Tag Archives: informational text

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 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

8th Grade Text Set & Prompt for Written Response, Part 1

Kudos to my ELA colleagues in a middle school who developed this appropriately rigorous text set and prompt for their 8th grade students studying the Holocaust. Together with the 6th and 7th grade teams, we analyzed several students’ written responses to this prompt. More on that in the next post 🙂

TEXTS:

Source A (entire article):

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/world/europe/holocaust-survivors-ever-dwindling-in-number-gather-at-auschwitz-for-memorial.html?_r=0

Source B (pages 9-12 only):

http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002186/218631E.pdf

Source C (video and transcript)

http://www.ushmm.org/remember/days-of-remembrance/why-we-remember

holocaust museum

PROMPT:
One of the important central ideas in the texts/video is the importance of “Remembering the Holocaust”.  Write an essay that compares and contrasts how the authors present this central idea.  You only need to compare two of the sources. Use textual evidence to support your comparisons, and you may refer to the sources by their actual titles or by Source A, Source B, and Source C.

 

Choosing info text excerpts for close reading

Close reading can be used for the purpose of moving students towards deeper understanding of a content area concept or theme. How are excerpts of text for close reading chosen, though? Here are a few suggestions.

If you are just working with ONE (well-written) text (versus a text set) and want students to grasp the author’s main or central idea for that text in particular –

1) Read the whole text and determine the key idea in that text you’d like students to walk away understanding. For an example of an article to consider, visit this middle school article – The Real Cost of Fashion (Junior Scholastic, 9/2/13) – about issues related to clothing being made in factories in developing nations. The author details how this benefits the consumer’s pocketbook and even the workers (who do not have many choices), but how it can also be risky and potentially life-threatening. It’s actually more complicated than pros or cons when you consider the country’s policies and the corruption involved and how difficult it is to change the way things are for these workers.

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2) Choose an excerpt from the article that reveals the key ideas. It is tempting to try to get at all that the author is conveying in an article. RESIST. Be selective. What do you really want students to walk away understanding better? For this article, I wanted the students to see how having our clothes made in developing nations is not a black or white, pro or con issue. I wanted them to understand that it’s a messy issue. Leaving the country and making clothes somewhere else is not necessarily the right answer because many of the workers in these factories rely on these jobs to survive. But making change happen is complicated by many factors. So I chose ONLY six paragraphs from the article beginning with the 2nd paragraph. (See the paragraphs I marked in image below.) Also remember, before close reading, the students will have read this article through once on their own or with a partner.

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3) Develop a clear purpose for the close reading. So for this article, I might post on the board the following question: What are the advantages and disadvantages to having clothing made in developing nations? What is textual evidence to support your points? Why is this a complicated issue?

4) Study the excerpt and think through the types of details the author has included. For example, what I noticed in the 2nd paragraph is that the author does not reveal any information related to the purpose until the last sentence in the paragraph. In the next paragraph, the author shares statistical evidence about the cost of making clothing in developing nations versus the United States. During my think aloud with students, I want to make clear how the initial information in this paragraph (2nd one in article) does not answer my purpose for reading. I want to highlight my “a ha” – how I realized the author gave me information I needed in the last sentence – “labor and other costs are cheaper.”

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5) Go for it. 🙂

Okay…more on this lesson soon. Just wanted to get at how I go about choosing excerpts. If you are working with a unit of study – you might want to look for excerpts of text or primary sources for close reading that reveal the enduring understandings related to the unit…more on that soon, too.

Finally – sorry it’s been a couple of weeks since my last entry. I spent two weeks working in Illinois and Wisconsin with some amazing educators. Thanks to everyone who opened their classroom doors for a close reading of their practice!

Please dump traditional book report requirements and try…

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My daughter is enjoying a new school in a new state, but I was dismayed to see the traditional, worn out book report requirements for her 5th grade class. I want to say first – her teacher is  hosting some amazing learning experiences – they are currently studying the eye, are engaged in research reports on different eye diseases, and today they are dissecting pigs’ eyeballs. That’s why I was surprised to get the “written book report” handout that requires the student to read one book per trimester with the following directions: Book report should be a summary of the plot and should include descriptions of the main character(s). End by telling whether or not you would recommend the book, and why. Yuck. There’s also an oral book report requirement (two per year) and the “speech will include: title, author, genre, brief summary of plot, and why you did or didn’t like it.” Granted there is also a “project” required for two books – and these include writing a play, talk show, newspaper and so forth. The descriptions of these could potentially require students to think more deeply about the text.

