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Elaborative interrogation

A page within CATL Teaching Improvement Guide

Brief Description

Elaborative Interrogation involves the student in generating an explanation for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true. Elaborative interrogation (EI) resembles self-explanation in that both are based on integrating new information with prior knowledge. However, the focus of EI is prompting students to generate an explanation for an explicitly stated fact by questions like, “Why is this true?”, “Why does it make sense that … ?”, “Why would this fact be true of this [X] and not some other [X]?” EI involves discerning both similarities and differences or distinctiveness between concepts.

In one study, college biology students were given a lengthy passage about digestion from their biology text. For half of the students, 21 elaborative interrogation prompts were interspersed throughout the passage. Each consisted of a paraphrased statement from the text followed by “Why is this true?” The other half of the class read and studied the passage as they normally would without the prompts. On a follow up test the EI group outperformed the Standard Study group, 76% versus 69% correct on the test. 


  1. Use reading quizzes that embed EI prompts. Embed EI prompts in articles and chapters that students read for class. These can be given as low-stakes quizzes. 

  2. Embed EI prompts in screencasts. Screencasts can be an effective way to present material outside of class. It is possible with some screencast tools to insert questions.

  3. Include EI questions as part of class discussion and small group work.

Tips to Implement Elaborative Interrogation Effectively

  • Researchers recommend using EI frequently to have a cumulative effect on students.

  • EI works best when students explain specific concepts and segments of text rather than extensive material. It is better to ask students to explain specific concepts in a chapter than to explain the whole chapter.

  • Model or demonstrate how you would explain a concept.

  • Some research indicates that students need background knowledge of a topic in order to produce good explanations. If students are unfamiliar with material, EI may not be a good strategy. They simply won’t be able to generate appropriate explanations.

  • Use EI to build understanding of core concepts. Include questions on exams that students have explained previously on quizzes or in class assignments. 


  • Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4–58.   

Cerbin, W. (2015). Elaborative interrogation. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from