Creating Text-Dependent Questions for ELLs: Examples for 6th-8th Grade (Part 3)

Last year, we wrote a two-part series on text dependent questions (TDQs) for ELLs, and it was one of our most popular blog posts. In the first blog post, we provided an overview of what TDQs are and how to scaffold TDQs for ELLs. In the follow-up post, we gave an example of how to write and scaffold TDQs for elementary ELLs using an excerpt from the second grade exemplar text So You Want to Be President.

We'd like to start off the new year by sharing an example for developing text dependent questions for ELLs in the middle grades. We have selected a 6th-8th grade exemplar text in the category of Informational Texts: Science, Mathematics and Technology titled "The Evolution of the Grocery Bag" by Henry Petroski.

In this blog post we will first provide you with the featured text. Then we'll use the framework that we used in developing TDQ guidelines for ELLs, adapted from Student Achievement Partners' website Achieve the Core, to walk you through our considerations in creating TDQs for ELLs. (We used this framework in previous TDQ posts as well.) Next, we'll provide some scaffolds and supports that ELLs at different levels of English language proficiency could use to answer the TDQs and unlock the meaning of the text. Finally, we'll share some suggested TDQs for this text as well as a culminating activity for students.


What TDQs Are

The CCSS call for students to use texts to cite evidence in their claims and analyses. In order for them to do so, teachers will need to ask their students text dependent questions, or questions that cannot be answered without having read the text on which the questions are based. Text dependent questions help ensure students' comprehension of the text as well as help students focus on the text's academic vocabulary and sentence structures. However, because responding to TDQs requires careful analysis and in-depth understanding of a text, it may be difficult for ELLs to successfully answer such questions without specific forms of support, such as providing essential background knowledge, instruction of key vocabulary from the text, and scaffolding TDQs to make them more comprehensible.

In order to provide the appropriate level of support that ELLs will need to understand the text, it can be helpful to follow a series of steps when writing TDQs. The process that we have used follows and is explained in more detail below.

  • Step 1: Prepare for Instruction
  • Step 2: Provide Additional Support for ELLs
  • Step 3: Provide a Guiding Question or Questions to Frame Instruction
  • Step 4: Outline the TDQs and Provide Sentence Starters for ELLs
  • Step 5: Have Students Take Part in a Culminating Activity

Featured Text:

The Evolution of the Grocery Bag

by Henry Petroski

That much-reviled bottleneck known as the American supermarket checkout lane would be an even greater exercise in frustration were it not for several technological advances. The Universal Product Code and the decoding laser scanner, introduced in 1974, tally a shopper's groceries far more quickly and accurately than the old method of inputting each purchase manually into a cash register. But beeping a large order past the scanner would have led only to a faster pileup of cans and boxes down the line, where the bagger works, had it not been for the introduction, more than a century earlier, of an even greater technological masterpiece: the square-bottomed paper bag.

The geometry of paper bags continues to hold a magical appeal for those of us who are fascinated by how ordinary things are designed and made. Originally, grocery bags were created on demand by storekeepers, who cut, folded, and pasted sheets of paper, making versatile containers into which purchases could be loaded for carrying home. The first paper bags manufactured commercially are said to have been made in Bristol, England, in the 1840s. In 1852, a "Machine for Making Bags of Paper" was patented in America by Francis Wolle, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. According to Wolle's own description of the machine's operation, "pieces of paper of suitable length are given out from a roll of the required width, cut off from the roll and otherwise suitably cut to the required shape, folded, their edges pasted and lapped, and formed into complete and perfect bags."

The "perfect bags" produced at the rate of eighteen hundred per hour by Wolle's machine were, of course, not perfect, nor was his machine. The history of design has yet to see the development of a perfect object, though it has seen many satisfactory ones and many substantially improved ones. The concept of comparative improvement is embedded in the paradigm for invention, the better mousetrap. No one is ever likely to lay claim to a "best" mousetrap, for that would preclude the inventor himself from coming up with a still better mousetrap without suffering the embarrassment of having previously declared the search complete. As with the mousetrap, so with the bag.

Petroski, H. (2003). The evolution of the grocery bag. American Scholar 72, 4.


