Tag Archives: close reading informational text

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.

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

S

 

 

 

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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

 

 

Do our students understand “definition” and “example”?

Yesterday I was giving a demo lesson closely reading a science text when I realized the students did not understand the terms–definition and example. Many nonfiction authors use definitions and examples and other types of details like cause and effect when they describe concepts like forces, magnets, weather and so forth. Readers need to recognize these types of details to understand these concepts.

The 4th grade students and I were engaged in carefully reading an excerpt from Using Force and Motion (National Geographic Reading Expeditions, Phelan, 2003)–an easy introduction to the concepts of force, gravity, friction, etc.

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Notice in the excerpt below that the author introduces the topic in the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, towards the end, he introduces the topic of force and defines it – “a force can be a push or it can be a pull.” Then he gives an example of a force – “The paddle gets a big pull from the person’s arms to push the kayak through the water” and a second example – “The kayak also gets a push from the water that is rushing behind it.” In the last paragraph, he offers details about the effect of forces like the wind  – “make all objects move” and “make objects slow down, speed up, change direction, or stop.”

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After students read this text, we want them to be able to say, “Oh! The author just defined what a force is when he wrote, ‘A force can be a push or it can be a pull’ and then he gave me an example of that which is when a person kayaks and they pull on the paddle, it pushes the kayak through the water. That’s like when I…”

During the lesson, I started an anchor chart entitled “What types of details does the author use to teach us?” and listed details like definition, example, effect. When I began to ask students to determine whether a new detail (after I’d modeled) was a definition or an example, they couldn’t do it. I realized that the students were not clear about what I meant by “definition” and “example.” I added definitions of the details to the chart, but there was still some confusion.

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So I stopped and led a short discussion with an easier concept. We defined “fruit” and listed examples. (When I asked for examples of fruits, one of the students said, “Squishy!” so I knew I was right in his ZPD 😉 This seemed to help as we moved to carefully reading the last paragraph of the excerpt!!!!!

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The more I do this, the more I’ve learned not to take for granted what students understand in grades 2-8. Even for words like definition and example, they (even middle school students 😉 may have a superficial understanding.

Below are common types of details used by nonfiction authors use. BTW – I WOULD NOT COPY THIS LIST AND HAND TO STUDENTS. Instead – I’d introduce a few at a time during close reading of excerpts of text.

  • Name of topic
    • Name of subtopic
    • Location
    • Function, purpose, or behavior
    • Duration, or when something takes place
    • Physical attributes (movement or action, color, size, shape, number, texture, composition, etc.)
    • Construction or organization
    • Explanation of how something works (may include causal relationships, sequence of details, and variables)
    • Real-life examples (see additional blog entry on teaching “examples”)
    • Comparisons (including similes and metaphors)
    • Other types of figurative language (alliteration, onomatopoeia, and personification)
    • Quotes from experts (for the purpose of sharing relevant knowledge or just sharing an opinion)
    • Attempts by author to connect with reader

Imagine if our students can understand and identify and explain these types of details while reading to learn.

Hope this helps.

S

 

 

Sample Lesson – Close reading with NewsELA article

Do your students need help with clearly stating a main idea? And with organization when they elaborate on that main idea? Last month I had the honor of teaching close reading of an informational article to a small group of fifth grade students for a demonstration lesson in front of 40 educators in the North Kansas City School District. With a quick assessment prior to the demo lesson, the teachers and I realized the students needed help clearly stating a main idea, elaborating further, and organizing that elaboration. Below are a few notes about the lesson I gave.

I used a NewsELA article entitled “Tortoises battle it out with Marines for the right to stay put” and I lifted this main idea from the questions for students at the end of the article: In the article, one of the author’s main ideas is that the environmentalists and the Marine Corps disagree about whether a soldier training will harm the tortoises.

Before we met, the students read the whole article.

At the beginning of the 20 minute lesson, I beefed up background knowledge by sharing two photos. On my smart phone, I showed them a map of the U.S. southwest and the location in the article – TwentyNine Palms and a photo of the Marine base. Then I asked, “What did you learn?” so I could quickly assess what they understood.

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Next I posted the main idea for all students to view and quickly defined key words – writing the definitions on the chart as we discussed their initial thoughts about this main idea. See below.

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I introduced close reading with the pasta analogy and a photograph of pasta that I’d pulled up on my smart phone.

