Enhancing the Connection Between Literature and the Social Studies Using the Question-Answer Relationship

Dan T. Ouzts

The inclusion of children's literature within the social studies curriculum should be a natural part of students' experiences with social studies.1 Three issues have prompted the movement toward such literature-based instruction: (1) the call for an enhanced role for quality children's literature in the elementary school, (2) the advocacy of whole language approaches to literacy development, and (3) the professional decision-making of teachers who do not want their programs dictated by basal materials.2

A central part of the social studies program involves acquainting children with the lives of people who lived in other times and other places, as well as people from a variety of cultures in our world today. Although textbooks provide useful knowledge about history and geography, children's books have the potential to allow readers to have more authentic and meaningful experiences.

The Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) is an instructional activity designed to help students work with a standard feature of reading: answering questions based on a text. Developed by Raphael, its purpose is to show students that questions are of different kinds, and to teach them how to recognize and answer four types of questions.3 In several studies, Raphael demonstrated that students were capable of generating and answering questions that enhanced their comprehension and led to independent processing.4 Four types of QARs were tested and found to be successful in helping students to comprehend material:

1 Text-based QARs in which the answers are "right there" explicitly stated in the text (RIGHT THERE)

2 Text-based QARs in which the student has to "think and search" for relevant information throughout the text (THINK AND SEARCH)

3 Knowledge-based QARs in which the reader has to read the text to understand, but the answer is not in the text (AUTHOR AND ME)

4 Knowledge-based QARs in which the student can answer the question without reading the text (ON MY OWN)

Raphael suggests teaching students to call literal questions "right there" questions because the answers can be found in the text. "Think and search" questions are of the inferential kind and require the student to think analytically and find relevant information in the text. "Author and me" questions require students to draw conclusions about an author's point of view, and are interpretive. The "on my own" questions are based on a student's prior knowledge or opinion and can be answered without reading the text. The purpose of teaching the relationships among different kinds of questions, and the ways to find their answers, is to enable students to become skilled in answering questions independently.

QARs can be useful both as a teacher tool for conceptualizing and developing questions, and as a student tool for locating information and making decisions about use of the text and background knowledge. As a tool for teachers, the QAR categories provide a way of thinking about what types of questions are most appropriate for guiding students through different points in a story.

Raphael and Wonnacott taught fourth grade teachers how to teach using the QAR.5 In the beginning stage, the teacher accepts total responsibility for the activity, including: (1) assigning the text, (2) generating questions, (3) providing answers, (4) identifying the appropriate QAR, and (5) providing a justification for the QAR identified. Following guided practice, control is handed over to the students.

The QAR activity begins by teaching children that there are two sources of information: (1) "in the book" (text-based) information, and (2) "in my head" (knowledge-based) information. When children have a clear understanding of the difference, each category is further subdivided. "In the book" information becomes RIGHT THERE and THINK AND SEARCH, and "in my head" becomes AUTHOR AND ME and ON MY OWN (see Figure 1, The QAR Frame).

The QAR strategy has tremendous potential to help students learn important social studies content. The QARs in Figures 2 and 3 have been developed with quality children's books and are easy to use with students in the elementary grades. Each book has also been connected to related thematic strands in Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.6 v


1. Anthony D. Fredericks, Social Studies Through Children's Literature--An Integrated Approach (Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press, 1991).

2. James Zarrillo, "Teachers' Interpretations of Literature-Based Reading," The Reading Teacher 43 (October 1989): 22-28.

3. Taffy Raphael, "Question-Answering Strategies for Children," The Reading Teacher 36 (November 1982): 186-190.

4. Ibid.; Taffy Raphael, "Teaching Question-Answer Relationships, Revisited," The Reading Teacher 39 (February 1986): 516-522.

5. Taffy Raphael and Clydie Wonnacott, "The Effect of Metacognitive Training on Question-Answering Behavior: Implementation in a Fourth Grade Developmental Reading Program," Paper presented at the National Reading Conference, Dallas, Texas (1981).

6. National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, DC: Author, 1994).

About the Author

Dan T. Ouzts is associate professor of education at The Citadel and is interested in strategies for using children's literature in the social studies.