Writing TDQs for Middle School ELLs: Step by Step

The following previously-developed guidelines are based on Student Achievement Partners' Achieve the Core Guidelines for using text dependent questions that we adapted to include a focus on ELLs. The ELL interpretations/suggestions highlight challenges and offer strategies for supporting ELLs in answering TDQs. Under each guideline we offer suggestions for use with the featured text. These guidelines offer considerations for lesson planning and material development. The guidelines, along with the questions that follow, are also available in a PDF format.

Step 1: Preparing for Instruction

Achieve the Core GuidelineELL Interpretation/Suggestion
Guideline: Think about what you think is the most important learning to be drawn from the text. Note this as raw material for the culminating assignment and the focus point for other activities to build toward.Ideas for ELLs: Depending on their level of English language proficiency, ELLs will need different amounts of scaffolding to comprehend the text on a deep level. ELLs may require some additional steps to get to this level of learning.

 Examples of the most important learning from this text:

  • Students should be able to explain the evolution of the paper bag and why the version of the paper bag that we know now cannot be called "perfect." They should also consider how this same concept applies to other technological advances. In order to meet these objectives, ELLs will need scaffolding to understand the vocabulary and syntax used in this text as well as the analogy that the author draws between the paper bag and the mousetrap.
Achieve the Core GuidelineELL Interpretation/Suggestion
Guideline: Determine the key ideas of the text.  Create a series of questions structured to bring the reader to an understanding of these.Ideas for ELLs: ELLs might need to be provided some concise background knowledge to access the key ideas of the text. TDQs will need to be scaffolded so that ELLs at different levels of English language proficiency can understand them. ELLs might need sentence frames or sentence starters to support their answers to the questions.

Examples of the key ideas and background knowledge:

One of the challenges of using complex texts for ELLs is determining how much and what kinds of background knowledge to provide them.  We recommend looking at the guidelines for identifying the most important pieces of background knowledge connected to a text that are outlined in our related blog post. It is important to find a balance between filling gaps that will hinder comprehension and ensuring ELLs have a close read of the text. In the case of this article, you may wish to choose one of the following topics depending on the needs of your students:

  • Activate students' prior knowledge with a brief discussion on how customers pay for groceries and carry them home to offer some context for the topic.
  • Show them a paper bag from the grocery store.

The key ideas of the text include:

  • The Universal Product Code and the decoding laser scanner improved the grocery check-out system.
  • Grocery bags were originally made by hand by storekeepers.
  • In the 1800's machines were invented for making the paper bag.
  • There is no perfect invention.
Achieve the Core GuidelineELL Interpretation/Suggestion
Guideline: Locate the most powerful academic words in the text and integrate questions and discussions that explore their role into the set of questions created using the guidelines above.Ideas for ELLs: Teachers of ELLs will need to decide which academic words to teach ELLs. Some resources include Colorin Colorado's "Selecting Vocabulary Words to Teach ELLs", "Focus Deeply on Words that Matter!" by Dr. Nonie Lesaux, and the University of Nottingham, New Zealand's Academic Word List Highlighter.

Examples of powerful academic words:

  • To select which academic words to teach, determine which words are necessary to understanding the content of the text and will be important for students to know in other contexts. We have created a glossary and provided activities for explicit vocabulary instruction below.
  • Another option for identifying vocabulary words is using a tool such as the Academic Word List Highlighter, although it is essential to review the selected words and determine whether they include the words that your students will find most useful. In this case the Highlighter identifies the words evolution, technological, code, purchase, manually, register, accurately, method, designed, created, required, concept, paradigm, and previously as the most powerful academic words in the text. You can compare this list with the list of key terms we created in the glossary below; as you can see, there is a lot of overlap, but we also identified additional words that were important as well.
Achieve the Core GuidelineELL Interpretation/Suggestion
Guideline: Consider if there are any other additional academic words that students would profit from focusing on. Build discussion planning or additional questions to focus attention on them.Ideas for ELLs: Teachers of ELLs will need to decide which other academic words to teach ELLs. They must be careful not to teach too many words in the text or ELLs could become overwhelmed.

