How to Write Level Three Questions: A Four-Step Process

idea (1)Why ask strong questions about a text?

  1. Good readers always ask questions about the text, even when they don’t know how to find the answer.
  2. Questions help to deepen understanding about a text, and strong questions force you to look at a text from a different perspective.
  3. The questions you ask about a text or topic say more about your understanding of that text or topic than the answer that you may give to other questions.
  4. The more you learn about a concept or topic, the more questions you should have. An inquisitive mind is a sign of an intelligent mind. Grow your intelligence by asking strong questions!

The Three Levels of Questioning

Before you can know how to write a level three question, you must understand the three different types of questions.

Arthur Costa, a Professor of Education at California State University, has identified three different types of academic questions: level one, level two, and level three.

Level one questions simply require you to recall information from a text, but you don’t have to think critically about the information. Either you know the answer, or you don’t. Typical level one questions might be: What is the name of the main character? Where does this story take place? What color are the curtains on the window? Our brains really like level one questions because they’re super easy to answer. Level one questions are the equivalent of watching football on TV. You know the rules of the game, but you don’t actually put in any effort towards the outcome of the game.

Level two questions take it to the next level by requiring you to interact with information from a text. They force you to think a bit harder to find the answer, and they usually have more than one correct answer. Typical level two questions might be: How did the character change from the beginning of the text to the end of the text? How are these two events similar to each other and how are they different from each other? What purpose does this character serve to the overall plot of the text? Level two questions are like playing backyard flag football with your friends. You have to know the rules of the game and you are actively impacting the outcome of the game…or attempting to.

Level three questions are the sexiest of all the questions. Not only do they require you to interact with information from a text, but they also force you to connect the level two ideas to something outside of the text. Level three questions help you to understand the purpose of a text, and they force you to look at your own life through the lens of the text. Here’s an example of a level three question: In the novel Of Mice and Men, Curley’s wife is a seemingly promiscuous woman who is never given a name. Given Steinbeck’s portrayal of the only female character in the text, how might he have felt about society’s expectations and assumptions of women in the 1930s? Level three questions are like playing professional football. You have to know the rules of the game, you are actively impacting the outcome of the game, and you are also impacting the experiences others have of the game. You’ve made it to the big leagues.

Keep reading or watch the video below to learn how to write strong level three questions.

Step One: Identify an abstract concept or subject addressed in the text

Abstract concepts are broad, general nouns that are not concrete. They help us to make sense of our complex world by giving us words to describe environmental, behavioral, social, and political patterns. This means that you cannot literally touch an abstract concept, you can only experience it through your emotions or interactions with others. Some examples of abstract concepts are listed below:

  • Beauty
  • Bravery
  • Compassion
  • Jealousy
  • Grief
  • Discrimination
  • Dreams
  • Diversity
  • Pride

Step Two: Analyze how that abstract concept is presented in the text

To analyze how a concept is presented in a text, ask yourself if it is evident in the plot, the characters, the conflict, the setting, or in any other elements critical to the text.

For example, if you see hints of a character impacted by discrimination, consider the effect that discrimination has on the character.

If you are unsure about what clues to look for, try filling out my Text Based Frayer Model chart to become better acquainted with all aspects of the concept.

Step Three: Consider how that abstract concept is prevalent in society today

To do this, you can look at your own experiences with that concept or the experiences those closest to you have had about that concept, but it is best to study the societal impact of this concept. Analyze how the media portrays this concept, or doesn’t portray this concept. Is there a lack of media coverage about this concept? If so, what does the media’s silence about this concept suggest? Does the media only present this concept from a specific viewpoint? If so, how might their one-sided view of the concept impact society’s understanding or acceptance of the concept? How does society’s approach to this concept affect individuals or groups of people?

Step Four: Put it together!

Some level three questions introduce or define the abstract concept or the importance of the abstract concept before presenting the question. All level three questions refer to specific characters, details, events, or elements from the text, and inquire about the text’s connection to some element outside of the text. This means that your level three question should first comment on the abstract concept by defining it or commenting on its significance. Second, refer to a specific element from the text that is related to the abstract concept. Third, inquire about the text’s connection to something outside of the text, preferably something societal.

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