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Factual, Inferential and Universal Questions


Questioning of any type supports the learning process by fostering curiosity, focused inquiry, expanded exploration, and attention. However, different types of questions encourage different aspects of learning. Factual questions aid in the acquisition of information, inferential questions aid in extending literal content, and universal questions aid in developing deep thinking skills and pondering the relationship of course content to large and important themes. Students can learn to generate, identify, and classify questions of all three types, and then use these three questioning types strategically to guide their learning.


When students are able to generate and classify factual, inferential, and universal questions, they gain a powerful strategy for planning and directing their own learning, from the acquisition of basic information to the philosophical consideration of universally relevant themes. Students are able to use questioning at every stage of the learning process, to prepare for a text or unit, to guide attention and focus during study, and to review and extend what they’ve learned. This process also develops students’ metacognitive ability by helping them to monitor and direct their own learning.

Content Area Adaptations 

Factual, inferential, and universal questions are equally applicable to every subject area, since they constitute a basic strategy for learning. They can be used to support the reading of text, but can be used equally effectively to support learning in any other modality.

Learning Strategies 

  • Determining Importance
  • Metacognition
  • Questioning

Common Core Standards 

  • CCRA.L.4
  • CCRA.R.2
  • CCRA.R.4
  • CCRA.R.5
  • CCRA.SL.1
  • CCRA.W.1
  • CCRA.W.7

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Listening
  • Numeracy
  • Reading
  • Speaking
  • Writing

Elaborative Interrogation

This activity helps students to assimilate and consolidate new learning that is consistent with their prior knowledge. Students perform an iterative process of asking and answering the question “Why is this true?”, thus using their prior knowledge to justify and integrate their new learning.

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis

Costa's Questioning

This activity helps students to generate and classify questions at three levels:

  • Gathering Information
  • Processing Information
  • Applying Information

This framework helps to expand and structure students’ questioning processes so that they can use questioning more effectively to support their...

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content
  • Reflection
  • Synthesis

Three Types of Questions

This activity, which is a variation on the Question-Answer-Relationship activity, helps students to use questioning in a structured way, and to generate and distinguish among three different types of questions: questions whose answers are in the text, questions whose answers are in the world, and questions whose answers are in their heads. ...

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content