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TOPIC 2: Reading Comprehension – Reading as a Language Skill
SHS 1 English Language
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SHS 1 ENG Lesson Note 32

English for Senior High School

Form One Notes

Lesson 32

Reading Comprehension Topic: How to Handle Comprehension Questions Objectives

By the end of this section, you should  be able to do the following:

  1. explain  the nature of comprehension  questions.
  2. identify  the demands of comprehension  questions.
  3. provide appropriate responses to comprehension  questions.

Comprehension  questions

Have you ever requested an explanation  of a poem, a passage or a speech you heard delivered  or even a statement  made by an individual?  What type of information  were you seeking?

In comprehension,  the normal practice is to read the questions assigned  to the passage after you have read the passage in some depth. It is important  to note that the questions are normally  arranged according to the sequence of the ideas in the passage, so that the frame of the questions provide a kind of a shadow to the passage. The questions themselves  need very close attention  since they usually  contain little  catchy points that you must take note of, and reckon with. Any careless or hasty reading may not help you to know what is precisely  required. It is necessary to understand  to take note of overlapping  questions.  This is to be sure that you give precise answers to questions.

As you read through  the questions,  you also think  your answers to them, making  a careful note of instructions.  There ought to be only one answer to a question,  depending upon the requirement.  Therefore,  a question that asks for one direct fact, should be answered with one direct fact from the passage. The question that asks for a number of facts as answer should  be accordingly  responded to.

For example:

  1.  Who killed the houseboy?

This is a question that asks for one direct fact.

  1.  What reasons were given for her death?

But this question  asks for a number of facts.

One thing  you need to know is that, it is not your style of expression  that is being tested. Rather, it is your understanding  of the passage. For this reason, your answers must be short and precise. It will be wrong to write an answer and provide it with alternatives  for the teacher or examiner  to choose from. The impression  it gives is that you are not sure of the right answer. The teacher or examiner  is not obliged  to select the best for you. In such situations  the student scores zero for that question.


In five minutes  make a list of five kinds of explanations  you would want to find  out from a given  passage you have read; be it prose, drama or poetry based on religion,  politics, history,  culture  or science.








An exercise in comprehension  is targeted at inculcating  in you the variety  of skills  that are necessary to build  up receptive responses to any texts that you read. For this reason various types of questions  are framed  to achieve this objective.

Let us now take some time to examine  the various types of comprehension  questions.

  1. Lexical questions – Lexical or lexis questions  tests your knowledge of vocabulary. Particularly,  these types of questions  require you to understand  the meaning  of a word in the context in which it is used in the passage. This is what we call the contextual meaning of a word. Sometimes  you may be required  to explain  what a word means. At other times, you may be asked to replace an underlined  word with a word or phrase of your own which means the same as the word underlined  in the passage and which at the same time fits the context. Alternatively,  you may be given  a meaning  and asked what word in the passage has that meaning.

Example  A:

The rapidity with which they took perfect cover impressed Ikechi who imitated them only after an awkward pause. But there was no danger.

Question: Give a single word or phrase of your own to replace the following words as used in the passage:

  1. rapidity ii.  imitated

Answer: i. rapidity – speed ii. imitated – copied

Example  B: 

Peeling the yams presented no difficulty; although he had never peeled yams before, he found he could do so without further  tuition. As he peeled the yams, he prayed that some of his colleagues,  particularly Ada, would return; he had no idea what to do after peeling  and washing the yams. Then an idea occurred to him: He could  sneak out to consult Ada on how to cook the pottage.

Question: Give a single word or phrase of your own to replace the following words or phrases as used in the passage:

  1. Tuition
  2. particularly iii. sneak out

Answer: i. teaching, training, education ii. specifically, especially

iii. run out, secretly go out

Example C 

The sun causes our weather – the good and the bad. Its heat evaporates water from the oceans and the same heat creates the winds that carry this marine over the land, where it may form clouds or rain, fog or snow. If we knew enough about the way the sun behaves and the way its radiation  affects the Earth, and enough about the way the Earth and its atmosphere effect the radiation  that reaches them, we could make secure predictions.  We have not reached that point yet, but our knowledge is increasing,  particularly  since the start of the Space Age.

