Question Generation Reading Comprehension Intervention for an Adolescent English Language Learner with a Language-Based Learning Disability

Below is a paper that I wrote for the course “Development and Disorders of Spoken and Written Language” at MGH Institute of Health Professions. I found the topic of teaching students to generate their own questions to be very interesting, and I found a lot of information that I could apply to my own classroom in terms of instruction in reading comprehension. The student name used is a pseudonym.

Question Generation Reading Comprehension Intervention for an Adolescent English Language Learner with a Language-Based Learning Disability

Background Information

            Miguel is a cooperative and friendly 13-year-old eighth grade student who has attended the Boston Public Schools since the first grade, after moving from Puerto Rico where he was born. Miguel speaks Spanish at home with his mother. He participates in all classroom tasks, and he has excellent attendance. Although he has received instruction in English for seven years, state testing and classroom assessments of academic language place Miguel at the intermediate level of ESL. Miguel also presents difficulties in reading comprehension. Although Miguel is able to recall stories and information presented orally, he struggles with comprehension of passages presented to him in written form. Woodcock-Johnson III testing shows that while Miguel has average listening comprehension and oral language recall abilities, his broad reading abilities are in the low range (4th to 8th percentile). Miguel has an Individualized Education Plan with a goal in the area of reading comprehension.

Article Summaries

Singer and Dolan (1982) studied the effects of instruction in problem-solving story schema and question generation on a group of eleventh graders reading complex works of short fiction. The researchers noted that, while teacher-posed questions are common in traditional reading instruction, they are problematic because students need to develop independence by setting their own purposes and questions for reading. Complete comprehension occurs when the reader achieves coherence between posed and answered questions, story content and organization, and instructional objectives. Many short stories in high school curricula adhere to a problem-solving schema in which the main character wishes to achieve a goal and encounters obstacles on the path to achieving that goal. The story concludes when the character meets either success or defeat. In the experimental group in this study, students received instruction about five story elements (character, goal, obstacles, outcome, theme), and they were given general questions to use when posing questions about each element. This group received instruction in how to develop questions specific to a particular story from a set of general questions. Students in the control group responded to teacher-posed questions. After three weeks, the experimental group performed significantly better than the control group on multiple-choice quizzes that asked questions about story structure. This implies that direct instruction assists students in improving self-directed comprehension and that instruction in higher level story grammar and comprehension strategies is essential for students to be able to process, store, and retrieve information from more complex short stories. The subjects in the experimental group were able to write questions connected to the instruction that they received, demonstrating that they used cognitive resources to comprehend the text, rather than simply memorizing and recalling text events as they occurred.

Wong and Jones (1982) investigated the effects of meta-comprehension training on students with learning disabilities and on students with typical achievement. There were 120 subjects in all: eighth and ninth grade students with learning disabilities as well as sixth grade students with normal achievement. 60 subjects, 30 from each age group, comprised the experimental group and were provided with explicit instruction in setting a purpose for reading and self-questioning. Subjects were then presented with passages in which they were to locate the main idea and construct questions. Subjects in the control group were provided with the same passages as the experimental group, but they did not receive any instruction in generating questions nor were they asked to self-question when reading. All subjects received comprehension tests on given passages. This procedure was repeated over four days with different sets of short passages from instructional reading textbooks. The results show that the training benefited the comprehension performance of the subjects with learning disabilities, but it did not affect the achievement of the sixth grade subjects. Students with learning disabilities who received trainings demonstrated greater accuracy on comprehension questions than untrained subjects at the same grade level. When students with learning disabilities were presented with self-questioning training, they were able to improve both their awareness of the text as well as their skill in formulating questions. A performance gap between trained and untrained students with learning disabilities shows that it is important for students with learning disabilities to receive this training in order to increase students’ text comprehension. Additionally, the study demonstrates that students with learning disabilities do not lack the ability to learn and apply meta-comprehension strategies.

Cohen (1983) investigated the results of a question generation intervention on younger students. The subjects consisted of 48 children in the third grade with a range of skill levels in reading. The intervention for the experimental group consisted of instruction in generating questions about short stories using the words who, what, when, where, why, and how at the literal level of comprehension. Students in this group were also provided with tasks that involved applying questioning instruction to short stories. The students in the control group were not given any instruction or practice in generating questions or in applying the question generation strategy to short stories. All subjects completed pre- and post-intervention question generation assessments as well as a standardized assessment of reading comprehension. The experimental group scored 56% on the pre-test and reached 87% on the post-test. The control group’s scores were 36% and 38% respectively. Additionally, the standardized test also showed improvement for the experimental group with scores of 74.5% on the pre-test and 88% on the post-test. The control group received scores of 74.5% on both the pre-test and the post-test. This study shows that third grade students are capable of generating literal comprehension questions for short stories, and that training in questioning enhances comprehension. The improvement in the experimental group’s scores on the standard assessment may indicate that children who received instruction asked themselves questions spontaneously, without being requested to do so. The results of this study suggest that question generation instruction is beneficial in the primary grades and may improve students’ abilities to comprehend fiction texts.

Nolte and Singer (1985) focused on teaching a process of active comprehension to students in the fourth and fifth grades. The study investigated whether students given directed instruction in active comprehension demonstrated comprehension superior to that of a control group. The study also examined whether students independently used the active comprehension process after the intervention on passages in which they received no direct instruction. The instruction in active comprehension for the experimental group consisted of the teacher reviewing story structure and components and then modeling appropriate questions for the students. Responsibility was gradually released to students leading themselves through the question generation process through small groups, partners, and, finally, independent work in question generation. The control group received traditional reading comprehension instruction with the teacher reviewing vocabulary and asking a before-reading question. The students in this group then read silently and completed a comprehension exam after reading. The researchers wanted to see if the effects of the question generation training resulted in students demonstrating better comprehension on a new passage than students in the control group. Students who participated in active comprehension training performed better on comprehension tasks than students in the control group. The study shows that direct instruction in the process of self-questioning before, during, and after reading has a positive effect on student reading ability. Self-questioning may provide students with motivation to read closely and carefully in order to answer their own questions to satisfy curiosity. Instruction in active comprehension helps students to develop metacognitive skills. Furthermore, students who ask themselves questions are able to focus attention on important text details. When students receive instruction in comprehension through teacher modeling of questions and student self-questioning, the process enhances comprehension, and the strengthened comprehension skills are transferred to other texts that the student encounters.

