused on your subject matter.

This is not teaching to the test, but teaching your subject matter while you familiarise your learners with certain question formats.

Think like a hacker… a reading comprehension hacker…

The reading hacks list

I then posted my list of hacks. I think I’ve added one more since the other day. These are in no particular order and it’s a work in process. But, in short, you can write questions that ask learners to identify any of these:

  1. An object
  2. A person or people
  3. A time
  4. A unit of measurement
  5. A suggestion, recommendation, or advice
  6. An action
  7. A location or place
  8. The meaning of a word, sentence, or paragraph
  9. If something is true or correct
  10. A reason or cause
  11. A solution to a problem
  12. The correct second half of a statement
  13. A summary or the gist of something
  14. A step or steps in a process
  15. Typography or formatting
  16. Punctuation
  17. The purpose of a text
  18. A partiicular situation or state

To infer or not

You also have to decide if the answers to your questions require one of the these:

  • Finding or understanding information that is explicit in the text. In other words, you can read through and find the answer.
  • Inferring an answer. Inferencing makes the question more complex. You have to “read between the lines” in order to answer the question. In other words, the answer is not explicit in the text.

Response types

I suggested that you keep things simple by sticking to a very minimal set of response types. This is to make it easy for you to design your questions, and to make it relatively straightforward if you are going to be using a digital learning platform of some kind. My preferred answer responses were something like this:

  • Multiple choice. Let’s say with four options (e.g. A, B, C, D).
  • Forced choice. This is the Yes/No, True/False style of question.
  • Underline or circle.

All of these response types place minimal demands on learners with low literacy skills especially with regards to writing. The last thing we want to do is invalidate our assessments due to making it a test of writing proficiency rather than reading comprehension.

Other standard expressions for designing questions

To finish this off, I want to add another set of words… actually more a set of standard phrases or expressions to use. Again, this is not an exhaustive list and you can probably think of other variations. But you may be able to use these as sentence starters for some of your questions. Use judiciously.

Referring to the text.

Text here can be replaced with a word or words for the actual kind of text, e.g. an advertisement, notice, article, memo.

  1. According to the text, …
  2. Look at X, …
  3. This text is for people who…
  4. According to the text, …
  5. The purpose of this text is to…
  6. What does the text say about…
  7. What is this text about?

For vocabulary in particular

  1. Which word means…
  2. What does “X” mean?
  3. “X” means…
  4. What does the word “X” mean here?

As a way of introducing a question

You can:

  1. Quote a chunk of the text first.
  2. Refer to a particular paragraph (e.g. “In paragraph 4…”) or give some other marker that points people to a location in the text (e.g. “In the first ad…”, “at the end of the page…”, “In the first sentence, …”
  3. Give the first half of a statement or sentence. Multiple choice answers then need to contain four possibilities for the second half, one of which is correct of course (e.g. “To XYZ you need to…”
  4. Direct attention to something in particular (e.g. “Read the information about employment contracts”)

Question words

Also, don’t forget all the standard question words:

  1. Who
  2. Where
  3. What
  4. Which
  5. Why
  6. When
  7. How


And for modifying your questions so they require inferencing use these words or expressions:

  1. It is implied in the text that…
  2. What do you think…
  3. …would…
  4. … probably…
  5. … possibly…

Of course it is entirely possible to construct inferencing questions without using these kinds of words or phrases. You just have to pick response items that require a further step in thinking that is not supplied explicitly in the text.

I’m also playing around with a form for designing your own questions. Current prototype looks something like this. Tell me in the comments what you think.

Template to help you design your own reading comp hacks

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

6 thoughts

  1. I like the prototype. It makes the whole thing easy. Also gets the grey matter going with ideas. This is nice series you’ve put together. As for your “non-scientific” list, I think it is pretty scientific in regards to being evidence based. I can see it being a huge help to people who have ‘hit the wall’ in terms of new ideas.
    I’ll be recommending the thread to tutors. Very cool.

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