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5 Alternatives to Traditional Reading Comprehension Questions

Tired of asking your students the same old question-and-answer, paper-and-pencil style reading comprehension questions? Here are five engaging alternatives to help you switch things up:

1. One Page Response

The One Page Response has gained traction in recent years because kids love it, and a well-structured response requires students to use higher level thinking skills. Additionally, a one page response requires very little material (literally one piece of paper per student), and it works for any novel. Turn any reading comprehension question into a one page response by asking students to display the following information on a single sheet of computer paper:

  • The title and author of their novel.

  • One text-based reading comprehension question: Neatly write the question and answer on the page. Require students to use at least two quotes or specific paraphrased details to support their responses.

  • Other notable quotes related to their answers displayed strategically on the page.

  • Powerful words related to the answer displayed strategically on the page.

  • Instruct students to use the space on the whole page to illustrate and/or visually represent their answers. If students are not artists, they can use magazine cut-outs or printed images to decorate the page. Instruct students to fill all the space on their one page response.

Check out my One Page Response for Any Novel here.

2. Back to Back/Face to Face

Back to Back/Face to Face is the perfect alternative to handing students a list of comprehension questions. Design the questions you would like students to answer, but instead of handing students the questions, tell students to stand back to back with a partner with the text in hand. Display your question on your board or read it aloud. Tell students to look in the text for their answer, maybe even mark it with a sticky note. Then shout, face to face! Students face each other and share answers. After the talking dies down, cold call on students to share their answers.

Repeat back to back/face to face asking students to switch partners for each round. Spice things up even more by making back to back/face to face a musical activity. Play music and instruct students to walk or dance around the classroom. When the music stops, students pair up with the nearest partner and stand back to back with the text in hand. Pose your question. Give students time to find their answers. Then, shout face to face and circulate the room listening to great, text-based conversations.

End back to back/face to face with an exit ticket reviewing any important concepts or as a way to assess individual learning.

3. Chalk Talk

Post questions on poster paper and display around the classroom. Tell each student to circulate the classroom and silently "discuss" the questions by adding their answers to each poster. Encourage students to read questions and other students' responses so they can build on each other's answers.

At the end of chalk talk, count off in groups and ask each group to stand at a poster. In groups, students can read the question and students' answers. Then, groups can sythesize the answers for the class in a short presentation.

4. Snowball Fight

Beware! A snowball fight is not for the faint of heart, but with some simple ground rules, your kids will be engaged in meaningful analysis and have the time of their lives.

Hand each student a sheet of lined paper. Give students a comprehension question, and ask them to write their answers on the paper. Then, tell students to crumple their paper and throw it like a snowball in a classroom snowball fight! You might choose to allow students to pick up and throw "snowballs" OR keep it simple and allow them one toss. After a minute or two of throwing "snowballs" or after their first toss, tell students to stop, pick up the paper nearest to them, and read the answer. Then, tell students to build on their classmates answer in writing. Instruct them to crumple the paper and throw again.

Repeat for as many rounds as your students can handle. When you're ready to end the snowball fight, tell students to read a final snowball and synthesize the answers on an exit ticket or in partner discussions.

Before your snowball fight, be sure to set the following ground rules: a classroom snowball fight is a non-contact sport (I teach middle school. This rule is necessary!). Throw snowballs underhand only: no fast pitches! Be kind and have fun. And last, when I say pick up a snow ball and write, revert back to silent thinking.

I recommend using music as a signal to stop throwing snowballs and transition to sitting and reading/writing answers. Set the stage before the snowball fight that students must make clean transitions between throwing and reading, writing, and thinking in order to continue. Be sure to point out students who transition well. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool!

5. Take a Stand

Use Take a Stand for questions students can argue. On your projector or Smartboard, draw arrows to each side of the room. Label one side AGREE and the other side DISAGREE.

Read questions to students and instruct them to take a stand on either the AGREE or DISAGREE side with their text in hand. Once on their sides, ask students to discuss with their groups why they chose that stance and to find text based evidence to support their side.

Ask groups to share their opinions and their evidence. Allow students to debate, encouraging the use of text based evidence to back up viewpoints.

End with an exit ticket where students must support one of their stances with text based evidence.


Engage students with alternatives to traditional reading comprehension questions. There are so many ways to get kids moving, talking, and thinking deeply about their novels that don't even requre pencil and paper. Have you used any of the techniques listed above in your classroom? I'd love to hear your ideas! Comment below.

Interested in learning more about One Page Responses? Check out my One Page Response to use with any novel.

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