Category Archives: Lessons with Informational Text

When kids ‘mumble read’ a word they don’t know… Part 1

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.

 

 

 

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Orally rehearsing with key words can boost writing

Do your students struggle to compose sentences about nonfiction topics that make sense or sound right? Do they lack structure at the sentence and paragraph level? Here’s a few tricks I’ve been trying with small groups of late-early and transitional stage readers.

As part of a conversation generate key words they will use to orally rehearse and then write. I’ve started including a key word for the introductory sentence and the closing sentence as well. The “conversation” aspect of this is important. I position the students as writers with a clear audience. With late-early stage readers and the book Beetles by Edona Eckart, the students and I generated the words many kinds, glow, wings, colorful, interesting. I started the conversation by saying, “If we were going to write about what we learned, how would we start? Then what would we say?” (I don’t say, “Let’s list five words we will use.”) When a student shares a sentence aloud (after I coach or scaffold as needed), then I say, “What’s a key word from that sentence that we can write down to help us remember what we want to write?”

The photo below is from the lesson with the book Beetles. Each of these words would be used in a sentence to compose a response to the prompt What did you learn about beetles in this book?

With a transitional stage group reading The Future of Flight by Anna Harris (part of McGraw-Hill’s Wonders), the students had done a close reading of the two pages about the myCopters (small flying vehicles). The prompt for writing was “In a letter, convince someone in your family to buy a myCopter instead of a new car.” Our key words – included believe for an introductory sentence and please for a closing sentence. I started the conversation by saying, “If you are going to convince someone to buy a myCopter instead of a car, what do you want to say first?”

Then model for the students how you might use each key word to compose as sentence and draw them into orally rehearsing. So I said to the students, “Listen to me as I use these words to help me practice what I will write. I’m going to use the first word…There are many kinds of beetles. Who can compose a sentence with our second key word?”

As students practice using the key words, gently push them to use correct syntax or sentence structure. You might say, “That was tricky. Did that sound right? Let’s think about how we can make that sound right.” I had a student write “The weedy sea dragon has features that help it survive from predators.” I talked with him about how the sea dragon’s features help it avoid or escape predators and then together we revised his sentence aloud until he had the hang of it.

Ask them to practice with a partner. Students can alternate – composing sentences with every other word.

Encourage them to elaborate further (aloud) if they are ready. One student reading Beetles wanted to add details in the sentence with the key word “colorful” about the different colors of beetles. I told her “Go for it!” The key words are just triggers for remembering what they learned so if they can compose a more complex sentence or add additional sentences – yes! This also encourages students to make the writing their own and not just copy what other students are saying or writing.

With some students, after we rehearse, I ask for a thumbs up when they know what they are going to write for their first sentence. I ask each student to rehearse aloud and then I give them the “go” to start writing. Sometimes they will simply say what the student said before them – that’s okay. The writing becomes more their own the further they get in to it and the more frequently we engage them in doing this kind of guided writing, the risks they will take.

This works best in small groups. The lessons here were done as part of guided writing – which takes place after 1-2 guided reading lessons (20 minutes each) focused on reading and learning from the book.

If I’m working with a whole class, I use this approach to writing during individual conferences. I ask the student to tell me what they are going to write next. If they need me to, I jot down a few key words on a sticky note–from what they said.  Then, if I feel like they need additional kind of support,  I say, “How can we put this in a sentence? Let’s try this aloud.”

Hope this helps.

Sunday

 

Discourage students from taking notes like this. Here’s why.

If students are reading multiple texts on a topic and taking notes on each of those sources, I require that (or strongly suggest) they write notes in phrases–just enough words to help them remember what they learned or what the author was saying or the student’s response to information. In most cases, I strongly encourage them to NOT write their notes in sentences.

Here’s why –

  1. If they write notes in sentences, the student may be easily tempted to just copy the sentences they are reading in a source and not do a lot of thinking. (How many of your students do this??????) Instead, we want them to think about what the author is trying to say or what they are learning from the source and then determine what is really important to remember. Then they can jot down a few of the author’s words or their own paraphrasing of the text.
  2. If they’ve already written sentences in their notes, they frequently just want to lift those sentences and insert them into their writing or presentation or whatever. Then they have missed an opportunity to combine details from multiple sources. When students are done taking notes from multiple sources, we want them to look across their notes and combine ideas from multiple sources. They have to be able to look at their notes and categorize details. Oh, all of these details are about what the raccoon eats! Or Yes! I see several details on how the Cherokee used their environment to create art. They may want to draw arrows between notes or circle details they want to combine with the same color of pencil. Conceptually, this is harder to do if they are looking across “sentences” versus words and phrases.

