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Elaborate on Basic Constructed Responses

OCTOBER 3, 2023

(source: Smekens Education Solutions, Inc.)

The first step to improving your constructed-response writing is to make sure you can infer the answer as a reader. The second step is to understand the basic what-and-why structure. After this, strive for a polished constructed response that includes additional elaboration.

(How Inferencing Works slideshow)


Color-code the constructed response

Highlight all four sentences of a basic constructed response. Use pink to highlight the first sentence and yellow to highlight the final explanation at the end. Then use a green highlighter on the middle sentences that identify evidence from the text.

This is a good foundation, however, a strong response would have more of your own thinking, more elaboration, more explanation—more yellow.

Whether you quote the “green” initial author evidence or paraphrase it , it should be followed by “yellow” elaboration. Evidence can’t stand alone. For every text detail you state, you must clarify why it is important.

Elaborate & explain more

Remembering that the elaboration sentences represent ideas that come from your Thinking Voice, you must articulate your thoughts into words. Some techniques include:

  • Restating the evidence in more plain terms (e.g., In other words… This means…).

  • Relating evidence with an example or simple scenario (e.g., This is like…).

  • Emphasizing the significance (e.g., This is important because…).


In the end, adding in more of your thinking evolves a basic constructed response into a more polished one—which is the goal on standardized assessments.


Follow 5 steps to make an inference

Making an inference is a result of a process. It requires reading a text, noting specific details, and then putting those details together to achieve a new understanding. In other words, inferences are not created in a vacuum.

To successfully make an inference, you must first look at the relevant information and list those specific textual details. Once you have compiled those ideas, figure out what they mean in order to answer the question. To understand how to do this, let’s break it down into five explicit steps.

Imagine a half a dozen students standing at the end of the street. It’s a dark morning at 7:00 a.m. The students are huddled together. Several are hugging themselves. Others are jumping up and down. And still others are rubbing their hands together and huffing on them. When the bus arrives, one student hollers, “Bus!” All of the students run to get on the vehicle.

Using that text, let’s apply the five-step process.

  • Step 1: Read the text above.

  • Step 2: Read and understand the question.

          What season does this scene take place in? 

  • Step 3: List the relevant details.

Step 3 requires listing the relevant details. There were other details mentioned in the text, like the fact that there were half a dozen kids and that one kid hollered when the bus was coming. However, some of these details aren’t relevant to the question “What season is it?” It's crucial to determine important from unimportant information.

Once relevant details are gathered, it’s time for Step 4. Look for patterns and relationships among the details—to determine what these details have in common. 

Step 4: Working with the list of details, start with the first jotted note. Consider: What does it mean when you jump up and down? (NOTE: It’s possible that this could mean more than one thing. That detail alone might mean the kids at the bus stop have to go to the bathroom.)

Inferences are made by putting multiple clues together. Group the following details: jumping up and down, moving around, and rubbing and huffing on their hands. Using background knowledge, predict what the combination of actions might indicate–the kids are trying to generate some heat or keep warm. Add in the other detail about it being dark at 7:00, and you begin to move even closer. Pulling on some background knowledge, the reader recalls that it is not dark at 7:00 in the summer. Combining the “keeping warm” and that it’s not summer leads the reader to infer that it is probably winter. The last detail: they ran to the bus. Of course, they ran because they were cold. They had been trying to keep warm, and that’s why they were moving around.


Step 3 and Step 4 are the critical steps to generating an inference. Jotting down relevant details and relying on their background knowledge to make connections, generate predictions, and draw conclusions, leads to the answer - Step 5.


Step 5: Determine what it means. What’s the answer? What’s the inference? It’s winter. And there it is.

5 steps 1.jpg
5 steps 2.jpg
5 steps 3.jpg
What and Why

What and Why Structure


WHAT is constructed-response writing?

Readers are expected to “draw conclusions” of ideas stated “implicitly in texts” and then communicate their thinking “orally and in writing.”

This reading skill is highly tested on state and national reading assessments—often in the constructed-response format. These are the open-ended questions asked after students have read one or more texts.

An effective constructed response is typically 3-5 sentences and includes an inference supported with evidence and explanation.

