The paper analyzes the role of cognitive activity in the process of understanding a text. It describes an original technique for investigating cognitive activity in primary schoolchildren, provides a classification of questions according to their cognitive meaning. The data collected shows that during the first three years of school instruction the level of cognitive activity, though showing a slight increase, remains low. It has been discovered that girls manifest a higher level of cognitive activity in the process of understanding a text. The nature of children's questions has also been analyzed: they reflect unimportant characteristics, display a low level of generalization, are often stereotyped or built on the type of echolalia or cliche.