Here’s an example of what I mean by notes written in phrases (versus complete sentences)–

OKAY…I’M LEAVING OUT A LOT HERE like the fact that taking notes is a complex task. The students need to know their purpose for researching, reading, taking notes. They need clear questions they are trying to answer or grapple with as they read and take notes like How did this Native American tribe use resources in their environment to survive? or How did the members of the Jewish resistance exhibit courage during the Holocaust? or How can we be prepared for severe weather? They need a way to organize their notes like using an inquiry chart (Hoffman, 1992). See example below. (If you need more info on teaching with inquiry charts, see Chapter 8 in my book Close Reading of Informational Texts). AND they need examples of good texts to use as sources or access to a vetted set of sources before they go off to find their own. And, and, and…

Example of an inquiry chart…

Below is an example of a student’s inquiry chart. This fifth grade student was researching the Apache. Notice the questions across the top that drive her decisions about what to write in her notes. Her sources are listed on the left hand side. She’s circled details she wants to combine with a colored pencil.

The reason I wrote this blog entry is because I have an article in the February issue of EL “The Case for Multiple Texts” and on the sample inquiry chart I submitted, the editor changed my list of bulleted notes to look like sentences (although they are not all complete), deleting the bullets and adding capitalization and punctuation.  UGH.

Hesitate to do it this way. Many, many students will struggle when they go to synthesize and write or plan for presenting if they  have to look across a bunch of “sentences.” Many, many students will be tempted to just copy the sentences from their sources!

I did not get to see this change before it was published in EL. I’m sure this was an edit done with good intentions, BUT I feel the need to clarify. Encourage your students to take bulleted notes, short phrases or just enough information that they can look at it and remember what they learned.

I’d still recommend the article 😉 if you are looking for tips on teaching with multiple texts. I’m also working on a manuscript for Heinemann on this topic–the book should be released next winter.

Hope this helps.

S

 

 

 

Do they really get what the main idea means?

Can your students explain what their main idea statement means? Is a superficial understanding or misunderstanding of the main idea impacting their ability to identify or explain supporting details?

We need to give students time to unpack the main idea. It’s worth it and pays off when they begin to identify key details and explain how those details support the main idea.

A few other suggestions:

  1. Help students unpack a main idea by asking them to define a particular vocabulary word or phrase in the main idea statement. This may mean they have to look the word up!!!!! For example, if the student is writing about how tornadoes are powerful, do they understand that powerful, in this case, means having or producing a lot of physical strength or having an impact on something? Or if they are explaining the achievements of a historical figure, do they understand that achievement means something done successfully with effort, courage or skill?  And if they are explaining how skyscrapers have changed over time to become safer, do they understand ideas like change over time (how something becomes or is made different during a period of time) and safer (free from harm or risk) mean?
  1. Ask students to underline and annotate key words and phrases in the main idea statement. Below is a photo from a shared “unpacking the main idea” experience with a small group of 3rd/4th grade students in response to a NewsELA article about a blind student named Amare. The annotations might include:
  • definitions,
  • synonyms,
  • “this makes me think…” statements
  • connections to background knowledge or details in other texts
  • etc.

  1. Provide time for students to used their annotated main ideas to discuss what they are thinking or understanding–during think-pair-share. I find it helpful to model thinking through the annotated statement and how I would explain the main idea using the annotations.
  2. If the students are writing an essay that begins with a main idea statement, ask them to explain the main idea (in a few sentences) before identifying and elaborating on supporting details. The photo below is from the shared writing experience with third/fourth grade students. The second sentence is one that I wrote – but student “H” composed orally first.

An instructional thought—engage students in a shared experience unpacking the main idea. Together define key words, underline and annotate, write. This might be for the first article in a text set. As the students read and respond to additional texts, they begin to take charge of unpacking the main idea.

Hope this helps.

Sunday

 

 

Explode to Explain

Are your students citing “text evidence” without really having control of the meaning of the quote they choose? Do they state “in the text it says” and then fill in the next blank with a quote they may not really understand? Do they forget to explain further or elaborate?