(Adapted from an article in the Sunday Times Magazine,  25 April,  1982)

Question: Give two words from the passage above that mean to produce somethingmake something happen or become something.

Answers: a. to produce something – creates b. make something happen –causes c. become something – form 

  1. Grammatical  questions – In any comprehension  exercise, you may be asked to explain the grammatical  function  of a word or group of words in a given  passage. Words in English  may have two or more identifications,  depending on how they are used in a sentence. First, each English  word has a grammatical name . This is so because all words in English  have been categorized  into the nine parts of speech. These are the noun, verb, pronoun, adjective,  adverb, preposition,  conjunction,  determiner,  interjection.

Each word in a sentence  also has a grammatical  function.  The grammatical function  of a word in a sentence is determined  by what role the word plays in the sentence. Therefore a word can be a noun in one sentence and be a verb in another sentence. Let us look at the following  examples  in sentence A & B:

  1.  When we arrived  last night  our hostsuddenly  collapsed and died.
  2.  Mr. Kwapong hostedthe musical programme last year.

In the two sentences above, you will realise that the word ‘host’ has been used in sentence A as a noun, while  in sentence B it is used as a verb in the past tense form. This is because the word takes on different  roles in the two sentences.

The different  roles played by words in sentences based on how they are used, therefore forms the basis for question on the grammatical functions  of words and sometimes  groups of words such as phrases and clauses in sentences.

Consider the following  example of a grammatical question:


  1. Explain the grammatical function of ‘in the middle of’ underlined in the sentence below.
  2. What is its grammatical name?:

‘I am aware that a squat dome made of sticks and manure  in the middle of a cattle yard has obvious drawbacks, but inside it did look most cozy’.


  1. The words form a prepositional phrase. They function as ‘adverbial phrase’ in the sentence. The phrase tells us where the squat dome is located.
  2. Its grammatical name is ‘prepositional phrase’.


  1. What is the grammatical  name of the underlined  groups of words in the extract below?
  2. what is the grammatical function  of the underlined  groups of words in the extract below?

We have discovered quite unsuspected turbulence and v iolence and storms on the sun. Most of these are invisible from Earth, but are revealed in marvelous clarity in the pictures from spacecraft such as the American Skylab. These disturbances certainly affect our atmosphere, and most probably our climate, though even if the sun burned with a constant flame, it wouldn’t guarantee unchanging weather.


  1. ‘quite unsuspected turbulence and violence and storms’ – noun phrase

‘These disturbances’ – noun phrase

  1. ‘quite unsuspected turbulence and violence and st orms’ – object of the verb ‘discovered’

 ‘These disturbances’ – subject of the verb/sentence

  1. Appreciative questions – These are questions about the writer’s attitude,  the use of technical or literary  expressions  in the text, idioms  and statements of simple figures  of speech occurring  in the text. Therefore,  in responding  to this type of question,  the student is particularly  required  to react to the structure and language  of the text in a literary manner.  In this regard, particular  attention  to details of language  use such as the unusual unique  effects evoked by the use of certain expressions  and vocabulary  will be of great benefit.

Example: Question:

  1. Explain  what is meant by ‘His senses developed sharp discrimination’  as used in the passage below.
  2. What do you think  Gikonyo’s attitude  to carpentry was in the extract below?:

Holding a plane, smoothing a piece of wood, all this sent a thrill of fear and wonder through the young man. The smell of wood fascinated him. Soon his senses developed sharp discrimination, so that he could tell any type of wood by a mere sniff. Not that the young carpenter made it appear so easy. In fact Gikonyo used to act out a little ritual the performance of which varied depending on who was present. The drama went like this.

The woman has brought a piece of wood – she wants to know what type of wood it is. The carpenter takes it, gives it a casual glance, and then carelessly flings it onto a pile of other pieces. He continues with the job in progress.


  1. He developed the ability  to differentiate  one quality  of wood from another. / he could identify  and appreciate the quality  of an object.
  2.  He was much captivated  and enthused  by it.


