Using Text Evidence to Respond to Questions
I regularly tell my students, “Reading tests are completely manageable. The evidence is right in front of you, you just have to take the time to find it.” So often, students rush through a multiple choice test, not giving much thought to each individual answer and just choosing one that sounds accurate. Or they may have to draft a written response to a short answer question, and instead of pulling specific details from the text, they write a too brief, generic response in very vague terms. If you find this is the case with some of your students, you can teach them specific strategies to use when they are tackling any reading assessment.
To help your students choose the best answer to a multiple choice question, they need to practice three key steps. These steps are previewing the questions, disproving wrong answers, and proving the correct answer. We will discuss each of these in greater detail.
First, they should preview the questions before they read the text. By reading the questions, they will have a better idea of the kind of information they should be searching for in their reading, and can make appropriate annotations in the margins as they read. For example, if there is a vocabulary question about the meaning of a specific word, they can be watching for the word and any surrounding context clues, underlining the word and making notations in the margin about its meaning. Or if there is a question about a sequence of events, they may want to number major events in the story as they read.
Secondly, encourage your students to disprove the wrong answers. With the standard four answer choices, there is usually one that they can immediately identify as wrong. But have your readers take it a step further, and as they eliminate an answer, they should get in the habit of noting WHY it is incorrect. Here is one example of an obviously wrong choice being ruled out, as well as notation of why it was ruled out.
Question: Which sentence best states the main idea of the selection?
A. All this information was available because of the microchip that had been placed under Scrub’s skin many years earlier.
B. Microchips have helped thousands of owners get their lost pets back.
C. However, thanks to her microchip, Roxy was soon returned to her grateful owner.
D. However, tags and collars can fall off or become difficult to read. *This choice can be eliminated because it is just one small detail near the end of the passage. The whole text is NOT about lost tags and collars.
Consider this: if a student guesses an answer, they have a 25% chance of being correct. If they are able to eliminate just one choice, they raise that percentage to 33%. If they can eliminate two answers right away, they have 50% chance of answering it correctly. More importantly, by taking the time to really thing about why an answer is not right, it often leads the reader to discovering the correct answer.
Finally, and most importantly, students should be able to PROVE where they found the correct answer. If the correct answer is stated directly in the text, they can underline it, and then next to the answer choice, teach them to note in which paragraph they found the stated answer. However, most questions are not that straightforward, and students need to use multiple ideas from a text, or make inferences on their own, in order to answer a question correctly. This is where the previewing they did before reading, and their annotations made during reading, are useful. Consider this example:
Question: Read the dictionary entry below. Which definition best fits how critical is used in paragraph 1?
critical \ı kri-ti-k l\ adj 1. relating to a stage of illness 2. tending to evaluate unfavorably 3. needed to serve a purpose 4. using careful judgment
F. Definition 1
G. Definition 2
H. Definition 3 –
J. Definition 4View Sample Text Annotation Here
By teaching your students these three steps, they will be better equipped to tackle any multiple choice question.
Short answer essay questions are more challenging than a multiple choice question, as students have to synthesize what they have read and compose a coherent piece of writing that addresses the question. Providing direct text evidence always creates a stronger response. One way to do teach your students how to cite text evidence is by introducing ACE Acronym. ACE stands for Answer the question, Cite evidence that has already been annotated / highlighted, and Explain or Extend.
Here is one example of how you might use the ACE strategy to respond to a prompt such as “Explain how the main character showed perseverance throughout her life.”
For the A, or answer portion: Susan, the main character, demonstrated perseverance by continuing her college education despite many struggles. Notice how the writer turned the words of the question around to directly answer it.
To cite evidence, the C in ACE, a student might write: For example, a lack of money was always a problem for her, but she held down two jobs to make ends meet. This was an example of an event taken directly from the story. Remind students that for this part of the response, they should use quotation marks if they are directly quoting the text.
And finally, they would explain or extend, the E in ACE, with: She worked part time in the career office at the university because the position offered her reduced tuition fees, and she felt the experience would benefit her once she graduated.
Compare the above response to a generic response without text evidence to back it up: The main character kept trying to get better at things. This example is very vague as it does not even name the character, or tell exactly how she persevered. By modeling the ACE strategy often with your class, they will soon be experts at using it effectively to respond to prompts.