Here’s an idea a group of teachers and I tried last week. After a lesson that provides time for the students to read and discuss the article, give them the luxury of time to contemplate what one quote from the text means – to explode the meaning of this quote in order to explain it further. One sentence in an informational text can be loaded with a lot of meaning – it’s worth the time for students to slow down and really think about what the author is talking about and the implications of what the author is saying.

For the first small group lesson (20 minutes), I introduced a NEWSELA article about the eco-boats that were hired to clean garbage from the Rio Bay in preparation for the Olympics. My introduction included defining and discussing the difference between garbage and sewage (important to understanding the article), previewing and making informed predictions about the content of the article, and then the students reading while I conferred with individuals.

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For the second lesson, we talked about one of the main ideas – “Water pollution is a problem in the Rio Bay” – written in purple ink in image below.  (Remember – this is just one of the main ideas in this article.) I shared a supporting quote from the article with them – written in blue ink on chart- and we worked our way through the details in that particular quote. In the image below, notice how I jotted what the students were thinking in red ink.

I modeled talking about what this quote means using the notes in red to help me explain my thinking. Then I asked a student to do the same. THEN I asked partners to turn and talk to do the same. My goal was for them to speak fluently about what they understand this quote to mean–and then be able to write about it.

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I closed this lesson by asking the students to explode an additional quote from the text that supports the main idea – “Tons of garbage and raw waste flow down rivers each day.” They wrote this quote in their response journals and attempted to explode.  I conferred heavily. They will continue to need support doing this for awhile.

For a day 3 lesson, we reviewed the notes on the quote we’d exploded together and engaged in a shared writing to explain that quote. See the image below. Then they returned to the quote they’d exploded, orally rehearsed with a partner what they planned to write and then wrote.

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Notes – I determined the main idea we’d use. I chose the two quotes. This is more about saving time and cognitive energy to get to the heart of what we needed to do–thinking through and explaining “text evidence.” Later the students can take on more of this. During these three lessons, this small group of students just began to get what we were talking about as far as explaining. They need to do this a LOT to get a grip on explaining the text evidence they are citing.

In the end, there’s a lot of power in this exercise–increased comprehension, increased content knowledge, and being able to speak and write more fluently (and knowledgeably) about what they’ve read.

A big thanks to the 3-5th grade teachers in the NKC School District who went on this day long journey with me and to RENEE for being my think partner!!!

Hope this helps.

S

Yup Part 2 – Teaching Suggestions

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How do we help students have back-and-forth conversations about nonfiction that build understanding? Conversations that include continually returning to their notes and the text to think about what to say next?

I help students start to do this by demonstrating a conversation with a student-partner…

  1. I start by asking a student-volunteer to be my conversation partner.
  2. I ask the student volunteer to come to the front of the room WITH her notes and/or the text.
  3. I project my notes about the text or the annotated text for all students to view. For example, if we have completed or started taking notes on an inquiry chart – I will post my inquiry chart for all students to view.
  4. I pose a clear question for my partner and I to discuss like “What are critical components of an ecosystem?” or “How did members of the Jewish resistance reveal their courage?”
  5. I encourage her to look at her notes and think about what she wants to say before she responds. I might say, “What do you see in your notes that you want to talk about when we think about answering this question?”
  6. After she responds, I demonstrate how I listened to my partner and how I use what I heard her say and my notes (I point to specific details in my notes) to think about what to say next. For example, I might say, “I heard you say…and I have that in my notes right here. I’m thinking about what I can add to that. Let me look at my notes. (Pause to visibly skim in front of students.) Oh, yes. I want to add this to what you said…”
  7. Then I prompt the student to be strategic in contributing to our conversation. I might say, “Now what can you contribute to what we’ve both just said. Look back at your notes.”
  8. The student and I continue moving back and forth, continually thinking about what was said and looking at our notes to think about how to build meaning.

Other moves I make with my conversation partner…

  • “I wrote a note about this, but I didn’t understand when the author of this text wrote that…what did you think about that?”
  • “I never realized that…until I read in the text that…”
  • “I think I heard you say…what did you mean by that?”
  • “When I read…I started wondering about…but I never figured that out…”

And so forth.

The critical moves during this demonstration include –

  • Modeling looking at my notes to decide what to say
  • Prompting the student to look back at her notes before responding
  • During the demonstration, taking several turns between partners, turns that build on what was already said
  • During the demonstration, being explicit with students about what’s happening like saying, “Look at how I used my notes to think about what to say…” or “I just heard my partner say and I don’t understand that so I’m going to ask her to clarify…”
  • Modeling asking for clarification or sharing what you didn’t understand or didn’t remember, etc.

