Author Archives: sundaycummins

About sundaycummins

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

Nurturing Informed Thinking – Two New Books, One Big Question

TWO NEW BOOKS. ONE BIG QUESTION. A grand opportunity to nurture informed thinking. Below, see suggestions for an interactive read aloud as well as notes on the similarities and differences between these two books.

Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams (Bryant, 2018)

Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams (Cline-Ransome, 2018)

Both titles explore the relationship of these two sisters and their climb to the top of their field. Both titles explore themes related to perseverance (working towards a goal even when the going gets tough or difficult), the importance of friendship, working as a team, ignoring distractions, what it means to be a champion, etc.

Suggestions for Interactive Read Aloud (3rd -5th grade) –

  1. Read aloud Sisters and Champions – this book is shorter and a good introduction to what these two women accomplished (and the role of their father in their journey). Pause for the students to talk in groups. You might prompt them with questions like, “What are you thinking? Why?” or “What did you just learn that is jumping out at you as important? Why do you think so?”
  2. Then share the cover of Game Changers. Ask the students to discuss what they think this book will be about; ask them to make predictions based on what they learned from the first book.
  3. Then post this big question “Why read both books?” for students to consider as they listen to you read aloud Game Changers (this may take more than one session depending on how long you have). You don’t have to have THE answer to “Why read both books?” Let yourself be surprised by what the students say–and then nudge them to say more. As you read aloud,  stop at various points and revisit the big question by asking, “What are you thinking now? Why might you be glad you read both books?”
  4. If you think students need additional scaffolds to engage in this type of thinking, then you might –
    • Think aloud about what you are noticing or what is jumping out to you (see ideas below)
    • Post a two-page layout from each book for students to think about carefully and then discuss with each other (see some examples in suggestions below)
    • Leave the books in a special place for student-partners to return to and reread and talk about for themselves. You might post questions like,
      • “What did you learn that makes you think these sisters were good friends?” (for younger students)
      • “How do the authors reveal the sisters’ tight friendship?”
      • “How do both authors reveal that the sisters were ‘game changers’?” (for older students)
      • “Which book would you recommend to a friend? Or do they need to read both? Why?”
    • Read aloud sections (even just a sentence or two) and ask students to share their thinking.

How are these books similar and different? A few notes –

  • In Sisters & Champions, Bryant does not explicitly address the dangerous Compton neighborhood the sisters lived in when they were very young and had just started playing tennis. In Game Changers, Cline-Ransome does – on the second two-page spread and another a few pages later (see images below). If students miss this difference, you might pose the question, “What did you just add to your learning?” or “What does this author add to what we know about these two sisters?” and “What does this new information make you think?”

  • BOTH authors include how people in the community LAUGHED at the sisters’ father, Richard. You might post both spreads and ask students, “Why do you think both authors included this point? What does that make you think? Why is your thinking about this important?” If it’s helpful, post the two-page spread from each book that describes this and ask students to share with you what they notice. (You might also help them notice how Bryant uses the repeating, capitalized phrase “THEY LAUGHED.”)

  • Both of the authors reveal the close bond of these sisters, making this point clear or illustrating this point at different points in the books (when the sisters are younger and when they are older).
  • At various points in both books, both of the authors get at the idea of the sisters (and their father) being “game changers” (defined as a person or idea who transforms accepted rules or way things are done…).
  • Both books reveal the sisters’ determination & perseverance–at multiple points in their lives/careers. Each author chooses specific events that reveal this; some of the events in both books overlap.
  • Bryant addresses the health setbacks of both women towards the end of the narrative; Cline-Ransome addresses these setbacks in the “afterword.” This afterword also includes notes about the sisters’ social activism. Might be interesting to see what older students say in response to “Why read the afterword, too?”

There’s so much more I’d like to say about both of these books – individually and as a duo. Read for yourself and you’ll notice how rich they are with meaning. JOY.

YOU COULD DO THIS KIND OF LESSON with two (well written, trade book)  biographies on any person and the question, ‘WHY READ BOTH BOOKS?” You don’t have to have all of the answers. Like I said, trust your students to notice and/or nudge them a little with your own thinking.

I describe this approach in more detail in Nurturing Informed Thinking . Hope this helps. I’m hoping to write more entries like this with some quick ideas/suggestions with actual texts and brief notes about how the texts are different/similar. Stay tuned.


Preparing Students for Joyous Summer Reading

Are you getting that “WE’RE ALMOST DONE” feeling? (Speaking to many of my peers in the northern hemisphere who are almost out of school for the summer 😉 So sorry if you’re not!)

