Author Archives: sundaycummins

About sundaycummins

I'm a literacy consultant with a focus on helping professional learning communities tackle teaching with informational texts.

When a student can’t read a word

When students at the transitional or fluent stage of reading (DRA levels 18+ or alpha levels J+) struggle with a word, there are a few “go to” strategies and prompts I rely on. (I’ve attached a file at the end that lists these prompts 🙂

  1. “Is there a part you know?” If it’s a word that has any parts they might know, I use this prompt. For example, a student was stuck on the word “acorns” in the sentence “Some bears eat nuts, acorns, roots and leaves.”  I lifted the word “acorn” out of the text by writing it on a dry erase board and then prompted the student to “look for a part you know.” He was thrilled when he noticed the “or” and then his eyes grew wide when he noticed “corn” in the word as well. Decoding is not enough. Then I asked the student to reread and think with me about the meaning of that word.  I said, “Let’s go back and reread that sentence. (Student reads aloud.) Now what does the word ‘acorn’ mean in this sentence?” and we discussed how it must be a food like the other items listed in the sentence. I closed by saying, “When you’re reading, you need to make sure that
  2. “Can you use a word you know to help you with this word?” Sometimes when a student is stuck, I look at the word and think about what part of the word they are struggling with. For example, one student was stuck on the word “join.” I knew the “oi” was causing her problems. I wrote the word “coin” on a dry erase board and asked, “Do you know this word?”  She did and read it aloud to me. “Can you use the word ‘join’ to help you with the tricky word?” and she figured out “coin.” (BTW I’ve had this backfire when the student did not know the word I chose and then I just give it to them 😉 Then we reread and thought about the meaning of that word. She read the word in the text and we talked about what it meant.
  3. With some words, I’ll ask the student, “Can you use your finger to help you look at the parts?” or “Can you look at the parts with your eyes?”  As they do, I encourage them to think about what they know about each part. As described in a previous blog, when a student got stuck on the word “burrow” — I helped him use his finger to cover the end and asked, “Do you know that first part?” He recognized it as “bur.” Then I coached him on how to cover the first part of the word and look at “row” which he did not know. Then I wrote “snow” on a dry erase board and he used that word to help him read “burrow.” Finally I asked him to reread the sentence and think with me about what the meaning of that word is. I do not use my finger to cover up parts of the words. The student must use his finger because later when he is alone trying to problem solve, he will not have my finger to help him 😉
  4. “Was there a tricky part?” If a student mumble reads a word, hoping I won’t notice that he doesn’t know the word, I let him finish the sentence and then I say, “Was there a tricky part?” Usually they nod and then I say, “Can you show me?” and have the student point the word out. Next I say, “What can you do?” Tips –
    • Let the student finish the sentence first. If you stop them at the point of error, then you have done the monitoring.
    • Keep your finger out of their book. Make them use their own finger. That’s part of the work you want them to do when they are alone, right?
    • Sometimes I ask “Was there a tricky part?” and the student says, “Nope!” ;0 Then I ask them to reread the sentence and make sure what they are saying matches what they are seeing. If they notice their error, we talk about how what they said may have sounded right or made sense (if that’s appropriate), but it doesn’t look right.
    • If the student does not know what the tricky part was – even after rereading, then I say, “Listen to me read this sentence. As I read, I want you to notice where what I say does not match what you see.”
  5. “Are you right?” and “How do you know?” or “What can you do?” If you have students who read a word or get stuck and automatically look up at you without problem solving, you need to nip this habit. If I know a student has been taught word solving strategies and they appeal to me, I shrug my shoulders and say, “Are you right?” No nodding. No “Good job.” Make them accountable. Follow up with “How do you know (you’re right or you’re wrong)?” and support them in verbalizing how they were strategic or what they need to do to be strategic.
  6. “That’s a word you just have to know.” When a student gets stuck on a word that has a mostly irregular spelling (e.g., only, unique, beautiful), I don’t dig a deep hole for myself trying to help them figure it out. I just say, “That’s a word you just have to know. It’s _____. Let’s reread that sentence and think about what it means.” In other cases, I might give them part of the word (the irregular or tricky part) and let them figure out the other parts. For example, a student got stuck on the word “certain.” He chunked it and after he’d gotten “cer” (with a soft c – ugh!!!), I gave him “tain.” Then we reread the sentence to think about how the word was used and why. AND in yet other cases, I just think, “That’s way over their head developmentally, I’m giving it to them and going on with my life!!!” That happens.

