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improving reading comprehension with qic
a strategy that really fits
by carrie deahl

As a teacher in an inner-city school district faced with students everyday who read below grade level, are English Language Learners (ELLs), and are reluctant readers, I’m always trying to find strategies that will not only improve comprehension, but will create optimal engagement. Let’s face it, when it comes to monitoring their own comprehension, many students aren’t willing to put in the extra work. As a Reader/Writer Workshop teacher, one of my goals is to show them there’s so much more to reading than decoding.

One of the strategies I use throughout the year, which offers amazing results is Question-Infer-Clarify (Q-I-C). I model this strategy with a variety of texts (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.) to ensure that students are following the habits used by good readers. Most often, we use Q-I-C when a text stumps us. Many of my students blow right through challenging parts of texts, which is why I model what good readers do when we’re faced with hard parts in our readings. This year, I’ve had the most success with this strategy in our poetry unit. Poetry itself is pretty engaging for students because the rules are different, but often, students struggle with finding the message the author wants us to know, or they can’t figure out the meaning behind figurative language (or other literary techniques used by the author), or they can’t tell me what the tone of the poem is. To help them monitor their comprehension, here’s how I implement this strategy into my instruction…

First, I pick out really challenging poems that I believe my students will struggle with (“A Voice” by Pat Mora, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost, “My Life Stood a Loaded Gun” by Emily Dickinson, “Rosa” by Rita Dove, “Richard Cory” by Edward Arlington Robinson, etc.). I display these via LCD projector on my white board (with the screen up) and read the poem out loud to my students. When I’m done, I ask them to, “Write one sentence stating what you think the poem means. There’s no penalty for guessing.” I usually give them a couple of minutes to write their guesses down. Then, I ask for four or five students to share their guesses with the entire class. Usually, their responses are different, and I try very carefully not to give them any type of feedback. I simply, “Okay, thanks for sharing.”

We then spend the next five to seven minutes phrase breaking the poem. One of the things I have to remind them about poetry is that the end of a line doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a phrase. As we phrase break the poem, I draw slashes after each phrase denoting where the phrases end. This helps slow our reading down to a comfortable pace, breaks up challenging text, and gives us smaller parts to work with. Using phrasing with poetry is especially important because the design and format of poetry is much different than other texts we read. Phrasing definitely helps make reading poetry (or any text for that matter) more manageable.

A quick note about phrasing: Phrase breaking is one of the first strategies I teach them near the beginning of the school year (and reinforce as the year continues). This strategy involves breaking text into smaller, more manageable parts. Phrases are generally 3-6 words in length, usually begin with shorter words, usually end with longer words, and are a group of words about an idea. A good way to remind students about phrasing is to simply say, “I pledge allegiance...”

Once we’ve finished phrasing, we move on to step two of the Q-I-C where I list Questions students have about the poem on the left side of the text (under a column called questions). I challenge my students to ask why and how questions because these types of questions force them to think deeply about what they’re reading, providing for really strong inferences as we answer them in the next step. Students always ask, “How many questions do we need?” I respond with, “Keep asking questions until you think you’ve created a question for everything you don’t understand in the poem. If we only ask a few questions, we might just have a basic understanding of a poem. If we can create a question for every part we don’t understand, we will have a richer, deeper understanding of the poem. If you were playing a video game, would you need a basic understanding of what you need to do to beat the game, or would you need a rich understanding?”

Once we have a solid list of questions, we move on to the next step of the Q-I-C, Inferences. We have a quick discussion about what an inference is, why it’s important we make them when we’re reading, and how we can check them to make sure we’re right. I model answering some of the questions we’ve created by making some of my own inferences. I then check those against the parts of the poem they apply to. By checking my inferences against the text, I’m applying what I already know about what’s happening in the poem (the first guess students and I wrote down after first reading the poem) to what I know now after creating questions, phrase breaking, and re-reading. I write my inferences down under the answers column on the right side of the text. Once I feel like kids have a grasp on what they should do, I begin calling on them to make their own inferences, and I write them in as well. By the time we’re done, we’ve gone back and re-read several times; we’ve checked our inferences to make sure they’re right, and we’ve had a thoughtful discussion about this challenging poem we’ve read. Often, my students notice things that I’ve overlooked, which show me they’re thinking deeply, too.