This is a great time to host lots of space and time for students to JUST READ FOR ENJOYMENT, hoping this time spent carries into the summer when the students are reading on their own.


introduce engaging nonfiction,

book talk nonfiction,

create a special display of nonfiction (raid your school library or local public library),

match books to individual readers,

be present to coach at the point of need,

close by asking readers to huddle and share.

This might be during reading workshop when the whole class is reading – OR it might be during guided reading. Now is a good time to cut “teacher-talk” down to a few minutes and be fully present to guide those five or six students at your table as they read continuously for 15-20 minutes.

Would it be radical to even say, “Let go of the sticky notes and reading response journals”? Students will not be writing notes when they read on their own this summer. This might be a good chance to coach and take anecdotal notes – but to also free students of the sometimes cumbersome stopping and jotting. Just provide space for them to immerse themselves in reading. They can be accountable through their conversations with you during reading conferences, right? The photos in this entry are from a third grade classroom where we immersed students in the joy of reading nonfiction using many of the suggestions above. (Thank you to my dear colleague and friend, CATE!!!) I honestly think you could do this at ANY GRADE level!

Okay…I might be preaching to the choir here…just a few of my thoughts.

IF YOU NEED SOME NEW EXCITING TITLESlook for me on GOODREADS or follow me on TWITTER. Love reviewing books — I don’t share too much about content (what the book is about). I share ideas for how you can book talk before leaving in your library and questions you can pose during an interactive read aloud.

Just a heads up 😉 I posted a version of this entry SIX YEARS AGO and so much of it still resonated with me that I revised a bit and posted again. Hope it was helpful!!!

It’s ok to confer about just a word or phrase

Do you have students who blow through texts, getting just the gist, but not really thinking through specific details that might make a difference in their understanding?

Recently when I leaned in to confer with a student, he had just read this sentence:

Surf lifesaving clubs are Australian institutions dotted along the country’s coastline. 

This sentence was on the second page of an NEWSELA article about how drones are being used to spot sharks on beaches in Australia. When I asked him to tell me about what he’d learned in this paragraph, he hesitated and looked at me as though he wasn’t sure. I asked him to reread the first sentence to me and when he did, he still wasn’t sure what he’d learned.

Then I said, “There’s a lot of information in this one sentence. Why don’t we just think about the first part of the sentence that says ‘surf lifesaving clubs.’ What do you think that means?”  

He shrugged.

“Want to think about this with me?”

He nodded.

I proceeded to THINK ALOUD by saying “I’m not sure I know what a ‘surf lifesaving club’ is, but I do know a little bit about clubs. They are usually a group of people that get together–“

“YES!” the student interrupted me. A light had gone on for him!!! Then we thought aloud together about what we know about clubs.

Then I returned to the text. “So if I look at the words ‘surf lifesaving’ then, I know this article is about drones trying to help swimmers, maybe this club in Australia is about…” and the student filled in the rest!

I decided not to get into more–making sense of the rest of the sentence with more (most likely) unfamiliar words and phrases like institution and coastline and dotted along. I also decided not to read further with him to see how our thinking was confirmed in the next few sentences. What we’d done with just a few words was enough–just enough for that student to hold on to, ponder, and think about as he read on.

Before I moved to the next student, though, I reminded this student of what he’d done to problem solve–“You used what you already knew plus clues in the text to help you make sense of what this phrase meant.” I’d ask him to use this language again later during a teaching point with the group when he had the opportunity to explain how he problem-solved.

Just a note – I don’t think this text was too hard for him. He contributed a great deal to the conversation about other (easier) parts of the source and at other points in the lesson. I think he may have just been shutting down – instead of actively problem solving – when he felt like the text was too challenging. He definitely needs more opportunities to think through complex texts like this. During a phase 2 lesson with this text, we engaged in explode to explain–closely reading and thinking through one sentence. This approach seems to help students slow down and think critically about what they are reading & learning.

Hope this helps.



Observing for what students are “not saying” during conferences

During conferences, I listen to what students are saying but I also listen for what they are NOT saying.

For many students, when you ask them to tell you what they have learned from a complex informational text (or a part of a text), they will talk about content they understood without you. Rarely will they say, “I didn’t understand this part.” Instead we have to figure that out for ourselves and then teach at that point.

This could be as easy as noticing which details (or words) in the text are not part of what the student says.

I led a small group lesson with a group of students reading a NEWSELA article about the Ocean Cleanup Project’s attempt to clean up trash in the Pacific Ocean with an innovative contraption. As I leaned in to confer with individual students, I noticed a pattern. Each student left out a key detail, a detail that is important to what the author is saying. Below I describe each conference and what the student and I did together to make sense of the missing detail.