Honestly, if the word is not in the student’s vocabulary, they may not be able to figure out the correct pronunciation. What’s most important is that they at least understand the meaning of the word. That’s why I strongly encourage students to check for meaning. When I help a student with visual cues, I always reread the text with the word and discuss the meaning of that word with students (even words like “only”). You may have to help them use context clues to figure out the meaning of the word and sometimes there are no clues so you just give them the meaning. If you need a reminder about the types of context clues students can look for when they don’t know a vocabulary word in an informational source , see this blog entry I wrote.

Prompts for Supporting Word Solving

Sources that have helped me get better at prompting for word solving (in addition to a lot of practice) –

Next Step Forward (Richardson, 2017, p. 178)

Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades (Fountas & Pinnell, 2017, p. 414)

Teaching Strategic Processes in Reading  (Almasi & Fullerton, 2012, Chapter 7–dense but hearty)

Hope this helps.

S

 

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Our students know so little if…

When our students read just one source on a topic, I would argue they still know almost nothing about that topic or issue. I know you know this. It’s not until they read, view, listen to multiple sources on that topic that their understanding is transformed. This is not a new point. My argument is that students should read more than one source on a topic on a regular basis. I’d even argue that every time they consult a source on a nonfiction topic or issue, they should consult another source or two or more.

Give yourself a moment to do this.

Last summer my husband and I discovered a tide pool with sea stars in it.

(Photo taken by Sunday’s husband.)

I was immediately captivated and wanted to know more. There was also a little spousal argument about whether the sea star is called starfish (my husband’s term) or sea star (mine) 😉 That night, on National Geographic’s website, I found the following:

Marine scientists have undertaken the difficult task of replacing the beloved starfish’s common name with sea star because, well, the starfish is not a fish. It’s an echinoderm, closely related to sea urchins and sand dollars.

Okay. I learned something new, right? But I wanted to know more. I searched again and found this time-lapse video of a sea star eating a clam. It’s 30 seconds.

Cool, huh? Now I knew a little bit more. The sea star wraps itself around its prey to eat it. Now    I wanted to know even more—particularly about how the sea star eats its prey so I found the diagram below. What do you notice?

(Sorry – this diagram is by Pearson; couldn’t find the original source; it’s all over the internet at different sites.)

Okay. My understanding expanded. The sea star has a stomach in the center of its body (now the video makes more sense) and the sea star has tubular feet that help it grasp prey like the clam. I wanted to know more so I went back to National Geographic’s site and read this:

Unusual Feeding

Most sea stars also have the remarkable ability to consume prey outside their bodies. Using tiny, suction-cupped tube feet, they pry open clams or oysters, and their sack-like cardiac stomach emerges from their mouth and oozes inside the shell. The stomach then envelops the prey to digest it, and finally withdraws back into the body.

Fascinating, huh?

With each source I consulted, my understanding of the sea star developed depth.

I wanted to know more of course.

Then I came upon these photos (UC Santa Cruz). Take a moment to look closely.

These were taken over the course of three days (photo credit on the site to Kit Harma). This is sea star wasting syndrome that is devastating populations of sea stars on the west coast. With my understanding of the sea star–its physical features and how it eats–I had an even better understanding of how this is a horrific problem.

I kept reading because I wanted to know more and in the following days, my husband and I would check on our sea star several times–hoping that it still looked healthy and understanding so much more about what we were seeing.