The final step in the Q-I-C is Clarify. In this step, we go back and take a look at our original guesses and we revise what we think is going on the poem based on all of this work we’ve done. Again, I model this for students by writing my own revised response below the poem. Because this step requires students to re-read our inferences, the poem, and think about the work we’ve done, I give them five to seven minutes to write their clarify statement. They always ask, “How long does it need to be?” And, I respond, “As long as it needs to be. You need to show me that you have a deeper understanding of the poem now versus when we first read it together.” After that, we share our responses again. Like before, we often end up with a variety of answers/interpretations. I remind students that unlike a math problem, there’s not always going to be one right answer. As long as they can prove how they created their revised response using our work from before and as long as it fits with the poem, I’m okay with what they’ve written. It’s when their clarify statements are off-base that I have them go back and re-read, or re-do the steps from before.

After modeling this process for my students, and after we’ve had a chance to work as a class, students are ready to try this out independently with a poem of their choice. I like to have a variety of poems, on a variety of topics and reading levels to choose from. I steer away from any student written poetry (initially) and encourage them to choose poems that are confusing to them, but that they have some idea of what it’s about. The first time through, I require them to use the Q-I-C graphic organizer (see attached strategy). Once they’ve gone through the process a couple of times, they can copy the format in their reading journals and use it for other challenging texts they come across throughout the year. Some of my students prefer to use the Q-I-C graphic organizer all year long, which helps keeps them organized and focused.

While there are many strategies available for teaching kids how to make inferences, this is the strategy I’ve had the best results with in my 11 years of teaching. There’s no doubt that when first introducing it to students I spend a couple of class periods covering all of the steps, but by rinsing and repeating throughout the year, I notice kids making stronger inferences, they’re noticing more about what they’re reading, and they have deeper understandings of what they’ve read. I also like it because I can use it with any type of student who enters my classroom door (ESP students, ELL students, below grade level readers, on grade level readers, above grade level readers, etc.). By providing my students with tools like the Q-I-C, I believe students will be well-equipped to face any reading task as they become more confident, successful, independent readers.


Writer. Reader. Teacher. Consultant. Activist. Takes life and herself a little too seriously. Relishes moments of humility. Believes peace is possible through education. Believes writing is the way to freedom. Unleashes the written word daily.

more about carrie deahl


by carrie deahl
topic: general
published: 1.15.10

bay area phenom
by carrie deahl
topic: general
published: 12.1.09


william carr
5.4.10 @ 9:53p

Holy Cow! No one has anything to say!?!

My "discipline" is biblical exegesis--a fancy phrase for trying to read the Bible with understanding. I've been reading about reading recently, some of it rather heady stuff: Riffaterre, Culler, Barthes, Kristeva, Eco--just to drop a few names. The Q-I-C model fits rather well; it's just kinda what readers do, unless, like biblical critics, they try to pretend they're reading "objectively."

Of course, contemporary reading theory recognizes that we might approximate, but cannot completely claim to know, "the message the author wants us to know." It's not entirely "reader-response," because a reasonable reader recognizes that there's someone on the other side of the text, even if she cannot claim to know him and his mind completely--or vice versa. For example, I don't know you well, maybe not much at all, but from what you have written I am glad that you're teaching children to read.

In an age when the pressure always seems to be "on" to do things quickly, we need to let students know that it's actually a good thing to "slow down" when we read.

It's also okay for students to understand that they don't have to be "independent"--which is part of the fallout of the shift from modernity to postmodernity--that is, they don't have to read and understand alone. The Bible, for example, is written to a particular reading (and therefore interpretive) community. Writers write to be read, so they project the kind(s) of reader(s) for whom they write. The "trick" is trying through question-inference-clarification to try to become a congenial and congruent reader--as nearly as possible one for whom the writer has written. We cannot pretend to achieve perfect congruence, but we can become rather congenial (though congeniality doesn't exclude criticism).

Thanks for a fine article and for your insight into the challenge of forming readers.

Bill Carr

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