Reading Aloud a “Text Set” to Deepen Students’ Thinking

An idea…read aloud three well written books with each book requiring students to think further and more deeply about an issue. After each read aloud the students write a response – or maybe they write more than one response. The written responses build on one another. The teacher or a peer reads and writes back to students in between responses. There’s lots of conversation during the read aloud and afterwards – teacher-led and student-led. There may also be a point – early on or at a point of need when the teacher engages the class or small group in a shared writing of a response as a way to model how to respond.

I’ve been playing around with this. Here’s my first offer of a text set…probably most appropriate for 4th-6th grade…

feathers not just for flying

Parrots over puerto rico


In a previous post I wrote about Feathers: Not Just for Flying (Stewart, 2014) – an introduction to sixteen birds and all the different ways they use their feathers. For many students this will provide new insight and a different way of thinking about birds and animals in general – through a “part of the body” lens versus just looking at one animal in general. Students might respond to prompts like:

  • What is the author’s main/central idea? What are key details that support this idea? (CCSS RI 2)
  • What is evidence in the text that supports this idea? (CCSS RI 1)

In another post I wrote about Parrots Over Puerto Rico (2013). The author tells the story of the urbanization of Puerto Rico over time and, as a result, the demise of the Puerto Rican parrot. Beginning in the 70’s there have been efforts to restore the large numbers of parrots there. The art -paper and fabric collages – is stunning and worthy of response alone. From the first book Feathers to the second Parrots Over Puerto Rico there is a shift – it’s not just insightful information about birds, but also birds place in society, in communities and how they are at risk. This book might require a couple of lessons to read aloud and maybe more than one response by students. Prompts for response might include,

  • What is the author’s main idea? What are key details that support this idea? (RI 2)
  • Explain the relationship between humans and parrots on Puerto Rico. How has this relationship impacted the survival of the birds? (RI 3)
  • What argument do you think the author is making? What in the text makes you think so? (RI 8)

Finally, a book new to me – Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth (2014). This is fiction – but it’s based on a very real issue. What if birds (and this is already the case for some) became extinct?  Check out the first page of text (page 3) in the “Look Inside” view of this book at Amazon.  The author draws the reader in – “Hey, birds are in danger, even facing extinction? No problem! We have what you need – all the bird parts you need (handcrafted even!) to create your own bird which you can keep or set free.” The rest of the book is amazing – featuring two page spreads for each body part with beautifully illustrated examples of parts (from real birds) you can order. You can order the body of a condor and the tail of a grouse, the beak of a pelican and the collar of a getty. What Samworth has done is integrated “nonfiction” – the actual parts of real birds – into a fictitious scenario. Interspersed in the text are notes about body parts from particular birds that are already extinct and a bit about what happened to them. There was a sense of beauty and horror for me as I read this book. This might be a little tricky to read aloud because there’s so many details on each two-page spread; I’d still do it – either with a small group, with the class on the carpet, close to you, or using your document camera. You could use similar prompts to those for the first two books. (I might do this for students who need a chance to grapple with a particular prompt multiple times.) Another prompt to consider:

  • What is the author’s point of view and purpose in this text? What in the text makes you think so? (RI 6)

Across these three texts, the reader moves from learning information about birds to learning about the human impact on birds to imagining what the world would be like without birds. THERE IS A LOT OF POTENTIAL FOR CONVERSATION AND WRITTEN RESPONSE HERE. Possible prompts for conversation and written response:

  • How does the structure of each book differ? What is the importance of the structure in helping the author develop her point? Or what is the author’s purpose and how does the structure contribute to the author’s purpose? (RI 5, 6)
  • All of these authors write about “birds,” but their purposes vary. How? And why is this important to note as a reader? (RI 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9)

Okay…still thinking on this. Also contemplating a set of books to read aloud for the American Revolution…more soon.





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