My point is—What if I had stopped after reading the first source? I wouldn’t know that much. How did my learning grow because I read another source and then another?  My understanding was transformed.

 SO

How can we make this happen for our students? How can we nurture this type of informed thinking on a regular basis? Given how much misinformation is out there, this is an imperative, huh?That’s what I explored with several colleagues and wrote about in my new book Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking and Writing Across Content-Area Sources published by Heinemann. As we explored teaching with more than one source, the students’ excitement got us hooked on doing this. It’s hard to go back to using just one source after we observed this.

In this book, I write about so much of what I learned (selecting sets of sources, making it all manageable and so forth) plus I include nine sample lesson ideas in Chapter 3.

Here’s a lesson idea for now. Use these sources on the sea star with your students to reveal the power of consulting more than one source. As they consult each source, pose questions like, “What did you just add to your learning?” Close with a question like, “Why consult more than one source?”

Hope this helps.

Sunday

Hey, Mom! Guided Writing

“Who will you tell?” This is a conversation I’ve started having with students at the guided reading table before they write in response to an informational source. I usually start by saying something like the following:

When you go home tonight and your mom asks about school, you could just say, “It was okay” OR you could ask, “When I was born, did you lick me to keep me safe from predators like the mother impala does?”

They are with me at this point. Then I check in with each student, “Who will you tell about what you learned today?” The answers vary — mom, dad, grandmother, big sister, a best friend, another teacher.

This has become a regular part of my guided writing discussions with students in the elementary grades. A few weeks ago, after a group of students read and annotated excerpts from A Day in Spacethey planned (using bulleted notes on a sticky note) for what they would say to someone later that day to explain why salt on the International Space Station has to be a liquid instead of a solid like on Earth. We orally rehearsed, engaged in shared writing of the first sentence or two (as a model) and then they wrote (what they were planning to say).

The language of informational sources is tricky–it’s not how we talk on a regular basis. For many students this is an opportunity to work on oral language development as well as writing. By giving students time to orally rehearse and then write (with a real audience in mind), we are helping them develop an ear for what informational writing should sound like as well as what conversations about what we learned about the world might sound like.

The next day I checked in with the Day in Space students, “Who did you talk to last night?” They spoke enthusiastically about who they’d talked to. (A few hadn’t 😉 We engaged in close reading of another excerpt of the article–how toilets on the ISS are different than those on Earth. They left armed with key details to explain to someone beyond the guided reading table. (How many of our students are identifying key details in sources but not explaining in their writing? 😉

This can be powerful. A teacher emailed me that she’s been trying this. The students actually start the written response with “Hey, Mom!” or “Hey, _______.” She takes pictures of the students with their writing and texts to the parents during the day using the “Remind” app. Parents have commented to her that this has changed conversation at the dinner table. Woohoo!!!!

A note of caution, though. You know your students better than I do. Tailor this to meet their personal circumstances, huh? One student told me she has no one to tell. She lives with her grandma who only speaks Spanish and the student only speaks English. I quickly encouraged her to choose a teacher at the school she could tell about what she learned. During a different lesson, another young man looked despondent as the other students chose someone at home to tell. His teacher told me later that he is pretty much on his own at home. I regrouped the next day and when we decided to tell his teacher about what he’d learned, he perked up.

Hope this helps.

S

It’s about NOTICING when they need to compare/contrast

Lesson plan + set of follow-up sources.

It’s not just about teaching students how to compare and contrast. We also need to teach them to notice when they need to ask comparison questions. Below is a description of a series of lessons I had the honor of teaching last week exploring this idea. I’ve also included a completed lesson plan using the three phase learning plan. I’ve also included a set of follow-up sources with which you could continue exploring this strategy.