Text: The project is the expensive, untried work of a 23-year-old Dutch college dropout named Boyan Slat. He was so disgusted by the plastic waste he encountered diving off Greece as a teen that he has devoted his life to cleaning up the mess.

Teacher: Tell me about what you learned in this paragraph.

Student 1:  He wanted to get rid of the trash.

I noticed he didn’t include the word “devoted” or the idea that this was as serious commitment by this person. What if we just conferred about the weight of the word “devoted” in this sentence?

And we did.

The student and I thought aloud about how “devoted” is more serious than “wanted” and changes the weight of the author’s statement. We also discussed how noticing that one word deepened the student’s understanding of what the author was saying.


Excerpt of Text:  Along with detractors who want to prioritize halting the flow of plastics into the ocean, the Dutch nonprofit gathered support from several foundations and philanthropists, including billionaire Salesforce founder Marc Benioff.

Teacher: Tell me about what you learned in this sentence.

Student 2: A lot of people gave to the project.

I noticed that the student generalized “people.” There’s a LOT to make sense of in this sentence, but what if we just conferred about the weight of the word “nonprofit“?

And we did.

Together we made sense of the word. The student knew “non” was a prefix that meant “not” and she knew that “profit” meant “for money.” Then we thought about what that meant – that some groups that gave money were not-for-profit or groups that do work without an eye on making a lot of money. I closed the conference by asking her to think about the understanding she gained by noticing and thinking carefully about the role of this one word.


Text:  Plastic is different than other trash because it never decomposes. While it breaks down into smaller parts called microplastics, they never become bioavailable, meaning they can never provide nourishment to marine life.

Teacher: Tell me about what you learned in this sentence.

Student 3: Trash doesn’t break down.

I noticed that the student was using “trash” as a synonym (perhaps) for “plastic.” Why is it important for the student to notice the word “plastic” when I ask her to reread the first sentence?

And we did!

She inferred that plastic is just one kind of trash. We talked about the value of noticing that one word – “trash” in the first sentence and how it changed what she was understanding.

Teaching Point – At the end of this lesson, for the teaching point, I started by saying, “Several of us noticed the power of one word to deepen our understanding of the source today. Who can tell the story of how they did this?” Then I supported each of the students as they described the strategic processing we’d engaged in during the conference.

SO FUN!!! Such a blast to see the light go on for these students and then to see their enthusiasm as they shared their stories.

Hope this helps.



Beware of how students mask comprehension struggles ;)

When I lean in for a reading conference with a student (who is reading an informational source), I always start by asking her to tell me a little bit about what she is learning from the source. I say, “Tell me what you learned in this section” or, in the case of narrative nonfiction, “What just happened in this section of the text?” When I do this, I’m checking for (mostly) literal understanding of what the student just read or, in Fountas & Pinnell terms, “within text understanding.”

As the student responds to “What did you just learn?”, I assess by asking myself questions like:

    • Is the student talking about the content on the page in front of them?
    • Are they able to describe what they’ve learned easily, in their own words?
    • What are they leaving out that maybe they do not understand?

Sometimes a student will look at you and just say, “I don’t know.” That’s great. You can move into teaching from there.

But lately, I’ve been noticing some other ways students try to get by–

1) The student talks about something they already knew (or they learned in the preview)…versus what’s in the text.

Example: A student was reading a NEWSELA article “Fishing boats are taking too many big hunting fish from the sea” (adapted from Scientific American). He’d just finished this paragraph:

Top predators are at the top of food chains. Food chains can be thought of as a series of levels, with each level dependent on the next for food. An ocean food chain starts with many plants and tiny animals like shrimp. Small fish eat those and bigger fish eat those smaller fish. Top predators help control the populations at lower levels. This keeps all the ocean life in balance.

When the teacher and I asked him to tell us a little bit about what he’d learned, he said, “Sharks are predators of smaller fish.” His comment did not reveal learning from this paragraph. He’d probably inferred that the author was going to move into talking about sharks, but he did not reveal his understanding of the content in this paragraph. When we probed further (“Tell us a little more”), he was not able describe how the author had described the concept of a food chain as a “series of levels,” etc. By listening carefully and probing, we determined we needed to support him (via a shared think aloud) in making sense of the content stated explicitly in that paragraph.

2) The student talks about an easier part of the text (or even an easier part of a sentence) and they DO NOT talk about the harder parts of the text (or the sentence) that they may not have understood.