Then we did a close reading of a three-paragraph excerpt from this article and listed key details on sticky notes. I modeled for a few sentences and then coached the students in independently reading and taking notes. I chose this excerpt (see below) because it reveals lots of details related to the main idea. During this 20 minute lesson we only read, discussed, took notes on the first two paragraphs–which detail the Marine side of the issue. The students’  teacher planned to follow up with another lesson to delve into the environmentalist side of the issue.

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Note: Because I was leading a demonstration lesson, I moved to writing – just for the purposes of teachers watching. Otherwise I would have coached the students in close reading the third paragraph and saved the writing for the Day 2 lesson.

We closed with shared writing and independent writing referring to the notes they’d taken. See the chart below. Just a note – I’d written the main idea statement prior to the lesson. Together we came up with a piece of evidence/a detail and elaborated and composed the following sentences:

The marines are trying not to harm the tortoises. They are moving the tortoises far enough away from the training that they won’t come back. This means they are trying to protect the tortoises.

And then each student chose an additional detail, turned and talked with a peer about what they were thinking about writing, and wrote a short response. (See sticky notes posted at the bottom of the chart). I leaned in and conferred with each student as they wrote.

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The students clearly needed this lesson and, if they were in my classroom, I’d follow up with a series of lessons like this with multiple articles. The 40 educators present  in this demonstration teaching lab followed up by planning in teams and teaching a very similar lesson to one student (while I observed and coached) with the NewsELA article “Tough Times for Polar Bears.” Thank you to North Kansas City Schools for supporting this kind of professional learning!

NEWSELA–I like this site but beware…

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Just be careful. NEWSELA is a great site for short informational articles for students to read. The  content is usually worthy of student-led discussions and writing about in response. The beauty of NEWSELA is that the same article is available at different Lexile levels. (When you click on an article, check out the blue bar that appears on the right hand side of the screen.) So if you have students reading at a range of levels, you can access or print out the article at a level that meets their needs. My caution is that sometimes when the editors (or the algorithm) attempt to lower the Lexile level, they actually make the content harder to comprehend. They cut or revise details that might actually help a student understand the article better. This is also the case with publishers who include leveled books with their textbooks (e.g. the leveled books that come with McGraw-Hill’s Wonders).

An example – with one NEWSELA article I used recently, the editors substituted “a government group” in the lower Lexile versions for “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service” which was in the higher Lexile versions. I thought “government group” was too vague given that the article also discussed the Marines and an environmentalist group’s upholding of a federal environmental law. Students might be confused. So when I downloaded the article, I reinserted the proper noun. So my advice is to watch out for vague language and important details that need to be included.

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TIP. When I use NEWSELA articles, I read the version of the article at the highest Lexile level first. Then I quickly read the lower Lexile versions I want to use to make sure important details I just learned from the higher level version are still in the lower versions. Not all details are important. Just keep your readers in mind. Then I either edit OR I make sure to highlight details that were in the higher version when I introduce the lower version(s) of the article to students. 

Hope this helps.

S

Start the year with THIEVES and a clear purpose for previewing/predicting

Teaching students to “get ahead” by using the mnemonic THIEVES to preview a text is an easy way to start the year and nurture students’ sense of agency–especially if you are reading feature-dense nonfiction like magazine articles, websites, textbooks and so forth. In the poster below (created by a colleague!) you can see how this mnemonic helps students preview a text strategically and then make an informed prediction.

Unit 4 THIEVES

A FEW TIPS

  • Create THIEVES bookmarks for the students that they can easily use across the day. Below is a bookmark I created on tag board for students. The sticky note is one student’s interpretation of the word “thief.” I always talk with students about how being a thief is about “getting ahead” of the author.

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  • Set a clear purpose for previewing. You could have them preview to “find out what the article is about” but I’ve found this is too broad for many students. They zoom in on one thing like a photo of an alligator in an article on environmental issues and say, “It’s about alligators.” Consider setting a clearer purpose like – What do you think the author’s main/central message or idea will be? What do you think is the author’s purpose for writing this text? The goal is for the students to synthesize the information they’ve gleaned during the preview and make an informed prediction.
  • Be prepared to model or think aloud in front of students. In advance of teaching lessons with THIEVES, I take notes for a think aloud. Below are my notes for a lesson with a text on droughts.