Phase One – Meet the Source

  • Introduced the source (NEWSELA article “A Day in Space” Lexile 840) with a simple gist statement: We are going to read an article about the lives of astronauts on the International Space Station. (You could ask students to read this on-line for Phase One.) (I know this is the same source I used in the last blog post. Could you have kids read it again with this different purpose? Or use one of the additional sources listed below?)
  • Explored vocabulary “daily routine” with the following three steps:
    • Kid-friendly definition (written on paper for all to see) – “tasks or chores that are done regularly (everyday)”
    • Shared a personal connection – One of my daily routines is to make coffee when I get up. 
    • Asked partners to turn and share a daily routine; provided the stem “One of my daily routines is_____.”                                                  
  • Previewed & predicted – Asked questions like “What do you think you’ll be learning about the astronauts’ daily routines?” and “What do you notice (in the photographs, subheadings, etc.)?”
  • STUDENTS READ AND I CONFERRED WITH INDIVIDUALS.
  • Regrouped  – After a teaching point, I posed this question for discussion – “What did you learn about the astronauts’ daily routines?”

Meet the Strategy – Noticing and then Asking “Similar?” and “Different?”                       (Note: This may take two 20 minute lessons.)

  • Taught the word “contaminate” with three steps.
  • Introduced the strategy – When I began to read this article the first time, I noticed right away that the author was comparing life on the International Space Station with life on Earth. Let’s look back at the first paragraph and I’ll show you where I started to think that. (Shared reading of first paragraph in article.) When the author wrote, “Astronauts who live on the ISS follow daily routines just like those of us on Earth,” I started thinking, “Oh, the author might be comparing these two things and that means I need to be asking important questions as I read like: How are ______ and ________similar?” and “How are _______ and _________ different?” Asking these two questions can help me determine what’s important in the source and help me remember what I read. Placed these two questions out for students to notice.
  • Shared close reading – We engaged in reading the paragraph about the astronaut’s food that begins “Condiments like ketchup…” and goes on to explain how the astronauts’ salt and pepper is liquid and why. As we read each sentence, we underlined details that explained how this is the same or different and wrote annotations in the margines. (I cut and paste the article into a word document for the Phase Two lesson.) A Day in Space 2_22_18
  • Guided close reading – Students read and annotated paragraph that begins “They also use a different type of toilet…”  (I picked this paragraph because there are a couple of sentences that go into depth.)
  • Independent close reading – Students read and annotated paragraph that begins “After a long day in space, nothing’s better than a good night’s sleep…” that explains how astronauts attach themselves to the wall to sleep.
  • Closing (discuss content and strategy) – What did we learn about how astronauts’ daily routines are different than ours? How did keeping these two questions in mind help us as readers?

Meet the Response

  • Helped the students plan using their annotations. Below is an example of one student’s plan; her group ended up writing about all three sections they had close read.

With a second group that needed more support, I wrote the key words they generated and they only wrote about that one section.

(I will write about both of these experiences more in the next blog entry 😉

  • Leaned in to confer while they wrote.
  • Briefly shared to close.

DRAFT OF THE PLAN. Three Phase Plan Day in Space Compare

ADDITIONAL SOURCES – You could do this lesson with additional sources, nudging the students to notice if they are good sources to ask compare and contrast questions and then close reading sections and asking these questions. You could also begin to compare/contrast ACROSS these sources 🙂

NEWSELA.com articles –

European Space Agency site about daily lives of astronauts

NASA.gov site – The NEWSELA article “A Day in Space” was adapted from text at this site. You might set students up to explore this site further as they continue to ask comparison questions.

Hope this helps.

S

 

 

Three Phase Plan with “A Day in Space”

Here’s an example of a lesson I gave using the three-phase  learning plan that I introduced in the last blog entry. The source is an article from NASA.gov entitled “A Day in Space” (posted by NewsELA). This lesson might be used with 3rd-5th grade students or striving middle school readers. Below is a link to the filled-out plan. There’s so much of teaching that I can’t get into a “lesson plan,” though, so below is a more detailed explanation of what happened in each phase.

