Category Archives: Lessons with Informational Text

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!)
  • IF THERE’S A VOCABULARY ISSUE, LOOK TOGETHER FOR CONTEXT CLUES OR TEACH EXPLICITLY.

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.

S

“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.

 

On the power of inquiry charts…my kids surprised me when…

Recently I had the honor of talking with Sara, a teacher in Iowa, whose students have started using inquiry charts. In a nutshell, these charts help students determine what is important and organize their notes as they read-view-listen to multiple sources. (If you’re not familiar with inquiry charts, please check out an article I wrote for ASCD’s EL The Case for Multiple Texts or this blog entry.)

Sara’s students were engaged in a shared inquiry into the giant squid. This was their first experience with an inquiry chart – so everyone was using the same research questions and the same sources. Below are two examples of their charts. Notice the questions are across the top and the sources are listed in the first column.

I asked Sara to share what she noticed about the students during this experience and as we talked, two important points jumped out at me.

*The questions on the inquiry chart should be revised if your students realize the questions are not clear enough or are too big. Sara started with the question, “How does the giant squid catch and eat its food?” As they read-viewed the sources, though, they realized there was too much information to take notes on and explain in response to this question. Sara and the students reformulated the question to “How does the squid use its tentacles to catch prey?” The students were okay with changing the question–because it made the task more manageable and helped them determine what was important. More importantly, the students LIKED that the first question didn’t work, they got to see their teacher problem-solve and they had the opportunity to help her problem solve. Formulating and reformulating the questions together has become a part of the process for the students.

BTW – this happens a lot. In my experience, developing “perfect” questions for the inquiry chart is hard. I have changed many a question once I’ve seen what students do with it. Totally okay. We want them to see the process and engage in this for themselves.

*Some sources may have more to offer students than we realize–especially when our students have started thinking across sources. I have looked at sources and thought, “Oh, no. They won’t get anything from that” and then been super surprised at what they noticed (that basically I didn’t!!!) Sara wanted to show the students a video of a giant squid. Finding a good video is hard when there have only been a few sightings of this mysterious creature. (Most of what we know is from examining dead squid that wash up on shore.) She found a video of a giant squid eating a fish. The video is raw footage taken by scientists with no narration or other helpful features. Sara thought it would be hard for the students to glean any new information from this, but it would be cool for them to watch. She was surprised at how wrong she was. They noticed all sorts of details in this video — because they had already learned so much from other sources.  Students noticed that the fish didn’t appear to change much in size over the course of the video, but then one reminded the others about how they’d read that a squid only eats grape-size pieces. Yes! That would explain what they were seeing. A few minutes later when the squid let the dead fish float away they did notice small tatters on the dead fish. This might have been where the grape size pieces were eaten away. They also surmised that the tatters might be from where the suction cups on the squid’s arms – these suction cups have razors around the edge. Woohoo! The students were using what they already knew to help them make sense of a new source. The power of reading multiple sources on a topic!!!

BTW – when the students were done with their research, they used their notes to create a life size squid in the hallway, complete with captions detailing what they’d learned.

I discuss these issues and more in a chapter on inquiry charts in my new book with Heinemann – Nurturing Informed Thinking.

Okay. A BIG THANKS to Sara for sharing stories from her class with me.

Hope this helps.

Sunday

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 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.

3 phase plan for learning 10_29_18

 

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

S

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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! Encourage your students to take bulleted notes, short phrases or just enough information that they can look at it and remember what they learned.

For more information on how I use inquiry charts, read an article I wrote for ASCD’s EL entitled The Case for Multiple Texts.

My new book with Heinemann Nurturing Informed Thinking also has a chapter focused on inquiry charts.

Hope this helps.

S