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1.11: Language Toolkit

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    Critical thinking questions for discussion

    Asking questions during, before, and after reading helps you to think about the reading and measure your own understanding. However, there is also another reason to write questions, which is to prepare for a class discussion. Generally, your class will have a discussion about a reading either in person or online. To prepare for that discussion and to have a conversation that goes below the surface, you will want to prepare questions that get at not just the meaning but at the deeper levels of the text, and at the ideas behind the text.

    Here are five levels of questions that you can ask about a reading: experiential, literal, interpretive, thematic, and evaluative. It is useful to prepare questions from each of the levels because they address different parts of the text and reading experience, and help you to think more deeply.

    Experiential questions

    These questions are based on your own experience. There are many possible answers based on the reader's experience. These questions ask:

    • How does this make me feel?
    • What does it remind me of?

    Here are some example question starters:

    • Have you ever…?
    • Which part do you like?
    • How did you feel when….?

    Literal questions

    These questions are based on the information in the text. One correct answer is found directly in the text. These questions ask:

    • What does it say?
    • What does this word, phrase, or paragraph mean?

    Here are some example question starters:

    • Who is…?
    • What happens in this section?
    • What is the connection between X and Y?

    Interpretive questions

    These questions try to find the meaning between the lines of the text. There is more than one possible answer, but the reader's opinion is based on the text. These questions ask:

    • What does it mean?
    • What are the reasons for people’s actions?
    • How are the parts connected?

    Here are some example question starters:

    • What can we say about the author’s point of view?
    • What is the significance of the title?
    • What is the tone / purpose / audience for this?

    Thematic questions

    These questions are connected to meaning beyond the text. There are many possible answers, found outside of the text, but the text is a starting place. These questions ask:

    • What is the message beyond this text?
    • What are the bigger issues this text deals with?

    Here are some example question starters:

    • How is X common in the real world…?
    • Why do people…?
    • What is the truth about…?

    Evaluative questions

    These questions are about evaluating the text. There are many possible answers, found outside of the text, but the text is referenced. These questions ask:

    • How effective is this paragraph / section/ chapter?
    • Why did the author make these choices, and how well do they work?

    These questions ask:

    • How does the author use X to show Y?
    • How could this be better if…?
    • Does this part show bias for/against X?

    Identifying critical thinking questions

    Here are critical thinking questions. Let's see if you can identify the different levels of questions.

    Try this!

    These are questions about the article "Changes in U.S. Immigration Patterns and Attitudes." Decide which of the five levels of questions each question represents: experiential, literal, interpretive, thematic, or evaluative.

    1. Why do you think immigration has quadrupled in the U.S. since 1960?
    2. Which part of the reading did you find most surprising, and why?
    3. What percentage of immigrants come from Mexico? What about Asia?
    4. Does the author try to convince the reader to change policies toward undocumented immigrants, or does the author seem objective in their discussion regarding immigration patterns and attitudes?
    5. Why do most U.S. citizens agree that immigration policies need to change? What might be the bigger issue here?

    (For possible answers, see 1.13: Answer Key - Critical Reading)

    Licenses and Attributions

    CC Licensed Content: Original

    Authored by Marit ter Mate-Martinsen, Santa Barbara City College. License: CC BY NC.

    This page titled 1.11: Language Toolkit is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gabriel Winer & Elizabeth Wadell (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .

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