Example: During a lesson with students reading an article about the future of drones, each time I leaned in and asked an individual to tell me about what she’d learned so far in the article, she referred to the statement in the article about drones delivering pizzas someday. None of them referred to the section of the article they’d read about first amendment privacy rights being violated by drones. When I probed further about what they’d learned from this section, I realized they did not understand it. Their response to my query, “What are you learning?” was “what I am understanding easily” (and maybe, in this case, “what did I find appealing” ;). So I moved to support the in understanding this harder content as part of our conference.

3) They repeat phrases or language from the text without a real understanding of what that language means or because they don’t know what it means.

Example: A student had just read aloud the following sentences (to the teacher):

But impala are well adapted for life among predators. Impala fawns are more likely to survive their first year of life than lion cubs.

When we asked her to tell us what she’d just learned, she said, “Fawns are more likely to survive.” Sounds good, huh? Then we asked her “What does more likely mean?” No clue. So we knew where we needed to teach next.

What I’m also finding is that we (me included) are sometimes too quick to accept what students say. We are not giving ourselves a moment to assess and then think through how to respond in a way that has generative value.

A FEW SUGGESTIONS for ASSESSING (literal understanding) in the moment (or what I’m learning):

  • Start with a general question or prompt like, “Tell me a little bit about what you’ve been reading or learning…”
  • Gently cover the passage and ask the student to look at you as they talk. Then you are messaging that this is a conversation about their learning.
  • LOOK AT THE TEXT FOR YOURSELF. Don’t be afraid, as the teacher, to look back at the text to compare what’s in the text to what the student has said. As I listen to the student, I lift my hand up just enough to glance at the text underneath as a way to help me check for understanding.
  • When needed, PROBE-ASSESS FURTHER with statements or questions like:
    • Tell me more.
    • What does the phrase “more likely” mean?

ONCE YOU ASSESS THAT A STUDENT IS NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT THEY READ (or maybe not monitoring for meaning), here are few suggestions:

  • FOCUS ON ONE SENTENCE. Ask the student to read one sentence and then look up at you to talk about what he learned. (There can be a LOT of info in just a sentence or a paragraph.) If they are able to do this, point out to him how stopping and thinking about what you’ve just read is a helpful way to make sense of the details in a source and remember those details.
  • THINK ALOUD FOR & WITH THE STUDENT. The temptation is to ask the student a bunch of questions like, “What does the lion do to protect her cubs?” and “Where does she take them?” and “What does she do while they are hiding?” and so forth. RESIST. These questions continue to assess comprehension but they don’t really teach students how to make sense of a piece of information. Instead think aloud as a though you are making sense of the information with statements like, “When I read this, I noticed the author was telling me where the mother lion takes the cubs–to a hiding place and I noticed a detail that tells me why–so the predators won’t find them while the mother is off feeding.” You might also need think aloud about how you used background knowledge or what you learned in another part of the source to help you make sense of a detail. Then you need to follow with, “What did you notice?” drawing the student into conversation with you about how we make sense of particular details in a source. (And conversations about how sometimes we can’t make sense but we have to try and then we just have to move on!)

There’s so many ways a student’s meaning making may break down while reading an informational source. I can’t get it all into one blog entry, huh? Hope these take aways are a bit of help.


“Why do we have to annotate?”

“Why can’t I just highlight?” Ever heard that from a student? A few weeks ago I had the honor of teaching a class of 5th grade students with the objective of convincing them that annotating is a powerful way to make sense of a source–I did this by helping them realize the value of annotating AND by teaching them what they might include in an annotation.

Why do we annotate? I don’t have to convince you of the value of annotating, but we do need to remind students that annotating a source can help us make sense of the details and remember what we read. AND if we can understand and remember what we read, then we are more likely to be able to engage in critical thinking.

What types of notes should we jot when we annotate? This is the bigger (or real) question for students. Many (maybe most) do not know what to write in an annotation. They do not realize they can sketch a concept that is being described, write notes about what they don’t understand, note the type of detail the author has used (e.g., comparison, cause-effect, process, etc.), highlight or draw a box around important terms of the topic of a paragraph or section, and so forth.

Notes about the lessonThese students were studying the conservation of matter in science so I located a NEWSELA article that described condensation, boiling, and evaporation. Below are images and notes from the first two parts of a three phase lesson.

During Phase 1, I introduced the vocabulary word “process” –which is in the first sentence of the source. Understanding this word helps a reader understand many parts of this source better. I wrote the definition on the board and then we discussed briefly (see my notes from my lesson plan). We briefly previewed and made predictions and then I gave them a purpose for reading, “You have been studying condensation and evaporation in science. As you’re reading, I want you to think about new information you are reading that you can add to what you already know.” I encouraged them to put a + sign by new info, but to not spend energy on annotating yet.