Examples of other academic words

  • To include other academic words, a good rule of thumb is to teach (1) words that students have to know in order to understand the passage and (2) words that they are likely encounter again in the future.
  • Other important vocabulary from the text includes: laser scanner, on demand, patented, mousetrap, and preclude.
Achieve the Core GuidelineELL Interpretation/Suggestion
Guideline: Take stock of what standards are being addressed in the series of questions above. Then decide if any other standards are suited to being a focus for this text. If so, form questions that exercise those standards.Ideas for ELLs: In addition to Common Core standards, English language proficiency/development standards will also need to guide the creation of TDQs. ESL teachers will need to collaborate with content teachers to help them integrate English language proficiency/development standards into their TDQs.

Achieve the Core GuidelineELL Interpretation/SuggestionGuideline: Ideas for ELLs:

Examples of CCSS in ELA-Literacy:

  • ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; trace the text's explanation or depiction of a complex process, phenomenon, or concept; provide an accurate summary of the text.
  • ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant togrades 9-10 texts and topics.
  • ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claim or a recommendation for solving a scientific or technical problem.
Achieve the Core GuidelineELL Interpretation/Suggestion
Guideline: Find the sections of the text that will present the greatest difficulty and craft questions that support students in mastering these sections. These could be sections with difficult syntax, particularly dense information, and tricky transitions or places that offer a variety of possible inferences.Ideas for ELLs: The sections of text that will present the greatest difficulty to ELLs may differ from those which will present the greatest difficulty for non-ELLs. Teachers should analyze the academic language found in each text and teach the academic language to the ELLs – as well as the non-ELLs.

Examples of difficult sections of text:

  • The length and syntax of some sentences may be challenging to students, as in the example of this passage: "The concept of comparative improvement is embedded in the paradigm for invention, the better mousetrap. No one is ever likely to lay claim to a ‘best' mousetrap, for that would preclude the inventor himself from coming up with a still better mousetrap without suffering the embarrassment of having previously declared the search complete. As with the mousetrap, so with the bag."
  • There are different ways to address complex text as you do a close read, depending on the language proficiency level of your students. You may wish to highlight a feature of key passages that will be most useful in understanding the reading or answering the TDQs, particularly those in the craft & structure section, as well as for completing the culminating activity. For example, in the sentence above, students may not have seen multiple meanings of the word "for" and may not know that in the above sentence it means "since" or "because."
  • Additionally, if you have created a language objective, you may try to identify the feature that is most related to your objective. Lily Wong Fillmore shares some strategies used by teachers in Queens in this presentation showcasing her approach to complex text and what she considers "juicy sentences." Even though the lesson is designed for young elementary students, the strategies can be used in instruction for older students. To learn more about what kinds of features may be difficult for ELLs, take a look at this article from LearnNC, as well as this detailed analysis of a complex sentence from the YouthBuild website. The Teaching Channel also offers videos showing instruction in these two series:

Step 2: Provide Additional Support for ELLs

Here we include a glossary of vocabulary ELLs might need to know. Teachers should provide explicit vocabulary instruction either prior to reading the text or during the close reads of the text. Some strategies for teaching vocabulary include providing real objects or images for students to see along with student-friendly definitions, giving students opportunities to practice with the new vocabulary by asking and answering questions, having students draw an image or symbol that represents the word, and playing vocabulary games.

The glossary can be used as a resource for students during close reading of the text. Depending on how abstract the word is, the teacher could embed the meaning of the word into instruction or pre-teach the words. For ELLs at lower levels of proficiency who are literate in their first language, the definitions of the words could be given in their first language. We have also provided images for four of the terms that would be most effectively explained with a visual.

Glossary

The vocabulary is listed in the order in which it appears in the text.

  1. evolution – changing over time
  2. technology – products developed using science from science and industry
  3. Universal Product Code* - numbers and lines printed on products that can be read by a machine; used to identify products
  4. purchase - something that someone buys
  5. manually - using the hands or worked by hand
  6. cash register* – a machine with a drawer that holds money and records information about it as it comes in or out
  7. accurately – correctly
  8. method - a regular way of doing something
  9. design – to draw plans to make something
  10. create - to make
  11. require - to make something necessary
  12. concept - a general idea
  13. paradigm - an example, model, or pattern
  14. previously – before
  15. laser scanner* – use of a laser to get information
  16. patent - government permission for someone the right to make, use, or sell an invention
  17. improve - to make better
  18. mousetrap* - a small trap used to catch or kill mice
  19. comparative – being about how something is the same or different from something else
  20. preclude - to stop or prevent
  21. on demand –as soon as needed

For the vocabulary with asterisks, show students images of the objects.

