Question Types


Another area that should be targeted for foundational work covered early in the school year is helping students understand the types of questions that are typically asked about what they read, and providing them with strategies for knowing how to answer these questions – where to look for the responses: in their book or in their head.

Raphael and Au’s (2006) Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) prompts work effectively with students with ASD because they provide a structure for understanding any question, as well as offer a strategy for how to answer the question. The strategy involves the I Do, We Do, You Do, scaffolded approach.

The teacher initially explains to students that there are four types of questions they will usually be asked what they are reading. Then, the teacher defines each type of question and gives an example. The first type of QAR involves “Right There Questions,” literal-level questions with answers that can be found directly in the text, often in one or two sentences on the same page. Usually, the words that are used in the question are the same words that are found in the passage. For instance, “When does this story take place?”

The second type includes “Think and Search Questions.” These answers require the student to gather evidence from several parts of the text to answer. For example, “What are the important ideas in this text?” Although the reader has to look through various portions of the text in order to pull together information (draw conclusions), the information is clearly stated (either directly or with synonyms) in the text.

The third type is “Author and Me Questions.” These questions are based on information given in the text. The student needs to relate the information to their own experience. Although the answers are not stated directly in the text, they are not all opinion either. The student must have read the text in order to make a connection with the information and answer the question. An “Author and Me” question could read, “What was the most surprising part of the book or article?”

The fourth type is “On My Own Questions.” These questions do not require the student to have read the text. Rather, they rely on the reader’s background knowledge to answer the question. An example would be, “What do you think it would be like to (find out you were a wizard, discover a secret about your family, lose your parents)?” Below is an example of a chart that can be used with students to help them remember the types of questions and, more importantly, how to respond when they are asked:

After explaining and defining the four types of question types, the teacher reads a short passage aloud to the students. The teacher should have prearranged questions to ask at the end of the reading.

After the reading, the teacher reads the questions aloud to students to model how to identify the type of question being asked. Then, the teacher models how to answer the questions, based on the type of question. Next, the teacher can provide students with their own practice passage, possibly in small groups. Repeat the process of having students read the text, read teacher-prepared questions about the text and define their type, then answer the questions based on their type. Finally, in pairs or individually, have students create their own questions for a text. Allow time to share why they believe the questions to be a certain type. Then give peers time to answer the questions, to see if they “got them right.” The following lists question stems that students can follow:

For “In the Book Questions,”

              Right There            Think & Search


What did….

Who did…

How many…

What was…

Who are….

When did…

What does…

What kind….

Who is…

What is…

Where is…




On the “In My Head” side,

            Author & Me

Do you agree with….

Why did the main character…

What did they mean by…

How did she/he feel when…

Give the reasons why…

What do you think…

What if…

What do you think will happen…

What did the author mean by…

What did the character learn about…

How do you…

What happened to…

How long did…

What time did…

What happened before…

What happened after…

How would you describe…

What examples….

Where did…

How do you make…

Why does…







           On My Own

Have you ever…

What are the reasons that…

If you could…

If you were going to…

What are the pros & cons of…

Do you know anyone who…

How do you feel about…

What is your favorite…why…

What do you do when…

What can be exciting about…

What do you already know about….

What would you do if…

This type of support for knowing how to approach a question, and determining what type of thinking needs to occur before responding to the question, will create a strong foundation, especially as the student works to understand the expectations of thinking and answering inferencing questions.

Activating Background Knowledge


For readers who have an autism spectrum diagnosis, what we might consider an obvious connection to make, may not occur to them.

A first-grade teacher told me the story of a young student whose teacher was working to help him share with the class about a pending adoption his family was completing.

The teacher chose a book to read aloud to the class about a family welcoming home a new baby. When the teacher asked the class if anyone could make a connection to the text, the student who was about to have a baby sister join his family did not raise his hand.

When the teacher encouraged a response from him, he insisted that the book had nothing to do with what he was going through, because his sister was being brought home as a one-and-a-half-year-old. The baby in the book was just born.