Three Phase Plan Day in Space

Phase One – Meet the Source

The teacher and I gave the students a hard copy of the article to read as a whole.  I started the lesson with this synopsis:

This article is about how astronauts live and work in space. One of the main ideas in this article is that astronauts do some of the same things we do, but in different ways. Let’s preview to see what we think some of those differences might be.

I also introduced the vocabulary word “hygiene” which was the topic of one section of the article entitled “Hygiene in Space.” Here are the four steps I used to introduce this word:

  1. Introduce the definition: Hygiene – the practice of keeping yourself and your surroundings clean and, as a result, healthy
  2. Help students associate: Thumbs up/down: Are you practicing good hygiene when you brush your teeth? Are you practicing good hygiene if you never wash your hands?
  3. Help students expand their understanding with Turn & Talk: Think of a way you practice good hygiene. Turn & talk about it with a partner. You might start with “I practice good hygiene by…”
  4. Link to text: There is a subheading in this article that says “Hygiene in Space!” What do you think the author will be explaining? Do you think astronauts practice hygiene the same we do?

I set the purpose for reading by saying, “As you read this article, think about this question: How is the astronaut’s day in space similar to and different from yours?”

Then the students read. The teacher and I circulated, leaning in to confer with individuals. I closed the lesson by asking small groups to discuss the following questions:

  • What did you learn about how astronauts do things differently from us?
  • What else did you learn that you found interesting?

Phase Two – Meet the Strategy

During the following lesson, I introduced the pasta analogy and then engaged the students in underlining and annotating the section entitled, “Hygiene in Space!”  Our guiding question for determining what to underline and jot in the annotations was, “How is living in space different than living on Earth?” This may seem easy, but during Phase One, when I asked this question, I got answers like, “Their toilets are different.” I DID NOT get details about the difference, though. Students did not share how the toilet is set up like a vacuum cleaner, etc. By reading closely and stopping to think about specific details that we determined were important, I was hoping to deepen the students’ understanding of this difference.

After we annotated this section together (my notes were projected with a document camera), student partners chose an additional section to read and annotate (with the guiding question in mind). Then individuals chose yet another section to work on independently. The teacher and I circulated and conferred, coaching students in how to annotate their thinking.

We closed with a conversation:

  • Let’s use our notes to help us describe the differences between living in space and on Earth.
  • What do we think about what we learned? Would you want to be an astronaut at the space station? Why or why not?
  • What did we do to read and learn strategically today?

Phase Three – Meet the Purpose for Responding

This was the prompt for the written response:

Would you want to be an astronaut who lives and works on a space station? Why or why not? Use what you learned from the article about the different ways astronauts do things and how this information has influenced your thinking.

I introduced and defined three vocabulary words students could use to describe their thinking: fascinating (def: very interesting), challenging (difficult but worth trying because you’re interested), exasperating (extremely irritating, annoying). The teacher and I decided to give the students these vocabulary words as a tool for helping them respond more thoughtfully.

I modeled choosing one and listing details (as a plan for writing) from the source that supported this; then I coached them in doing the same.

Then I drew the students into a conversation and they helped me compose a sample response. This is shared writing. Then I coached in them in writing their own responses. Later I would read their responses and write a short note to each student. Below are a few examples of what the students wrote.

This was the first of a series of three-phase lessons focused on sources about different careers—app developers, animators, bee keepers, interpreters for the deaf and so forth. I’ll try to blog more on that soon.

If you try the three-phase lesson with “A Day in Space,” I’d love to hear how it goes!

Hope this helps.

S

Three-phase plan for learning?

Below is a guide I’ve developed for planning and teaching with informational sources. Each “phase” can be one or more lesson periods (20-40 minutes) based on the needs of your students. My hope is to make teaching with informational sources (texts, video, infographics, etc) more manageable. There’s so much we can do with these sources, but there’s value in a regular routine focused on helping students develop a deeper understanding of a source (guided reading/writing of sorts ;). This plan tries to provide a model for that.