Step 3: Provide a Guiding Question or Questions to Frame Instruction

Guiding Questions:

  • How has the design of the paper bag evolved?
  • Why is the design of today's paper bag not considered perfect?

Step 4: Outline the TDQs and Provide Sentence Starters for ELLs

In our Text Dependent Questions for ELLs post (Part 1) we highlight three types of TDQs that align to the three close readings of the text.

  1. In the first reading of the text, teachers should craft questions that focus on the key ideas and details from the text. They should focus on the important information that can only be determined through reading the text.
  1. In the second reading of the text, teachers should write questions that hone in on the craft and structure of the text so students can further interpret the text. That is, they should develop questions that have students focus on such issues as how the text said what it said and how the author organized the information.
  1. In the third reading of the text, TDQs should focus on the integration of knowledge and ideas. TDQs should serve to guide students to critically evaluate a text and can focus on such themes as the meaning of the text, the author's point, and how this text's ideas and approach compare with those of other texts.

Below we provide TDQs that map to each close read of the text. We make sure that the TDQs address the CCSS standards students will be working toward. We also scaffold TDQs for ELLs at the intermediate level of English language proficiency by embedding some vocabulary definitions into the TDQ itself and by providing sentence starters. If the ELLs were at a lower level of proficiency, we'd give a sentence frame and provide a word bank.

TDQs: First Read (Key Ideas and Details)

1. What two inventions made it faster to add up the cost of groceries?

Two inventions that made it faster to add up the cost of groceries were ___________________________ and _____________________________________.

2. How were bags made originally?

They were made ____________ ______________ by _____________________________.

3. Why did the system of making paper bags by hand change?

It changed because ______________________ invented ______________________________.

4. Who described the bags from Wolfe's machine as "perfect"?

_____________________________________ described the bags as perfect.

Second Read (Craft and Structure)

1. What image or comparison does the author use to describe the grocery store checkout lanes?

He uses the word __________________ to describe the checkout lane.

2. What emotion or feeling do you associate with his description of the grocery store checkout lane? Why?

Based on the author's description, I think of the word ________________ when I read his description of the grocery store checkout lane because _______________________________.

3. Based on the reading, what do you think the word tally means in this phrase "The Universal Product Code and the decoding laser scanner, introduced in 1974, tally a shopper's groceries far more quickly and accurately…"?

The word tally means _____________________________________. I think this because ________________________________.

4. In this phrase "It has seen many satisfactory ones and many substantially improved ones," what does it refer to? What does ones refer to?

It refers to _____________________________________________________.

Ones refers to __________________________________________________.

Third Read (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas)

1. Why does the author say there is no perfect object?

He says there is no perfect object because _______________________________________.

2. What is the concept of comparative improvement?

The concept of comparative improvement is the idea that ___________________________.

3. What is the comparison the author makes between the mousetrap and the paper bag?

The author says the paper bag is like the mousetrap because ________________________.

Step 5: Have Students Take Part in a Culminating Activity

In the culminating activity, students answer the guiding questions.

  • How has the design of the paper bag evolved?
  • Why is the design of today's paper bag not considered perfect?

Conclusion

The focus of this blog post is on the development of TDQs that also weaves in the instruction of vocabulary and academic language. For more ideas about specifically teaching academic vocabulary and academic language, take a look at the blog post on Vocabulary Development and a webcast on Academic Language and English Language Learners.

Creating TDQs that align to the three close readings of the text and sufficiently support ELLs in accessing the text can be a challenge. It requires knowledge of your students, a clear understanding of your lesson objectives, careful analysis of the text, and also some trial and error. As you work to create TDQs for the texts in your class, please share with us any tips or strategies that you learn. We'd love to hear them!

Special thanks to Dr. Karen Ford for her input on this blog post.

Share My Lesson. For teachers, by teachers.

National Education Association. How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners.

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