  1. What figure  of speech is involved  in the phrase ‘to conquer death’ in the  extract below?
  2. What is the meaning  of the expression ‘ in stone and marble’.

By contrast there has always been a strong desire on the part of European k ings to erect everlasting monuments to themselves in stone and marble. This is an attempt on their part to conquer death or to postpone it or to compensate for it. It is pointless for a man in West Africa to erect monuments in his memory that last thousands of years. His memory is kept alive by the active worship of his children. Only if his lineage died out would he be deprived of the possibility of returning to this life.


  1. Metaphor
  2. Establishing  a permanent  memory of themselve s/  never to be erased/ forever

Question: What literary  device is used in the expression,  May not the same be true of us, as used in the question below:

 Noise also interferes with the sexual activity of animals. May not the same be true of us?

Answer: A rhetorical question 

Question: What does the underlined  expression in the sentence mean?

He did not want to flog a dead horse.

Answer: To undertake an unproductive  venture/  A worthless  venture/ A fruitless  exercise

  1. Recasting questions – These types of questions  require that you rewrite part of the text in one of a number of ways. Some questions require that two sentences be written as one. While others request that sentences in direct speech be written  in indirect  reported speech and vice-versa.  It is also possible that a question may require that one long sentence be written as two short ones.
  2.  Comprehension  questions – These are also called Content or Factual questions. The answers to questions in this category are easily found in the passages set. The examples of questions in this category include  the following:
  1. What does ‘it’ refer to in ‘He took it with a pinch of salt’.
  2. The writer presents two contrasting  views of marriage.  Briefly  express each in one sentence.
  3. Why are bananas expensive  in Italy?
  4. What made the garden boy smile  on seeing his master?
  1.  Inferential/Referential questions – These are questions that require that you draw inference  and implications  from the set text. Often, such questions  begin with the pronouns ‘why’ or ‘how’, ‘which’?   These types of questions are also called Derivative  Questions.  As the name suggests,  ideas and facts are derived or taken out of statements or sentences in the set passage. This may require a good understanding  of the issues raised in order to make implied  deductions.


  1. Why would Gikonyo  peer at the wood with one eye half open and then with the   other half open?
  2. What do you think  Gokonyo’s attitude to carpentry was?
  3. Why have European Kings desired everlasting  monuments?

Responding to Comprehension  questions

The only way to answer questions based on a passage is to read and understand  the passage very well.  This is because a comprehension  exercise is not a test of memory.  No matter the type of questions  asked, always remember that the facts necessary for the appropriate response lies in the bosom of the set text. This calls for a careful reading with concentration  on the following  areas:

  1. understand  the subject matter of text ideas or facts presented
  2. understand  key vocabulary  and expressions as used in the context of the passage
  3. identify  and understand  the devices of language  used in the text
  4. pay attention  to grammatical  structure of used expressions  underlined  for questioning
  5. take note of the mood and attitude of the writer

Besides the above, it is also important  to ensure that you structure your responses to the questions correctly.  This calls for critical reading of the questions.  Remember the following:

  1.  Do not repeat the question in your responses. For instance  in response to the question,

Why did Mr. Alexander Baoduhey refuse to allow Abigail to sit at table with his family?

You should not begin the response by saying,  ‘Mr. Alexander refused to allow Abigail to sit at table with his family  because…’. That amounts to repeating  the question asked; and it is not necessary. Avoid that kind of response.

  1. If the answer required is a sentence, write out your answer concisely  in a complete sentence. As far as possible, use your own words, unless you are asked to quote from the passage.

iii.  If you are asked to quote from the passage, the words lifted  from the passage, be it a phrase, clause or sentence should  be written in quotation marks.


Together we have gone through  lesson, ‘Handling  Comprehension  questions’.  I have explained  to you in detail the nature and types of comprehension  questions  and how to identify  and understand  the demands of these questions which are always based on the set text. The lesson also dealt with how to provide appropriate responses to such questions.  It is hoped that now that you have grasped this knowledge you will be able to handle comprehension  texts with less difficulty.  Practice, it is said makes a person perfect. We encourage you to continuously  practise these skills to enhance your success.



William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.

Peer Reviewers

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.

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