But this is not all…when students turn to think pair share after this demonstration–I lean in to listen and coach with prompts like

  • What did your partner just say that you can build on?
  • Look back at your notes. What did your partner already say? What do you see in your notes that will help you add on to that?
  • Did you understand what your partner said? Is there a part of what she said that you need to hear again? Or ask for clarification about?

Hope this helps.

S

Ban “same” and “different” during discussions

A few weeks ago I visited a fifth grade class of students who’d done some amazing work researching Native American groups. They were planning to meet in groups to compare/contrast the tribes they’d researched. Before they began their discussion, the teacher, Kelli, and I led a quick discussion–we banned the use of the words “same” and “different” and we offered alternative vocabulary. The students brainstormed with us, adding to the alternative list. This was “fast” vocabulary instruction–just enough to tickle the students’ interest and challenge them to “give it a go.” See my notes on the dry erase board in the photo below. img_7692

This quick conversation added a whole new dimension to their conversations.

Special thanks to my colleague Kelli who always asks questions about teaching that push my thinking!

Hope this helps.

Sunday

 

Do you have high-reading kinders you need to challenge?

Some our of kindergarten students read above grade level. How do we keep them challenged? A colleague of mine, Lisa, engaged a small group in close reading of an informational text about energy with great success. Here are some photos and tips she shared with me.

Just some background. These nine students were reading at a late first grade level or higher in the spring of their kindergarten year. Lisa met with all nine of them at once. The text they read closely was A to Z’s Where We Get Energy – a level K text. You might just pick some key paragraphs from the text you choose. There’s no need to closely read a whole book.

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  1. Take notes together and then gradually release responsibility. The students might read the whole text on their own to start so they can get some sense of the big picture.  Together closely read a sentence at a time. Discuss the meaning and then pick important words to write in their notes. Release responsibility – maybe they just tackle a sentence at a time and then you regroup. The photo below is a little fuzzy but it gives you an idea of what a student at this level can do as far as note-taking with support. img_0513
  2. Give it a couple of weeks or more. Lisa said it took several weeks – a few lessons each week. She had a wide variety of readers in her room and many other lower groups to meet with more often.
  3. Provide lots of opportunities for them to summarize their notes ORALLY with a partner. This builds bridges to writing and to speaking fluently on a topic. You might prompt them by saying, “Turn and talk to your partner. What did you just learn in this paragraph? Use your notes to help you.” Some groups will need to orally rehearse with you before they talk with a partner.
  4. Discuss how they can present their information and then let groups of three work together to tackle this task by creating some type of visual.  img_0509-1img_0511
    These photos are fuzzy BUT you can still tell there’s so much thinking that must have happened in this group – they have arrows and visuals as well as text boxes! They are clearly organizing their thinking into categories as well.
  5. Provide time for them to present! I saw pictures of these kids with their posters – oh, the proud smiles!!!!!

BTW – All kindergarten students can do some level of research. Tony Stead proved that to us in Is That a Fact?  After I read this, I was a convert to the idea that even our Pre-A and emergent readers can engage in deep thinking and learning about nonfiction topics – with their peers and on their own. 21353134

Hope this helps.

S

Are your students’ minds wandering while they read?

Gave a demo lesson with students on how to use CODING to think about their thinking. When I asked these students if they ever think about lunch or something else while they are reading, most gave me a thumbs up! When I asked them if they finish reading and sometimes have no clue what they read because their minds were wandering, many gave me another thumbs up! Some students’ jaws dropped. How did I know? 🙂

Here are some photos from the lesson with 4th grade students. The text was an article about Rudy Tolson-Garcia, a para-Olympic athlete. I’ve included a few reminders for teaching students to self-monitor using Linda Hoyt’s coding strategy. (See a previous blog of mine for more info on this strategy.)