I know I’m being critical and rocking the boat. I just can’t help but comment on this. With the Common Core emphasis on synthesis of author’s central ideas and close reading and analysis of texts for multiple purposes, regurgitating plots and telling why you like a book doesn’t cut it.

So, in response, I’d like to share my version of the 21st Century-Common Core Aligned Book Report. And you know me, my focus is on informational texts. So HALF of required book reports (if you are still doing those) should be with informational texts. Below is what my “written book report” requirements would look like. Note: I’ve used the Common Core to determine the content of the book reports. So what I’ve created can be adapted to any grade using the Common Core as a guide.

WRITTEN BOOK REPORT for 5th Grade 

  • Each trimester, two book reports are due. One should be an informational book and one should be a fiction book or biography. Books should be approved by me before you begin reading.
  • Must be 2 pages, hand-written on lined paper, or 2 pages, typed, double spaced, font size 12.
  • Prior to writing the book report, you need to meet with me (during the independent reading period of the day) for a 5 minute conference to discuss the key ideas in the informational book or the plot of the fiction book (or biography). Once we have had this conference and confirmed that you understand what you have read, then you are cleared to write the report.

1st Trimester

  • The informational book report should identify two or more main ideas in the book you read and include how the author supported these ideas with key details. The report should quote accurately from the text to support your points. (Common Core R.I. 1 & 2)
  • The fiction book report should (okay…someone else can figure this out for me :))

2nd Trimester

  • The informational book report should explain the relationship or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas or concepts and the inferences you made about the author’s central ideas as a result. (CC R.I. 3)
  • The fiction book report should….

3rd Trimester

  • The informational book report should contrast and analyze key information in the book read with a second source (preferably digital). The report should include notes about the similarities and differences in the author’s point of view. (CC R.I. 6 & 7)
  • The fiction book report should…

MULTI-MEDIA, ORAL BOOK REPORT PRESENTATION

  • Twice during the year, an oral book report (on one of the books you are writing a report on) is due. One for an informational text and one for a fiction text.
  • Presentation will be 3-5 minutes in length and must be accompanied by a visual, digital presentation of content as well. Points will be deducted if the speech is simply a retelling of content in the book; the content of the presentation must be a critical analysis of text(s) read.
  • More information, including a schedule and a rubric, to follow.

NOW I WOULDN’T EXPECT STUDENTS TO DO THIS WITHOUT SCAFFOLDING...we would be engaging in this kind of reading and thinking and writing and presentation creating with books I’m reading aloud, in small group discussions with shorter texts and so forth. THEN this book report could serve as an assessment as well.

I’ll close by saying the old worn out book report requirements are a ubiquitous problem. Last year, my daughter – in a different school with a good, well-intentioned teacher, in a different state – was required to write the same kind of summary-driven reports. We need to get beyond this!

Just my thoughts.

PreK-Kinder Read Alouds – Observing the World Around Us

As you start the school year, consider making half of the texts you read aloud to preK-Kinder (and even 1st grade) students informational texts. One new text I’d recommend is Step Gently Out by Frost & Lieder (2013). Frost’s lyrical text invites our youngest learners to slow down and watch and listen. Lieder’s photographs are worth sitting quietly and contemplating with students. Step Gently Out is an easy invitation to looking and listening to nature that surrounds us – but also to any of our everyday surroundings and it’s worth reading aloud to students multiple times. The Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten focus on students’ ability to observe and this book could launch and anchor a related science unit and even a literacy center where students can look through the book again and then observe a class terrarium or aquarium and draw their observations.

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Another book that comes to mind for reading aloud to PreK-1 students to launch the school year – and that can be used in so many ways – is Green (Seeger, 2012) which I’ve reviewed in a previous blog. Again – this book lends itself to thinking about how we can look more closely at the world around us.

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Other PreK-1 informational texts to read aloud because they –

  • introduce science content
  • begin gently to pull students into reading and learning from informational texts
  • tap into what it means to “observe” and notice our surroundings
  • have just enough content to hold students attention (as the kids develop stamina for sitting through longer, more complex texts read aloud).

Swirl by Swirl

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (2011)

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In the Tall, Tall Grass and other books by Denise Fleming

truck

Truck by Donald Crews

I Read Signs

I Read Signs and lots of other titles by Tana Hoban

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Shoes, Shoes, Shoes and other titles by Ann Morris

Hope this helps. Would love suggestions for good informational texts to read aloud to preK-kinder at the beginning of the year!

