Tool for the Field: Supporting Students’ Understanding by Turning Subheadings into Questions


This tool is one more way to help improve students’ understanding of what they read. It works best for nonfiction texts, such as textbooks and articles about science, social stud­ies, or math. It’s a good pre-reading tool for grades 3 through 12.


Many nonfiction texts use subheadings as a text feature. One way to improve students’ understanding of these texts is to turn the subheadings into questions, before the student reads the passage. For example, a high school science textbook might have a section on the chemical element phosphorous. The section might have the following subheadings:

  • The 13th Element
  • Differences between Phosphorescence and Luminescence
  • The Discovery of Phosphorous
  • How Phosphates Are Used Today

Ask the students to turn these subheadings into questions. This will probably result in questions like these:

  • What is the 13th element?
  • What are the differences between phosphorescence and luminescence?
  • Who discovered phosphorous and how was it discovered?
  • How are phosphates used today?

Students should write these questions in their reading journals. As they read the text, they’ll come to important points that will help answer these questions. They should jot down these points in their journals. After students finish reading the section under each subheading, they should write the answer to each question using complete sentences.

A teacher or parapro can walk around the room to read the students’ answers, checking if they are correct and complete. If a student’s answer to a question is inadequate or incor­rect, the teacher or parapro can ask the student to reread the relevant section of the text. Then the student can fix the answer. If the student doesn’t succeed the second time, more support will be needed. For example, you might re-read the passage to that student. Or you might help the student come up with spoken answers to a question before trying to write an answer.