Because of these ingredients, most constructed responses fall under a unique genre of argumentative writing. Like persuasive letters, commercials, editorials, and argumentative research papers—constructed responses also utilize the what-and-why structure. The author states what he thinks followed by why he thinks it.

Within these 3-5 sentences, you must write a response that is complete, coherent, and cohesive—meaning it succinctly provides the answer, with evidence, and an explanation.

Be aware of what your teacher and the state test requires. Often your teacher may expect more of an answer than the state test.

  • For example, Indiana’s ILEARN requires students in grades 3-8 to provide the inferred answer, multiple pieces of evidence, and an explanation of how the evidence supports the inference.

  • Whereas the Texas STAAR only requires students to write the inferred answer and provide a single text detail of support—no explanation required.

  • Mr. Skipper's expectations are inline with Indiana's state test. His belief is that the STAAR's expectations for the SCR and the ECR are pretty low.

restate the question

Restate the Question on a Constructed Response

FAQ: Do students have to restate the question when writing a constructed response?

ANSWER: A common expectation of standardized assessments is for students to write brief constructed responses that articulate their thinking about the reading. To support students in writing a succinct yet complete response, teachers often provide them with an acronym. Here are three common examples: RACE, APE, TEEC

Each of these three approaches starts with the students restating part of the question. Thus, we do value this facet of a short response. But the big question is whether standardized assessments expect this, too.

Not all standardized tests like the STAAR require restating the question. Look at the rubric below.


But, more than teaching to the test, we need to remember that we are building lifelong, literate writers. This includes teaching students to always write cohesively with an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Without restating part of the question, there is no context for the answer. It’s out of the blue. If a student writes, "I think he is because he didn’t know", the scorer is clueless as to the “he” and what “he didn’t know.” Teaching students how to incorporate a couple of key words from the original question provides context for the answer and evidence to follow.


End a Constructed Response with an Explanation

Most students (and teachers) have a strong understanding of what should be in the first couple of sentences. However, the final “explanation” sentence is more elusive. To support students, dissect the three facets of this last statement.

  1. Restate the initial answer/inference. This is often done with a sentence starter (e.g., This shows… This demonstrates… These details prove…).

  2. Connect the answer and the explanation. Reveal “connecting words” (i.e., transitions) that students might consider. The most popular one is because. Others include so, since, consequently, as a result, and therefore.

  3. Provide a personal interpretation. The student often inaccurately assumes the reader or teacher defines the answer the same way they do. In attempts to avoid that misunderstanding, the final sentence offers a personal explanation or definition.

  4. When teachers ask students to connect their answers with the evidence, they are really looking for the "how". How do you define this concept, the answer to that reveals the connection?

  • What do you mean by _____ (the inference)?

  • What do these details imply about _____ (the inference)?

  • How do these details show/demonstrate ____ (the inference)?

  • How are these details relevant to _____ (the inference)?

It’s important to note that students are not actually explaining their evidence in this last sentence. They are explaining their overall thinking or answer.

Ironically, this concluding statement can “save” some kids on standardized assessments. If the answer and evidence seem disjointed, the last sentence can clarify the writer’s thinking. This often results in an “Oh, now I see what you mean!” response from the reader.


Paraphrase Author Ideas

The secret to writing an original paraphrase lies in reading comprehension. You must truly understand the content before attempting to paraphrase it. Here is a five-step process.

Step 1: Read the text.

The writer can’t paraphrase the text in his own words if he didn’t first read the author’s original idea.


Step 2: Remove the text.

If you view a text long enough, you will start to memorize it and will eventually copy it word for word. That’s not a paraphrase. After reading the text, you must remove the text to keep from simply repeating it verbatim (word-for-word).

Step 3: Explain out loud what you read.

This step is the secret to paraphrasing. If you don't understand what the author said, then you can’t put it in your own words. After reading the text, you must be able to explain the gist (general idea)–without looking at the text. (If you can't accomplish Step 3, repeat steps 1-3.)


Step 4: Write down the paraphrase.

After stating the general meaning out loud, write or type out the paraphrase in your own words.

Step 5: Return to the original text.

Confirm the source of the information, the accuracy of the facts and details, the spellings of names and specifics. This essential step must be done after you have first captured the sentiment of the author’s idea in your own words.

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