  1. State the objectives for the lesson–the reading strategy and the focus on content in the informational text. img_7364
  2. Zoom in on one vocabulary word that will really help the students understand the text better. I define the word, make a connection to myself, make a brief connection to the text, then ask students to turn and talk with a partner about their own connection. For this lesson, we talked about “ability” and then “disability.” img_7367
  3. Introduce the strategy – stopping to think about our thinking and then categorizing that thinking with a code. img_7368
  4. Model reading a chunk of text and rereading and then thinking by using the strategy. Write aloud in front of the students. img_7365On the sticky note in the photo, I wrote my thinking, “Wow! Rudy is an amazing athlete who has no legs!”
  5. Engage the students in reading, rereading, and then thinking aloud with you. In the photo above, the question at the bottom of the sticky “How can he swim with no legs?” was generated by a student in a shared think aloud with me.
  6. Begin to release responsibility. Ask students to read, reread, think aloud with a partner, and then write. img_7366
  7. Lean in and confer. Take the pen if it’s helpful. Below are a few of the sticky notes students wrote. Notice my handwriting in a few of the sticky notes below. When a student is stumped or frustrated, I help them compose orally and then I launch them by doing some of the writing. img_7381 img_7380 img_7382
  8. Close. Engage small groups in discussing what they learned as well as how they coded their thinking. In this lesson, they talked about what they’d learned regarding our focus question, “How does a person with a physical disability become a world champion athlete?”

VARIATIONS – We didn’t finish the article during this lesson. The article was four pages. We needed at least two lessons to do this. Another thought would be to ask students to read the whole article and then just code a particular section. The second part of the article about Rudy was more technical. The teachers and I agreed that the students would need to read a section and then go back in and code for each sentence.

The students and also agreed that one thought may need more than one code. It might be a “Wow!” and a “new information” thought. TOTALLY! We want them to run with this, making it their own in a way that helps them think about their thinking!

Hope this helps.

S

Photos from THIEVES lessons with some reminders

Just a few photos from THIEVES lessons as reminders of what we need to think about when introducing this strategy to students. I taught two demo lessons with third and fourth grade students. This was the first time they’d used the strategy and it seemed to take longer than I expected, but when I thought about it – it took the amount of time it should. The students just need more opportunities to work with and think about the use of this activity in helping them make informed predictions. The good thing was that I got a boisterous thumbs up at the end of each lesson when I asked students, “Do you feel like you can make a strong, informed prediction about what you will be learning from this text?”

Here are a few tips:

  1. I introduced Tier Two vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson – key tier two vocabulary that could be used to discuss what we were learning while previewing the text. img_7284
  2. I asked the students to quickly sketch their connection to the word “thief” and then I introduced the mnemonic THIEVES on an anchor chart. I explained by saying, “Thieves want to get ahead. They feel like they need something that they don’t have. That’s what we can do when we preview a text. We can get ahead of the author by thinking carefully about text features like the titles, the headings…” img_2374img_2375
  3. I modeled thinking aloud & writing notes about the title of the article the students were reading. img_2380Looking back, I wish I had hammered more heavily “There has to be proof in the text feature that you are looking at to support your prediction about what you will be learning.”  I also modeled making connections between text features. You can see the arrow I drew from the title to my notes about the photo in the image below. scan-10
  4. I gradually released responsibility to students to use THIEVES and take notes. This was a very gradual release. As a group, they decided what text feature to look at next, I got them started on thinking about the feature, then they continued by thinking and jotting notes. img_2391
  5. I conferred with individual students. You’ll notice in the notes above, there is a misconception about who was being interviewed by the kid reporters. I prompted the students with, “Show me the evidence in the photo that the kid is interviewing a parent?”
  6. Using our notes, I modeled with a student partner (at the front of the classroom) how to talk about what they learned from previewing the text and what they were predicting the text would be about. I also referred to the vocabulary I’d introduced and used this in my discussion with the partner.  Then I asked partners to turn and talk with each other–referring to their notes. I did this multiple times during the lesson.
  7. I provided sentence frames to support their conversations. img_2393The sentence stems were written on the dry erase board at the front of the classroom. I predict that this text will be about… I also think that… I want to add that…

BTW – we only got to about three features during the lesson. I’m letting go of previewing a ton of features before reading. I think students can make pretty good predictions if they at least look thoughtfully at the title, headings, photos and captions.

During the next lesson, I would ask the students to review their predictions OR we’d write a strong prediction together and then I’d ask them to read the whole article. I’d follow by asking them to reread the article and mark details in the text that support their prediction. (At some point we would need to get into how sometimes we have to adjust our predictions once we start reading and learning more.) Over time, they would not need to take heavy notes when they preview a text–this could happen easily for a few minutes before we read with a different purpose or different objective in mind.

Hope this helps.

Sunday