As the students read the article, I leaned in to confer with several. I noticed that while they were able to name the topic they’d read about and give a few general details, they were not describing, in detail, what they’d learned. One student stuck out to me – he seemed very confident. He’d pushed the article away and was on to other things. When I leaned in, he informed me that he’d read the article twice and, basically, understood it all. I asked him to describe to me the process of evaporation and noticed he was probably drawing from his background knowledge to respond. Then I asked him to describe to me how the author explained evaporation. (The author uses a real life example of a puddle of water that appears to be shrinking but in reality…) The student had nothing to say, could not recall how the author did this. Together we went back and reread and discussed.

I closed by asking them to turn and talk with a partner about a new piece of information they’d learned from the article.

During Phase 2, I started by asking one students to come up and be the teacher while I pretended to be a student. I handed him a sticky note with a prompt a teacher might use to check for understanding – “Describe the process of condensation that you learned about in this article.” I asked him to ask me this question. When he did, I paused and looked out at the group with a bewildered look. I said, “Well, I think it’s about how water goes up in the air.” I looked at the students and said, “Is that about what you can say???? There was a lot of information in this article and that’s all I can really recall.” Most of the students agreed enthusiastically – “YES!!!” While we were laughing at me for not remembering more, we were also making it okay to say, “Hey, I need to go back and read and think through important parts closely to make sure I understand what I read and remember what I learned.”

They were with me!!! So then I introduced an anchor chart with the question “What are types of annotations we can use to help us make sense of details (in a source) and remember what we learned?” (See below.) 

I modeled thinking through a sentence in the source (with the article on a doc camera) and annotating and then we collaborated on deciding what to underline and jot down in the margins. As we annotated, we stopped and thought about what kind of annotation we’d made and began to list these types of annotations on the anchor chart. The students gave annotating with a partner a go. I quickly realized, that for many, they would need lots of additional opportunities with the teacher as a guide. Still there was good conversation about what they might jot down to help them make sense of the source. In the end, we only closely read and annotated two short paragraphs and that was plenty!!!

I closed by asking the student who’d played the teacher earlier in the lesson to come back up and ask me the same question. I modeled using my annotations to explain what I’d learned:

I learned that evaporation happens when a liquid is heated in some way.  The water molecules at the surface of the water start moving more quickly and they break away from the other molecules and move into the air as a gas. Evaporation is the effect and the liquid being heated in the cause. The author used a real life example–a puddle of water and what happens to the water to help me understand how this happens every day.

I looked out at the students and said, “How did I do?” There was a resounding cheer! They recognized the difference in what I could say – but more importantly in what they could say as a result of thoughtful annotations. Then I asked them to turn to a partner and use their annotations to explain what they’d learned. I probably could have asked them to put away their annotated text and talk about what they’d learned and observed positive results as well. They just understood and remembered the details better.

Woohoo!!!! So much fun!!!

Hope this helps.


Sample text set for teaching authors’ purposes

If students are reading multiple sources on a topic, thinking about the purpose of each source can help students remember the content in the source AND notice the similarities and differences between sources.
What follows is a sample set of sources (on recycling) for students to explore a set of sources (each with a different purpose) and an idea for a three-phase lesson with these sources. (I’m imagining these or similar sources could be used with grades 3-8.) If you haven’t seen the blog entry on using the mnemonic PRIDE as a way to introduce the different authors’ purposes, I’d start there.
1) In these two articles, the authors try to persuade the reader that recycling is worth the effort or it is not. With younger students, I’d just use the “CON” article; the “PRO” article is pretty sophisticated. Also, when I used this with students, I removed the words “opinion” and “pro” and “con” because I wanted students to notice this for themselves.
(Joining newsela is free!)
2) The majority of this NPR story recounts or tells the story of one group of that uses recycled materials to make  instruments:
OR if you are working with 3-5th grade students, you might find the book Ada’s ViolinThe Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and read this aloud to students. This text also recounts or tells the story of this orchestra.
3) This author at this site instructs or gives steps for an individual to make paper from recycled newspaper –

4) This author’s purpose seems to be to describe products that are made of recycled material.