The teacher shared that in the student’s mind, there were no similarities between the two events. However, after the teacher used a classic Venn Diagram to show the similarities (and differences) between the two events, the student realized that he did have something in common with the book. The teacher had to “notice” and think aloud with the student (with the help of peers) these commonalities.

Any type of building of (through videos or hands-on experiences), or activating background knowledge will need to be done through modeling, especially with students who can struggle to make connections with some classroom learning.

Sometimes, the student has background knowledge to activate but is unaware of the connection between their experience and that of the content in front of them.

Communicating with the parents prior to a unit launch, to learn what understandings the child may have with the information can go a long way to supporting his or her making connections during schema activating activities.

Fortunately, because this was the case with the teacher mentioned above, she was in a position to support the child, not one where the teacher was left with “no connections” made.

It Just Takes One


It took one after-school activity to encourage a seventh grader to talk about TSA in front of a room full of adults.

It took just one event to help Liam connect with his dad over electrical applications.

Just one top finish helped him qualify for states, even after forgetting the materials for another event, which kept his team from competing.

It took one qualification for states to get him to explore other events and join other teams.

Just one event again helped him qualify for nationals.

One trip to nationals helped him grow in confidence and in his ability to interact with older students.

It took just one season to help him enjoy a once in a lifetime experience.

Keeping Her Busy – Sports

softball team 2014

After a great first season with a wonderful coach, and a second season with me as her coach, it seemed clear that Mea benefitted from playing sports, specifically softball.

She could get her “sillies” out in a positive way, although she had to make sure that she was being safe and listening when instructions were being given.

She’s good enough to be received well by the other girls on the team. During the second season, she was one of the oldest. It seemed to help her to be thought of as a leader to the younger girls. She liked leading stretches and being good at what she was doing.

The fall of her third grade year, therefore, we signed her up for fall ball. Since the spring had been a bit easy, we thought she could use the “stretch” of playing with older girls.

In some ways, this was a good decision. She learned to develop a love for catching and caught “kid pitch” during this season.

At the same time, there is a distinct difference between third and fifth grade children. And Mea is on the “young” side of her grade, with a summer birthday and her personality.

She sat out a lot – which happens. While all of the other girls got nicknames, she didn’t. Sometimes, she practiced until after dark, which was “new” to us as the boys didn’t play sports in older grades.

While not the best experience, she did grow as a player. She developed some bad habits as there was an expectation that she already know how to do certain skills. We definitely got a taste for what it would be like to play at a more competitive level (while still being in elementary school 😉

Mapping One’s Thinking

One other strategy, for students reading in a common text, is to allow them to map their thinking about specific sections of the text.

Executive functioning is well managed through the use of chunking a text into manageable parts, discussing the essential information in that section of the book, and then moving to read (and discuss) the next section.

Trying to discuss a whole text makes remembering everything important cumbersome. It can also overwhelm the student who is trying to organize all of the information into its appropriate categories.

Students need to receive feedback about what is important and what is just interesting at shorter intervals. This seventh-grade advanced reader with ASD was able to map out his thinking about The Giver (1993).


The teacher, Mrs. Stephanie Klansek, gives the class a reading focus. She then provides space for students to list “key events, big ideas, important quotes” (which have been identified, taught, and modeled from early on in the school year with other common texts).

Then, Mrs. Klansek encourages students to record “My thoughts and ideas.” The student used a combination of sketches, writing, and quotes to record his thinking. He also records questions he has.

All of this evidence of reading is brought to the discussion of this section of the book. More notes can be made during the discussion, or after, if time to process is needed.

This format supports this student’s making connections between other sections of the text through visual and written notes. These notes allowed him to notice recurring notes and patterns as he was reading.

If larger understandings were still eluding him, the teacher had a document of the student’s thought processes to use during a reading conference, to guide the student to make those necessary connections, to solidify comprehension.