Davey and McBride (1986) explored the impact of training in question generation on reading comprehension of short expository texts as measured by the quality and form of questions generated, the accuracy of responses to literal and inferential comprehension questions, and the accuracy of predicted response performance, a measure of self-monitoring. The subjects were 125 sixth graders who participated in five sessions over a period of two weeks. Subjects were divided into five groups. The question-training group received instruction in constructing two types of questions: questions connecting information across sentence units and questions focusing on important information. They received a rationale for question generation and instruction using a self-evaluation checklist. A second group practiced responding to literal questions and a third to inferential questions. A fourth group practiced generating questions without training. A fifth group received neither training nor practice; they read passages and completed a vocabulary activity. At the conclusion of five sessions, subjects read texts, generated questions, and responded to four inferential and four literal questions. Subjects predicted their performance on the assessment. Generated questions were scored for quality and form. Question responses were scored for accuracy, and self-assessments of performance were compared with actual performance. For quality of generated questions, the question-training group surpassed all other groups, but for form of generated questions, the question-training group performed better than all other groups with the exception of the inference-practice group. On literal questions, the question-training and question-generation-practice groups performed better than the group that received no training and the group that practiced inferential questions. On inferential questions, the question-training group outperformed all other groups. Finally, the training group demonstrated more accuracy in predicting performance than any other group. The brief training in question generation resulted in positive outcomes in terms of generating quality questions, responding accurately to comprehension questions, and accurately predicting performance. The study demonstrates that students are capable of being trained to make inferences with expository texts in order to increase comprehension. The results also suggest that, while practice with literal tasks may suffice to increase literal comprehension, direct instruction is required for an increase in inferential comprehension.

Implications for Teaching

Current state high school graduation requirements mandate that Miguel pass reading comprehension examinations that consist of a variety of passages that include varying levels of fiction and non-fiction, including complex works of short fiction. If Miguel does not achieve proficiency in responding to multiple choice and essay questions about a variety of readings, he will not be able to receive a high school diploma, which will limit his educational and career options. Therefore, it is essential that Miguel develop comprehension strategies to use in attacking various types of readings.

Because Miguel possesses solid oral language skills in English but struggles with the written form of the language, it appears that Miguel requires targeted instruction in reading comprehension. It appears important to provide Miguel with strategically planned reading instruction that will effectively and quickly allow for him to attack a reading with independence. It appears that question generation would be a beneficial area of instruction for Miguel. In fact, after an examination of research on 16 categories of reading comprehension instruction, the National Reading Panel (2000) concluded that the most scientific support exists for the category of question generation.

Nolte and Singer’s (1985) work suggests that self-questioning could provide motivation for Miguel to read closely. Additionally, the strategy may allow for him to focus more intently on textual details.

Wong and Jones’ (1982) study indicates that Miguel is likely to possess the capability to understand and apply metacognitive strategies in reading comprehension. In order to successfully use a question generation strategy to increase comprehension, Miguel will most likely require explicit training in understanding how to formulate questions and apply these questions to focusing on a reading selection.

Singer and Dolan’s (1982) research implies that Miguel may benefit from instructional experiences that require him to apply content knowledge of story and text structure to generating questions. These activities could assist Miguel in understanding, storing, and recalling information from a reading as they allow for him to strategically apply a cognitive framework for understanding a complex text rather than simply storing and remembering various random details from a reading.

Cohen’s (1983) experiment shows that question generation training may lead to Miguel applying a self-questioning strategy without prompting and thus increase his comprehension of any text encountered.

Davey and McBride’s (1986) work demonstrates that, although practice with literal comprehension questions may suffice to increase Miguel’s performance in this area, explicit and direct instruction is likely essential to more fully develop abilities in inferential comprehension.

While research on question generation that specifically mentions adolescent English Language Learners with Language-based learning disabilities appears limited, it does seem that there is evidence that a question generation intervention would benefit a student with learning disabilities as well as a student learning English as a Second Language. Wong and Jones’ (1982) subjects, adolescents with learning disabilities, demonstrated improvement in comprehension as a result of question generation training. Furthermore, Cardenas-Hagan (2011) states that it is imperative for teachers of adolescent English Language Learners to implement strategy instruction in reading comprehension into their lessons.


Cardenas-Hagan, E., (2011). Biliteracy instruction for Spanish-speaking students. In J.R. Birsh (Ed.), Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills (pp. 605-630). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.


Cohen, R. (1983). Self-generated questions as an aid to reading comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 770-775.


Davey, B., & McBride, S. (1986). Effects of question-generation training on reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology78(4), 256.


National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Reports of the subgroups. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.


Nolte, R. Y., & Singer, H. (1985). Active comprehension: Teaching a process of reading comprehension and its effects on reading achievement. The Reading Teacher, 24-31.


Singer, H., & Donlan, D. (1982). Active comprehension: Problem-solving schema with question generation for comprehension of complex short stories. Reading Research Quarterly, 166-186.


Wong, B. Y., & Jones, W. (1982). Increasing meta-comprehension in learning disabled and normally achieving students through self-questioning training. Learning Disability Quarterly, 228-240.


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