Displaying Nonfiction in Your Classroom Library

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Here’s a model for displaying nonfiction in your classroom library. Notice how the books are facing forward in baskets – easy to flip through and find a title of interest. Also, if you zoom in, you’ll see the books are categorized and coded – “Transportation NF#5.” The codes are marked on the back of the books so students know which basket they should return the books to when they are done reading. This is a lot of work up front, of course, but a long-term investment.

Thanks to my colleague who opened her classroom door (in 2008!) and shared her classroom library with me. I would love to see how you’ve displayed nonfiction in your classroom library and share your pics on my blog. Please touch base!

Ann Petry’s Harriet Tubman does not meet current standards for “nonfiction”

harriet tubman by petry

While there might be value in reading this book to get a “feel” for Tubman’s life, it should be considered historical fiction not nonfiction (despite being listed as an exemplar informational text in the CCSS Appendix B). It was written in 1955 and Petry’s purpose was to provide readers with a viewpoint of slavery that was not being represented in textbooks of the time. Her purpose was noble and should be noted. What writers in the field have agreed on since then, though, is that to be accurate when writing “nonfiction,” you cannot make up what was said during an event in a person’s life – without asserting that you are doing just that. You can use quotes from primary sources or from people you’ve interviewed during your research, but you cannot just make up what might have been said (even if it’s based on research) and present these conversations as fact. If you read Russell Freedman’s book Lincoln: A Photobiography – he tells a lot without ever making up what someone said. Petry, on the other hand, from the beginning of Harriet Tubman, writes specifically what was said during a discussion that took place in Harriet’s parents’ cabin the night Harriet was born and continues to do so from there. There is no documentation of what was said -specifically at events like the night Harriet was born. Petry is conjecturing. This is not acceptable in 2013  – despite this book’s continued publication as “nonfiction.”

Petry does end each chapter with factual statements about other events that were occurring during a particular period. At some points late in the book, she includes quotes by Harriet and a few others, BUT the majority of the book is a narrative that includes what was happening, being said, and so forth without reference to specific documentation or quotes from primary sources. It’s clear Petry did some research – although there is no author’s note included in the book. She passed away in the 1990’s and I haven’t found any kind of description of her research on-line so it’s hard to know her research and writing process for this book.

scenes in the life of harriet tubman

I want to contrast her book with others on Tubman. For example, I want to read Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Susan Bradford – who knew Harriet and interviewed her extensively for the book (to raise money to support Harriet). I’d also like to read two more authoritative books – Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Clinton and Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of a Hero by Kate Clifford Larson. While the first book by Bradford was criticized for accuracy – it is based on the perceptions of Tubman (who did not know how to read and write). This text might serve as a primary source that represents one person’s viewpoint – similar to Frederick Douglass’ autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

If students do read Petry’s book – there’s room for teaching about an author’s interpretation of historical documents and how that influences what is written, what can be written from our study of primary and secondary sources and what cannot be written without some assertion from the author that the text is an “interpretation” or “conjecture” of what might have happened. In addition, Petry’s book could be contrasted with others – a good learning experience for students and a way to help them achieve Common Core standards related to contrasting multiple texts on the same topic.

Intriguing Notices as Mini-Lessons

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I’m always intrigued by the notices posted around us. Many are perfect for mini-lessons focused on close reading of informational text. Check out this one I saw in a restroom in Chico, CA. For a close reading exercise, I would put this on the document camera or Smart board and ask students some of the following questions –

  • What is the author’s main/central idea/point of view/purpose? (Common Core State Standard – Reading Informational Text 2, 6)
  • What can you infer? (If you don’t wash your hands, you are not a decent person!) (CCSS RI 1)
  • What is meant by “common decency”? How does that position an employee who does or does not wash their hands? (CCSS RI 4)
  • Why do you think so? What’s the textual evidence (as well as your background experience) that makes you think so? (CCSS RI 1)

Below are two notices I saw in the airport – loaded with content for teaching. Challenge small groups to engage in close reading and discussion of these signs (using similar questions to those above) and to share out what they noticed or came to understand – independently and collectively.

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The tricky part is transferring skills developed with short texts like notices to longer more complex texts. What did we do here as readers that we can do when we read other longer, more complex texts independently? That would be a follow-up lesson (or several) with more opportunities for students to read and discuss texts.