Text-Dependent Writing Responses: Use & Examples

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

The word text-dependent seems self explanatory, but what do these types of questions mean in relation to writing? In this lesson, we will explore text-dependent reading and writing strategies that go hand-in-hand to help students engage with literature.

What is a Text-Dependent Question?

A text-dependent question is one that can only be answered by referencing the source, also known as the text. For example, say you have your students read an excerpt from a biography about John F. Kennedy. Then, you ask your students questions about the excerpt, such as: When was JFK born, or who was JFK's wife? The questions that force the students to look back to the text to find the answers are considered text-dependent questions.

What about text-dependent writing responses? The goal of anything text-dependent is to get students to engage with the text. There are multiple ways to do so, and there are ways to scaffold the levels of thought to help build understanding. Read this lesson to learn about multiple text-dependent reading strategies that connect to scaffolded writing responses.

Plot/General Knowledge

When selecting or creating text-dependent writing responses, start simple. Focus on general knowledge and plot points to assess where students are in relation to reading comprehension, and slowly begin to build difficulty. See the examples below for specific strategies.

Reading Guide Questions

Like the JFK example, text-dependent questions rely on the text for their answers. Reading guide questions that follow a short story, poem, play, or novel can be considered text-dependent if the student can answer the questions using only the text. These questions will typically be plot related and focus on direct details and events.

For example, if students read Chapter 6 of the novel, The Red Badge of Courage, a text-dependent question could be: Who dies in battle?

This answer is directly stated in the text; no assumptions need to be made. These types of writing responses help students look for main events and plot points that are integral to the literature they are encountering.

Literary Devices and Purpose

Once students begin to grasp general knowledge questions, ask them about literary devices and the author's purpose. They are still being asked to engage with the text, but they are being pushed to the next level of analysis.

For example, if students read the short story, The Gift of the Magi, you could ask them to explain the irony in the story. They have to go back to the story to assess the details, but they also have to know what irony is.

You can see from the examples that you can scaffold reading guide questions to build understanding. Start simple using plot and then add difficulty as students progress to a higher reading level.


Once students can easily assess the plot and main literary devices of a text, it's time to dig deeper and go beyond the words on the page. Now, have your students infer information based on select passages and quotes.

Dialectical Journals

While the reading guide questions above focus on plot, dialectical journals take plot to the next level by having students infer what is happening in the text. A dialectical journal is a writing tool that helps a students have a conversation with the text.

Select a quote from the text that has a deeper meaning. Have students first explain the context (which they practiced with their reading guide questions) and then infer what else could possibly be happening with the character, event, setting, etc.

Dialectical Journal
Quote: Inference:
Context: Explanation:

Have the students fill in the chart as they read. Start by setting up the dialectical journal boxes for the students, and then eventually let them choose their own quotes. Students are using the text to gain a deeper understanding about the characters and the overall message.

Argumentation and Opinion

At this stage, students should be able to assess plot and have knowledge of literary device and purpose, along with being able to analyze the deeper meaning of a text. Once these skills have been mastered, it's time to let students make their own arguments. They will still have to reinforce their ideas using the text, but they have more freedom to explore the text and themes.

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