5) The author’s purpose in both of these sources seems to be to explain how paper is recycled.
NOTE: For these last two sources, there might be some conversation around whether these authors’ purposes are to explain or to instruct; I lean towards explain because these are not steps the individual can take on their own BUT it’s a worthy discussion to have (if an issue emerges) with students because they are engaged in critical thinking!
Phase 1 Meet the Sources
  • Briefly introduce the set of sources. (You might include links in a Google doc or print out hard copies.)
  • Encourage students to explore (read-view-listen to) each source in the set–with a partner, in a small group, or independently. Pose this question: What are you learning about recycling? You can ask small groups to stop and discuss this as they engage with each source or you can ask this when you lean in to confer with students.
  • Close by asking questions like the following: What did you learn about recycling today that you thought was helpful? Fascinating? Hopeful? Why read-view-listen to more than one source on a topic?

Phase 2 Meet the Strategies

  • Introduce or review the different types of author’s purposes. (If you are just starting, look for how in this blog entry.)
  • Ask students (independently or with a partner) to reread-view-listen to each of the sources and jot down notes about the authors’ purpose. You might do one together.  As the review each source, encourage them to think about the content of the source–what are they learning as far as content–and how it’s easier to remember that if they think about the author’s purpose. If they come up with author’s purposes that are different than what you had in mind, ask them to explain their thinking–that requires critical thinking. Be open to what they come up with if they can justify their thinking (with background knowledge, text evidence, etc.)         
  • Close with a question for conversation like “How are these sources similar and different? How does thinking about the author’s purpose help you explain the similarities and differences?”
Phase 3 Meet the Response 
  • You might provide a writing prompt like one of the following:
    • What have you learned about recycling that is important for other people to know? What are two sources you might recommend to others? Describe what you learned in the sources and why someone should read-view-listen to both.
    • How has reading more than one source on this topic changed your thinking about this topic? Describe important ideas you are walking away with, citing the sources.
  • Help students plan. See my notes for phase 3 in the lesson on introducing author’s purpose.

BTW – If you give this text set & lesson a try, please let me know how it goes! Or feel free to touch base with me before teaching. I’d be glad to be a think partner!

If you need more ideas on how to teach with multiple sources (including putting together text sets), see my new book Nurturing Informed Thinking (with Heinemann).

Hope this helps.


P.R.I.D.E. Noticing & Naming Author’s Purpose

Recognizing an author’s purpose (or purposes) for writing or creating an informational source can help a student determine what’s important in a source, remember what they read (or heard in a video or saw in a graphic), and begin to think critically about the information in a source.

Last week I had the honor of teaching a lesson on author’s purpose to a group of students. The teachers and I used the three-phase lesson plan and an article on the benefits of recycling from NEWSELA ( the second or  “con” article). (This was part of a larger teaching lab experience where teachers planned in small groups and then we brought in students for each group of teachers to teach.)

Below are notes about the phase 2 lesson that I led with a small group.

Phase 2 Meet the Strategies

With the anchor chart pictured above, I introduced the what, the why, and the how of identifying author’s purposes.

What: Readers know that authors have a reason or purpose for writing an informational source (a purpose they have PRIDE in :). Authors’ purposes include to persuade, to recount or tell a true story, to instruct (or teach us), to describe, and to explain.

Why: Identifying an author’s purpose can help you think about what is important in a source. For example, if you notice that an author seems to be instructing you or teaching you how to do something, then you will be looking for specific steps or directions you can follow.

 How: As you preview and then read or reread (like today) a source, look for clues as to the author’s purpose. Try to notice and name the author’s purpose. You can do this by keeping the types of authors’ purposes in mind.

Let’s do this kind of thinking with the article we just read on recycling. What do you think the author’s purpose was?

The students quickly identified the author’s purpose as to persuade: to persuade the reader to do or believe something.  Together we wrote a purpose statement on a blank piece of paper.

Then I pushed them to identify details in the text that made them think this was the author’s purpose. You might think aloud about a detail or the use of a word that signaled persuasion–share what you learned from a sentence (or detail) and then what that made you think related to the author’s purpose.

Then you can ask the students to reread the source (or part of it) with these questions in mind – What did I just learn (in this sentence or section)? What does that make me think (related to what I think the author’s purpose is)?

When we regrouped, during our discussion of what they learned and noticed, I took notes–with just enough words to trigger memory of what they learned or thought about. These notes can be used to help students write a response during the Phase 3 Meet the Response part of the lesson.

BTW – During this lesson I didn’t get into noticing “author’s point of view,” “supporting premises,” “textual evidence” and so forth. That’s too much for some students who are new to analyzing a persuasive text. (I tried that in a lesson and it bombed!!!!) I casually referred to “details you noticed that make you think the author is trying to persuade you” and “why that makes you think so.”