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  • With feature dense text, just use THIEVES for a 2-page spread. The students might get overwhelmed by previewing a whole chapter or an article that is several pages. Frequently, there’s enough going on in just the first two pages of a text to give them enough information to make an informed prediction.

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 7.02.03 AMScholastic News, an example of a feature-dense text!

  • Teach students to think flexibly as they use THIEVES. Texts are complex. Sometimes there are headings, sometimes there are not. Sometimes looking at the visuals before reading every first sentence is more helpful. Sometimes reading the title and headings and intro is enough. Students can get overwhelmed. Teach students to consider the title, heading, intro, etc. as choices for what they can preview to “get ahead.” I’ve blogged more about this need to be flexible if you want more info.

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There are LOTS of resources on the Internet for how to use THIEVES – just Google “THIEVES mnemonic.” Also – if you have a copy of my first book Close Reading of Informational Texts, Chapter 5 goes into depth about how to use THIEVES with sample lessons, a rubric for assessing students’ predictions and tips for conferring with students.

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Okay…hope this helps. I’d love to hear your anecdotes about using THIEVES with students!

Quick way to review text & content before close reading

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I tried something new–I provided a list of “key details” from a section of text as a way for students to review content before engaging in close reading of a more difficult section of the text. During a previous lesson, the 3rd grade students had read an article about Dolores Huerta (in the McGraw-Hill Wonders program) and written in response to the question, “How was Dolores Huerta a good citizen?”  When a group of teachers and I analyzed the students’ written responses from this first lesson, it was clear the students understood the section of the text about Dolores working to help the children in the school where she taught. Missing from most students’ responses were any notes about the next conceptually more difficult section of text on Dolores’ efforts to organize farm workers. We needed to go back and do a close reading of the this more difficult section to help the students think more carefully about Huerta’s work.

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For this second lesson, it was important for the students to review the section of text about Dolores helping the children–so I posted key words for the students to use to review.

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When I posted the words, the look on the students’ faces indicated they recognized and remembered these details. Then I asked one person to come up front to be my partner in retelling what we’d learned during the first lesson. We took turns retelling using the key words on the chart. I followed by asking the students to turn and talk with a partner–using the key words on the chart paper as a way to retell what they’d learned. I leaned into a few conversations and coached.

It worked out nicely. Took less than five minutes. Served as a warm-up. Served as a mentor list of “key details” – words or phrases that help us answer a text-dependent question. And, most importantly, it freed up time and energy to do a close reading of the next more difficult section of text on Dolores’ work organizing farm workers.

Hope this helps.

S

Analysis of Responses to 8th Grade Text Set & Prompt, Part 2

In the last blog entry, I shared a rigorous text set and prompt developed by an middle school ELA team. The team and I met (via Webinex) to discuss the students’ written responses. First we look at the strengths of each student’s analytic essay; then we discuss the students’ needs as writers. Integrated into this discussion are implications for our practice. You might use our insight (see notes below) to think about your own students’ writing or as part of an “looking together at student work” experience in a PLC. (You should be able to click on the images of the student work to see an enlarged image :).)

  1. Notice how these two essays (Student #1 and Student #2) are very different in how they address the prompt and yet they both address the prompt. Is the prompt the problem? This has been surfacing in my practice a lot. Sometimes we get what we ask for…                           Student #1Scan 191Scan 192                                                     Student #2     Scan 193
  2. In this next essay, notice how the student (#3) explains the textual evidence. Frequently, students do not explain the evidence or they seem to be engaged in filling-in-the-blank writing about text evidence that doesn’t reveal deep thinking. Notice how this student has systematically included explanations – but not in a way that sounds formulaic. I’d put this piece on a document camera or Smart Board or make copies–as a mentor text for the rest of the students.                                                            Student #3Scan 194Scan 195
  3. For this example, what is the student (#4) assuming or inferring their reader will understand in paragraphs 2 & 3? This is a frequent pit fall for students–they write as though you, the reader, get what they are saying and they don’t have to explain. After a pretty good introduction, this student summarizes the two resources, implying a contrast, but not stating or explaining the contrast explicitly until the end of the essay. The student attempts to make clear the similarities and differences at the end of the essay, but these ideas would be stronger if they were integrated into the earlier content as well as developed further. SO – this student is on track and just needs some coaching.                            Student #4 Scan 196Scan 197
  4. In several of these essays, the connector language (i.e., the words students use to develop their ideas) is strong:  as opposed to, both, but, yet, in both of these articles, however. The teacher has explicitly taught students this type of language. During the Webinex, we talked about creating an anchor chart with a list of these words as a reminder to students and adding to this list as the year moves forward.
  5. This writer (#5) starts with a clear introduction and then what happens?   Frequently our students lose their way, huh? I’ve started wondering how my instruction gets in the way here.  Students use a lot of cognitive energy on the intro and then their energy/focus wanes. What about giving the students an introduction that I wrote and asking them to only focus on developing the ideas, the middle part of the essay? Or just developing one idea (a well-written paragraph) with textual evidence and an explanation?        Student #5 Scan 198Scan 199
  6. And then there’s this writer (#6). There’s one in every classroom, huh? This student, while passionate about the topic he/she chose, doesn’t address the prompt. How can we check in with him or her to make sure they understand the prompt? If we have a group of students not addressing the prompt, how can we think aloud during a mini-lesson about what the prompt is asking?   Student #6  Scan 200