During Phase One, you introduce the source to the students and they have an opportunity to read, view or listen to that source. As they engage with the source, you lean in to confer and check for understanding. Then you close with a discussion of the content they learned. Your goal is for the students to get a grasp of the source as a whole.

During Phase Two, you teach a strategy that supports students in closely reading-viewing-listening to a part of the source or if the source is short, the whole source. An example of a  strategy is teaching the students how to self-monitor by coding for what they already know, what’s new information or what they do not understand. Another strategy is using the pasta analogy to help students determine what is important as they underline and annotate a source for evidence that supports a main idea. This may occur with only a part of the source. Chances are–if the students understand a part of the source really well, they will understand the whole source better.

During Phase Three, students write or create a response to the source. This can be very short–a few sentences or a quick sketch of an infographic or it can be a little longer like a letter or they might just practice discussing in detail what they learned–orally responding. This serves to deepen their understanding of the source.

What I’ve given you are the basics. There’s so much more I’d like to say, but hope to blog about. (I’m also working on a new edition of my first book Close Reading of Informational Texts due out next fall that will include more details.)

Below is a draft of a lesson plan template that you might use as a guide. I hope to blog in the near future about specific lessons I’ve given that use this template.

Three-Phase Learning Plan 1_12_18

Hope this helps. Would love to know what you think.

S

 

 

 

Helping Students Get the Most Out of Video Sources

I’ll never forget the first time I taught students to unpack the information in a video clip. It was in a classroom studying ecosystems. I found the perfect clip. Two minutes! The content answered our essential questions. It was fantastic!

Yeah, right 😦

When I sat down to plan, I realized how complicated this was going to be. We can say a lot in just a few seconds. This video clip is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPHqUxxyLsY. In just the first 15 seconds of the video, there is a definition of the term ecosystem:

An ecosystem is a community of living things interacting with the non-living parts of their environment.

In the next 15 seconds, the narrator says this:

There are two primary parts of an ecosystem. The biotic part is made of all of the living things, like plants and animals, fungi, and bacteria and viruses. The abiotic part is made of non-living things, like rocks and minerals, water, and energy.

And while she’s saying this, a chart appears on the screen with the words “biotic” and “abiotic” and examples for each.

Geez. That’s a lot for students to grasp in just 30 seconds! The students would have to process what they were hearing and seeing–very quickly. I knew we had to do this because video has a become a regular source of information for students and it’s a critical component of national assessments.

Here are a few suggestions based on what I’ve tried and learned since then (with some thoughtful colleagues and patient students):

  • Students need a guiding question(s) to help them determine what is important in the video. Set a very clear purpose for gathering information from the video. Ask a question or a series a questions. Or ask the students to generate questions. Students can use this question or purpose to help them determine what information in the video is important. Examples of questions include: What are the essential components of an ecosystem? How did the social activists take risks? What was the effect of the Supreme Court decision?
  • First, watch/listen to the whole clip. The students need to get a feel for the clip as a whole and start thinking about how it answers their questions.
  • Then watch the clip again and ask students for a “thumbs up” when they hear content that helps them answer (one of) the guiding questions. With the first group I taught, this was about 12 seconds into the clip. What I found, though, was that they knew the question had been answered, but they didn’t process the content enough to paraphrase what they’d learned.
  • Make it okay to view/listen to that section of the clip again and again and again. Make it okay to “rewind” and listen to a chunk of the clip a few times to try to fully grasp what is being said and revealed.
    • The students may need to watch the clip and then repeat what they just heard.
    • Then they may need to watch it, think about it some more and turn and talk to a friend about what they learned.
    • Then they may need to watch it one more time and write notes about what they learned. 
  • Prompt students to listen AND watch the video; to glean info from the visual parts of the video as well as the auditory. The students I was working with in that first lesson were working so hard to listen that they completely missed the diagram in the video. They also needed to glean information from what they saw in the video.
  • Make it okay to just use a part of the clip. In the classroom studying ecosystems, we were exhausted by the time we processed the first twelve seconds of the video. I felt like they had used that section well and we needed to move on to other sources. Teach students to determine an important part that they are really going to focus on processing.