A BIG thank you to Amanda in North Kansas City Schools and her colleagues for coming up with the fantastic mnemonic for author’s purpose. When I posted this on twitter, an author, Patricia Newman (who writes fabulous nonfiction!!!!), responded with how this resonates well with her as a writer with a purpose!

I’ve included a one page guide that describes introducing author’s purpose and how you might do this during a series of Phase 2 lessons. (This is from the new edition of Close Reading of Informational Sources out in spring 2019!)

PRIDE Identifying Author’s Purpose

Last thought (of many) – Identifying an author’s purpose can REALLY help when students begin to analyze the information in multiple sources! If you have a copy of my new book Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking and Writing Across Content-Area Sources, check out Chapter 3, Lesson 8, p. 66!

Hope this helps.


Less is More – Identifying key words from just a few sentences

Have you ever asked a reader to tell you about what they learned in a short nonfiction book or article and they do one of the following?

  • Give you a few miscellaneous (not related to each other) facts?
  • Talk about the last fact they read?
  • Share facts you discussed during the preview of the source?
  • Talk about a main idea (lions are amazing jumpers) but not about key details that support that idea (mountain lions have slim bodies and powerful legs that help them jump)?

Or does the student do one of the following:

  • Talk knowledgeably about one part of the source?
  • With thoughts that reveal thinking beyond the text (making inferences or helpful connections or interpreting the text in some way)?
  • And even about the text (e.g., analyzing the author’s use of a particular type of detail like a statistic or analogy)?

If you experience the former more than the latter, it may be worth your time to engage the students in close reading and identifying of key details with just a short excerpt of text.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of working with a group of students reading a book called Animal Champions (Pigdon, Okapi Educational Publishing, 2012). This book is written at about a Fountas and Pinnell level L. I used the THREE PHASE LESSON PLAN FOR LEARNING.

During Phase One, I introduced the book with a short discussion of the word “champion” (the students were given a chance to consider the definition and use the word in a conversation with a partner about a “champion runner in your class.” Then we did a preview and predict (where I asked, “What do you notice?” and “What do you think you’ll be learning about animal champions?”). Next the students read and I conferred with them and then we closed with a discussion and teaching point.

During Phase Two, we did a close reading (to make meaning) of just THREE SENTENCES. During Phase 1, I’d noticed that students were recalling general facts (e.g., “pronghorns are fast runners”) and were not able to share key details and explain those details. The Phase 2 lesson was designed to support this then.

Check out the text excerpt in the image below. There’s A LOT of information in these three sentences.

Depending on the student’s background knowledge, they might do the following learning-thinking as they closely read, talk and write about this SHORT excerpt:

  • a pronghorn is a kind of antelope
  • a pronghorn is a fast runner
  • a pronghorn can run at about 37 miles per hour–which is a little faster than when my family drives to school in the morning
  • a pronghorn can run this fast for 5500 yards–which is about 55 football fields in length
  • a pronghorn’s long legs must help it run faster–it can take bigger strides
  • a pronghorn’s big heart must help it run faster, too–a big heart can pump more oxygen rich blood to your muscles which you need to run fast
  • a pronghorn’s large lungs take in a lot of air while it’s running – because they need more oxygen for their muscles

My point is there’s a lot to think through (within the text and beyond the text thinking) in just these three sentences! I haven’t even touched the surface of how they might think “about the text” (e.g., how the author makes the case that the pronghorn’s physical features help it run fast, how the author could make a stronger case that the pronghorn is the champion runner by making comparisons to other animals).

During the close reading, with the small reading group of students, I did not go for understanding all of the points listed above. We spent about twelve minutes thinking together about what we’d learned (that we could share with someone that night at home) and listed the key words (green sticky notes) below.

I started by introducing the pasta analogy and that led into a discussion about our purpose for (this particular) close reading–to identify facts about the pronghorn that we can go home and share with someone. The key words or details are triggers for remembering what we learned in more detail–so we do not write down all of the details we may include when we share with someone (or write about what we learned). For a description of how to do this with your students, I’ve attached a one-page guide (excerpted from the new edition of my book Close Reading of Informational Sources due out next spring).

4Identifying Key Details Using the Pasta Analogy

During Phase 3 (a third 20-minute lesson), we thought about how we’d share what we’d learned with someone at home (“Hey, Mom! Guided Writing”) and added the words “learned” and “fascinating” to our key words (orange sticky notes). We orally rehearsed what we’d say (students practiced with a partner and I coached) and then they wrote.

These students were definitely PUMPED ABOUT THE LEARNING THEY’D DONE and ready to go home and talk with someone about it!