Okay…hope this helps.

 

 

 

Do students understand what we mean by “key details”?

Is the term “key details” vague for your students? I’m teaching 2nd/3rd grade students this week and trying out an anchor chart that attempts to make the term “key details” more concrete for students.

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I think a “key detail” might change depending on what our purpose is for reading. Here are a few of the ideas I have for this anchor chart (which I would add to over time –as we experienced reading for each type of key details)  –

  • a word or phrase that helps us answer a question
  • a word or phrase that gives important information about an event like who, what, when, where, why
  • a word or phrase that gives us a clue about the meaning of an unfamiliar or new word
  • a word or phrase that helps me make sense of what I am reading

This chart might become an anchor for students’ thinking and a living document the teacher can add to or change or revise as students “read for key details” across many lessons.

I’m using this chart (see the image above) this week with second grade guided reading/writing groups who are reading about the USDA. Our text dependent question is “How does the USDA protect us?” I’ve found myself referring to this chart over and over again as a reminder for the kinds of details the students need to look for as they engaged in close reading.

I think it’s helping!!!

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Close reading lesson with A to Z text excerpt

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Last week I gave a close reading lesson with an excerpt from an A to Z text, George Washington Carver, written at Level O. (See my previous post “Tips for using A to Z texts for close reading”.) Our text-dependent question was, “What did Carver achieve?” This seems like an easy question at first, but the excerpt we chose offered multiple ideas that needed to be synthesized in order to respond to this question.  See images of the two pages of text below.

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Notice that in the first two paragraphs, the author describes the problems the farmers in Alabama faced in 1896. The details in these two paragraphs are important because they develop the challenge that Carver was facing as he endeavored to help these people.  Quite often when we talk about the achievement of historical figures, we start with the achievement like “Carver helped the farmers.” A more rigorous approach is to think about achievement as signaling some sort of challenge to overcome and a great deal of hard work before the end result or achievement. For some students identifying an “achievement” like “Carver graduated from college” or “Carver helped the farmers” is too easy. I want them to grapple with the difficulty of this achievement, you know?  When planning for teaching with this text, for me, key words to note included:

  • Alabama, 1896
  • farmers
  • big problem
  • crops smaller
  • cotton
  • worn out soil
  • barely money for food
  • no money for fertilizer

The last two paragraphs describe how Carver helped the farmers; the reader has to infer that he is helping them—through teaching and disseminating critical information. Key words to note include:

  • taught
  • dead leaves, swamp muck
  • free fertilizer
  • crops (like sweet potatoes)
  • put nutrients back in soil
  • sent out information about how to grow and cook

This was a maxi-guided reading–meaning it should have occurred over two lessons :)–with 2nd grade students. Here’s an outline of what I tried…

1. Briefly introduced the text  (less than one minute). The students had already read the whole text once during a previous lesson with their teacher.

2.  Explicitly taught the word crop and asked partners to define and explain (1 minute). When the students had read this during the previous lesson,  the teacher and I noticed they’d struggled with this concept and it was crucial that they understand what crops are to get the meaning of this passage. I defined crops as “plants that are grown on purpose for food.” (I could have defined further, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the students.) We named aloud several crops–wheat, carrots, strawberries, and then I held up two fingers and told the students that when a farmer grows crops, they can 1) sell the crops for money or 2) keep the crops for food or other things they need. I asked the students to turn to a partner and describe what a crop was and two reasons farmers grew crops.