Effective Ways to Scaffold Thinking

A final tool, well known to teachers, is a plot chart, to track events and conflicts that go on throughout a text. From my early days as a high school English teacher to students who struggled with reading comprehension for a variety of reasons, I appreciate the version (below) that is listed on Read Write Think:


I like how straightforward it is, while also capturing all of the essential elements of a literary text.

Why I recommend it for students on the autism spectrum is because it sets them up for success in both identifying key elements in a book’s plot, and also drawing a connection between all of these points to determine the theme of a text.

Other Literal Level Thinking Supports


While literal level thinking in general, can be a strong skill in students with ASD, it will be necessary to support students’ understanding of expectations for how to respond to different summarizing tasks.

Sentence frames can support this work in the language arts classroom. Providing learners with a way to organize their thoughts is not “giving them the answer.” Rather, it is setting them up for success, because it provides them a means through which to communicate their response about (their comprehension of) the text.

One of the most comprehensive sets of “Summary Frames” that I have found is the following:

A summary frame/template:

  1. Guides students’ processing of new learning.
  2. Provides a template of teacher expectations.
  3. Provides “road signs” to help the student determine if they are performing to expectations.
  4. Explicitly teaches various types of thinking and comprehension.

This is why sentence frames are helpful in supporting the thinking about text with students with ASD.

Writing with Ralph Fletcher

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at which Ralph Fletcher was speaking.

I brought my writer’s notebook for the occasion and was not disappointed.

Ralph offered the following poem as a mentor text for us to follow:Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 8.11.31 PMHere is the poem I wrote:

The Good Old Days

Sometimes I remember the good old days,                                                                    swimming with my brother until we were called in for dinner.

No adults telling us                                                                                                                            what to do or how to do it.

Repeatedly jumping in,                                                                                                      swimming back and forth underwater until our lungs were about to burst.

Turning somersaults,                                                                                                                            performing endless handstands and backflips                                                                        until our fingers and toes resembled prunes;                                                                                bloodshot eyes.

I still can’t imagine                                                                                                                                  anything better than that.



Summarizing for Older Students

For students in second grade and above, summarizing will be the goal. In fiction, a well-known strategy such as “Somebody… Wanted/Needed…  But… So… Then…” can provide the visual and memory support a student needs to be able to effectively summarize a text. Keep in mind that explicit modeling of how to complete this sentence frame will be necessary before the student can become independent in completing it with new texts.

SWBS model chart with books

Likewise, there is the Bio-Pyramid (Macon, 1991) scaffold.


Person’s Name

__________     _________

Two words describing the person

__________     ________     _______

Three words describing the person’s childhood

__________     _________     __________    _________

Four words indicating a problem the person had to overcome

________     ________     _________     _________     _________

Five words stating one of his or her accomplishments

_______     ________     ________     ________     ________     _________

Six Words stating a second accomplishment

_______     _________     _________     ________     _______     _______    _______

Seven words stating a third accomplishment

________     ________     ________     ________     _______     ________     ______     _______

Eight words stating how mankind benefitted from his or her accomplishments

For informational text, the student would focus on “Who is involved?” “What is the conflict? Is there more than one conflict?” “Why did the conflict occur?” “Where and when does the story take place?” “How is the conflict resolved?” to effectively summarize.

I once attended a professional development session where a trainer shared that having students summarize by completing the 5 W’s and H hold students back from thinking critically.

I felt the color rising up my neck and, instead of letting it go, raised my hand to share my own thoughts on her observation.

I understand where she is coming from when we are discussing students who have had previous success in identifying the central idea of a passage and are ready to move to more complex thinking tasks such as synthesizing, critiquing, and creating.

I am not one to have students working “within the text” if they are ready to navigate “beyond” and “about” the text questions.

However, when teachers are working with students (such as those about whom this book is written) who do not yet possess the skills necessary to interpret the main idea of a text, or central theme of a passage without scaffolding, providing them with the building blocks is not taking away their ability to think critically.

It is giving them to tools to create foundational understandings, from which they can infer meanings that are more complex. We would give someone who needs directions a map – we are doing the same here.