Soooo….consider asking the students to read a source, but then to really dig in and learn about one aspect of the source’s topic in detail. These reading habits-skills may transfer to other texts students read–really slowing down and thinking about what they are learning, identifying (& making sense of) key details to support their understanding, retaining information, AND expanding their understanding of the world around them.

I RECOMMEND CLOSE READING OF SHORT EXCERPTS AT ALL LEVELS OF reading-viewing-listening to informational sources. I’ve done this with 2nd-8th grade students who are not recalling key details or not thinking beyond the text (inferential, interpretive thinking) or even readers who are not slowing down to evaluate the text (about the text thinking). LESS IS MORE.

Hope this helps.



When unfamiliar vocabulary gets in the way of word solving – Tip #2

What do you do when emergent-early stage readers can’t decode a word because it’s not in their vocabulary?

In a previous entry, I wrote about holding emergent and early stage readers accountable for word-solving (as much as possible) before offering  support including telling providing an unfamiliar vocabulary word. For example, one student figured out “off” in the word “officer” and when she reread the sentence, she realized the word was officer.

TIP #2

Integrate unfamiliar vocabulary into the text introduction, as part of the conversation about what the students are noticing in the text features (headings, photographs, captions, etc.).


For example, in the book Animal Close-Up (Okapi) (about a DRA level 12 or F&P G), as the students and I looked at the photographs, I asked them, “What do you notice?” They were not noticing the butterfly’s “tongue” prominently featured in the picture and an important word on this page. I said, “I noticed the butterfly’s tongue. Look at that. It looks like it is curled up or rolled up.” I was worried that “roll” might be a difficult word for reading and an unfamiliar vocabulary word for this group. So I integrated this vocabulary into our conversation and we took a moment to notice that, indeed, the tongue is rolled or curled up. Then I said, “You’ll have to read to find out how the author describes the tongue.” 

On the next two-page layout, there is a scorpion and the author states that the scorpion has poison in its tail. At this stage, I would not expect students to be tackling the middle of words like these (e.g., “oi” and “ion”). So it was important that I integrate these into our conversation. The students noticed the “scorpion” but they did not mention its tail or that it has poison in it (which they probably didn’t know). I casually said, “Do you think that a scorpion is poisonous like some spiders?” A few said yes, a few said no and I said, “Well, I think you’ll have to read to find out.” What I have found is that later, while reading, when students stop to problem solve words like “poison” and “roll up”–they are more likely to recognize these words because of the meaning we built during the conversations we have during the text preview. They still have to do work–they have to use the first part of the word, they have to think about what would make sense and sound right.

I’m not giving away a lot. There’s still plenty of work for the students to do. For this lesson, I did not preview beyond these few pages so there are still opportunities to problem-solve while making meaning. I’m just trying to give the students a head start so that they don’t get STUCK on unfamiliar vocabulary and they can focus their energy on decoding stage appropriate words and making meaning.


The same goes for emergent stage texts (DRA 1-3; Fountas and Pinnell A-C). As we engage in a picture walk, I try to use the language of the book and integrate unfamiliar vocabulary. For example, with the book Lovely Flowers (Pioneer Valley) (about level B), the author writes about animals that like flowers. One of the animals is a hummingbird. I would not expect students at this stage to be tackling the “ummingbird” part of this word. I’m mainly focused on using the first letter “h” and the picture clue. But what if they have never heard of a hummingbird? During the picture walk, after I say, “What do you notice?” If the students say, “It’s a bird,” I can respond, “It might be a bird or it might be a hummingbird, you’ll have to use the picture and first letter to help you figure that out.”


I write key words into my lesson plan as a reminder for what I want students to notice and the vocabulary I want to make sure I integrate into our conversation. Sometimes I even have them listed on a sticky note with page numbers so I can glance down and remember what I need to notice and name if the students do not. I do this with transitional and fluent stage plans as well! (More on that soon!)

I DO NOT point out these words in the text. Kids are more likely to hold onto vocabulary if we  build the meaning through the conversation we have while previewing the text.

I do NOT STRESS OUT about addressing every unfamiliar word in the texts. I’ve never had a student pass out at the guided reading table because they couldn’t figure a word due to vocabulary issues. It’s okay. When you lean in to individuals, you are there to coach them in making sense of these words as they read and, independently, they need to problem solve (to the best of their ability) the way you have taught them in previous lessons.

At the emergent stageif there’s an overwhelming amount of unfamiliar vocabulary, DUMP THE BOOK.  Find a book where the students can engage in a productive (not frustrational) struggle, where they might be a few new words, but there are mostly words they can tackle or recognize.

Hope this helps.