3.  Presented text-dependent question and definition of “achievement,” read aloud definition, engaged in shared reading of definition and then discussion (1-2 minutes). I started the lesson by reviewing and clarifying the definition of achievement (which they’d been studying as part of a whole group unit of study with their classroom teacher). My definition for achievement was “a successful result brought about hard work”; as the students and I discussed this definition, I drew a box around “hard work” to emphasize this aspect of the definition and also added the words “difficult” and “problem.” See image below. By doing this, I’ve given the children vocabulary to articulate what they are noticing/comprehending as they engage in close reading to answer the question, “What did Carver achieve?”

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3.  Asked the students to read the text excerpt to themselves and conferred with individuals (3 minutes). I wanted the students to get the gist of the whole passage before we started dissecting it; so I started by asking them to read the whole excerpt to make sense of it for themselves. I was also concerned that the students would not understand the sentence at the end of the first paragraph: “Each year their crops were smaller, and the farmers were poorer.” This is a hard sentence because the reader has to know that the farmers need larger crops to sell and eat and they have to infer that if the farmers have smaller crops, they won’t have enough to eat or sell and they’ll be “poor” as a result. We could have just done a close reading and discussion on this one sentence!!!

4. Then I modeled with a think aloud how I would determine what was important in the first sentence and drew the students into thinking with me to identify key words on a sticky note (3 minutes). I was very clear about what a “key word” was for that particular lesson–any words (details) that help us think about Carver’s achievement. In this first paragraph, there’s a clear problem or difficulty. As we listed the words, I made it clear to students that these key words helped me think about what the “problem” was and what might be “difficult” – referring back to the dry erase board with the definition of achievement.

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Notice I didn’t use all the key words I’d planned to use –it just works out that way sometimes. Looking back, I wished I’d included the “where” (Alabama) and the “when” (1896).

5. We stopped and used the key words on the sticky note to summarize aloud what we had just learned from the text (2 minutes). I coached volunteers in creating sentences like, “The farmers had a big problem because their crops were getting smaller and they were getting poorer.” I encouraged students to add interpretation to their summaries like, “They were getting poorer because they didn’t have enough crops to sell or eat.” (THIS WAS SO HARD for them!)

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6.  Then I asked them to read the next paragraph (2 sentences) on their own and to start their own list (on a sticky note) of key words that would help them answer the question, “What did Carver achieve?” I had time to confer with two students individually. (2-3 minutes)

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7.  We regrouped and used their key words as we discussed and then also to summarize aloud what they’d just read (2 minutes). I asked them to summarize from the beginning of the passage – so starting with the list we wrote together and then moving to the list they’d made.

NOTE: I should have stopped here, but I was having such a good time 🙂 and I had the luxurious option, as the visiting consultant, to extend the lesson time.

8.  I coached the students in working their way through the next two paragraphsasking them to read and write key words for a chunk at a time and then conferring with them (5 minutes).

9. We closed by using the key details we’d written on sticky notes to summarize aloud what we’d learned (in response to the question, “What did Carver achieve?) with a partner (1 minute).
In the image below, I’m coaching partners in using key words one of the students had listed. This continuous routine of returning to our key words and summarizing aloud is HUGE–as you’ll see in the next lesson I taught with them.

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What was BIG for me in this lesson –

  • the power of a text-dependent question with well defined vocabulary;
  • teaching critical concepts like “crops” – quickly and clearly in a way that children can grasp and return to easily when they have questions;
  • conferring with individuals to see where things are “clicking or falling apart” (like some struggled with the idea of  “crops got smaller and farmers got poorer” and needed a one-to-one discussion around this idea);
  • listing “key words that help us answer our question” – students can become overwhelmed by “What is a key word?” so I try to make it very clear what a “key word” is during a particular lesson and, in this case, key words were details that help us think about how to answer the question, “What did Carver achieve?”
  • using the key words to summarize aloud–after each chunk of reading (which might be a paragraph or just a sentence or two).

LUCKY ME!!! I had the privilege of teaching this group on a second day – we used the key words they wrote to write a response to the question. Stay tuned for my next blog post!!!!

Seriously – hope this helps.

S