Okay. Hope this helps.

Sunday

When kids ‘mumble read’ a word they don’t know…

A few weeks ago I was in a conference with a student reading a book about the sea lizard. When he came to a word he didn’t know, he mumbled the word and kept going. Do you have students that do this? These students are self-monitoring but they lack fix-up strategies. They know when they don’t know a word, but they do not know how to figure out that word.

When he finished the sentence, I asked him, “What was the tricky part?”  After he recovered from the shock of my question – because he’d been secretly hoping I wouldn’t notice his miscue–he pointed to the word burrow.

Then I said, “What can you do?” He was at a loss.

I could have started this conference differently, but these first two questions are super important. By asking him “What was the tricky part?” I am messaging that productive readers self-monitor for problems, for when meaning is breaking down. If the student says there was no tricky part, I ask him to read it again and usually he notices a tricky part or he may fix his error. (If he doesn’t…well, I have more to say about this in the next blog entry.) By then asking him, “What can you do?” I’m messaging that when we notice meaning breaking down, we need to do something.

When he didn’t know how to figure out the word, I prompted him, “Can you use your finger to cover up the ending? And think about the first part of that word?” He did this and read the chunk “fur.” Notice my finger has not been in his book yet. It’s better that I get him to do the work instead of me.

When I asked him about the second part of the word – row, he said he didn’t know that part. I realized he probably didn’t know what sound “ow” makes in that word. I also knew that he probably did know other words with “ow” so I wrote the word snow on a scratch piece of paper. (I did not write how 😉

“Do you know this word?” He responded by reading snow.

Then I asked, “Can you use this word to help you read the second part of that tricky word?” 

His eyes lit up. “ROW!”

“Now read those two parts together.”

“BURROW!”

I could have stopped there, but I believe after we help a student decode a word, we MUST ask them to reread the sentence it’s in and think about the meaning. So I said, “Let’s go back and reread the sentence with burrow and think about what it means.”  Then we reread and used context clues to figure out the meaning of the word.

I have never blogged on how to help students with decoding while reading informational texts, but this type of experience has been popping up in my practice a lot lately. Just thought I’d share.

Hope this helps.

 

 

 

“jaws open and close like a pair of pliers” – Teach Students to Recognize Comparisons in Nonfiction

Authors of nonfiction frequently use comparisons to help readers understand content. When I teach students how to notice and name these comparisons, students light up with understanding. Below is a description of a lesson I gave with a group of intermediate grade students. There are three phases to the lesson and the lesson might take more than one period of time.

Phase One: Introduce, Read, Discuss

I introduced Spiders by Seymour Simon and read aloud several pages at different points in the book. (You don’t have to read the whole book.) I placed the book on the document camera so they could see the amazing photographs. After you read aloud a page or section, you might ask students to turn and talk with a partner about what they learned from the read aloud.

Phase Two: Close Read and Take Notes

  1. Introduce the concept of “nonfiction authors use comparisons to help readers understand” and the definition of “compare” or comparison. I thought I might teach “metaphor” and “simile” but found that, in this case, using “comparison” was the easiest way to help students access this concept. Below are photographs from a lesson I gave. You can see that the objective for the lesson included identifying comparisons author’s use. The second image is the definition I wrote of what it means to “compare.”                                                         
  2. Closely read and annotate excerpts of text from Spiders that include comparisons. There are LOT of comparisons in Simon’s books. (Here I’ve attached a doc with a list of examples from Spiders– Examples of Comparisons in Seymour Simon’s Spiders.) One example in Spiders is “In most spiders, the jaws open and close like a pair of pliers.” Read a few together and begin to identify and discuss the comparison. Important questions to ask students include:
    • What two things are being compared? (how a spider’s jaw opens and closes; how a pair of pliers open and close)
    • What is the characteristic of these two things being compared? (how they work or operate)
    • Why do you think the author made this comparison? Or what did you understand better because of this comparison? (This comparison in particular helps the reader visualize the way a spider opens and closes its jaws. This is good to know and understand because a few sentences later Simon contrasts “most spiders’ jaws” with that of the “tarantula” with that has “fangs like two daggers.”)
  3. Release responsibility to partners or individuals to locate the comparison and discuss the three questions; they might annotate or take notes on at least two different comparisons.

Phase Three: Plan, Rehearse, Write

  1. Ask the students to choose a few comparisons to write about in a response. They might jot   notes on a sticky note.
  2. Engage the students in orally rehearsing how they will describe these comparisons. They may need sentence stems like “The two things the author compares are…”    or “The author is comparing…”
  3. You may need to engage in shared writing about one comparison as well. Below is a photo of shared writing I did with the students using the document camera. 
  4. Ask the students to write about an additional comparison or two on their own.  The rehearsing and writing was tricky for the students. They did not have the language for talking or writing about comparisons they’d read in a text and needed a LOT of prompting!

Beyond the Lesson: Independent Practice

Provide opportunities for students to enjoy reading and hunting for more comparisons. Authors of nonfiction use a lot of comparisons to describe all sorts of topics – animals, simple machines, weather, etc. You might provide an opportunity for students to read other of Simon’s books or other authors like Nic Bishop and to keep an eye out for comparisons they can share with each other.

BTW – I’m playing around with these “three phases” and a lesson plan template. Hope to post soon.

Hope this helps.

Sunday

 

Do your students make informed predictions? Quick Assessment Tip.

The start of the school year is a great time to informally assess whether our students are making informed predictions about the informational texts they are reading–predictions that will move them forward in understanding the author’s big ideas.

What do I mean by “informed”? Check out this Scholastic News article – Invasion of the Drones.

If you handed this to a student and asked them to make a prediction about what the text will be about, how many of your students would say the following:

It’s about drones.

It’s about the invasion of drones. 

It’s about some army guys flying a drone.

Or how many of your students would say something like the following:

Well, when I read the title it made me think there are going to be more and more drones. And when I read the deck underneath the title, I realized that there might be some cool things you could do with drones like deliver pizzas, but there might also be some problems. Then I also noticed that one of the subheadings is the word “safety.” So I think that the author is going to talk about all of the things we are doing with drones and then some of the problems with drones.

The latter response is a prediction that is informed by information the student gleaned by looking at the features and thinking about what she will be learning about. This prediction is going to carry this students forward to better understanding of the text. 

Need a quick way to assess? 

  1. Hand out an article (like the one about drones) or ask the students to access one online and then ask them to preview the article and jot down their predictions on a small piece of paper.
  2. After they are done, ask them to add a sentence or two about how they figured this prediction out. What makes them think the text will be about this?
  3. Gather and analyze. What does the student’s prediction reveal about their skill in making informed predictions? You might consider the following:
  • Does the student just restate the title of the article?
  • Does the student write a prediction that is not based on evidence in the text?
  • Does the student only rely on photos to make a prediction versus using infographics, subheadings, captions and so forth?
  • Does the student use the photo and even the title, but clearly misunderstands what the article is going to be about?

If the answers to the above questions are mostly “yes,” you may need to lead a few lessons focused on helping students preview the text to make informed predictions. If you know me, you know what I’m going to suggest next–use the THIEVES, HIP, or TELL mnemonics to help students get started.

The following blog entries (that I’ve written in the past) explain introducing THIEVES.

Start the Year with HIP, THIEVES, or TELL…

Start the Year with THIEVES and a Clear Purpose for Reading

Rethinking the use of THIEVES

I’ve also attached here a bookmark my colleague created. Thank you, Meghan!!!!

Thieves-Student

Hope this helps.

S