Tag Archives: teaching nonfiction comprehension

“I underlined all the words! They’re all important!”

When annotating, do your students underline most of what they’ve read because they think “it’s all important”? Maybe they’ve underlined that much because they don’t know how to determine what is important? Below are a few tips and photos from a demo lesson I gave to tackle this issue. And, yes, I used the pasta analogy 😉

The article for this lesson was about a village in Costa Rica that has chosen to raise and sell butterflies instead of clear cutting the rain forest. This movement started at a school with students taking the lead on the project before their parents and other community members became involved.

Tips

  1. I started by describing the reading strategy we would be using and introducing the pasta analogy. We are going to be reading an article very carefully and underlining key words and phrases that help us answer a particular question. You can read more about the pasta analogy in a previous blog. I use this analogy to help students understand that key words and phrases or “key details” are like pasta which we want to eat and the other words are like the water you boil the pasta in – which you don’t want to eat.Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 7.11.41 AM
  2. Then I moved to activating (for some) and building (for others) prior knowledge by briefly discussing three photos related to the content of the article. I shared a map of the western hemisphere and pointed out where Costa Rica is in relation to the United States and then a photo of the rain forest in Costa Rica and a contrasting photo of what a rain forest looks like when clear cutting happens. There were no photos to support this in the article (I found all three online) and I felt like it was very important for students to understand where this takes place and this concept and how it influenced the village’s decision.img_7374
  3. Then I shared the purpose for reading which was posted on the front board and said something like: We are going to read an article about a village in Costa Rica that decides to NOT clear cut the rain forest. Butterflies help this community in some way. I engaged the students in reading the purpose posted on the front board. img_7369
  4. In the ideal world the students would read the article in advance of this lesson to get a basic idea of the content. This was not the case for this demo lesson. Instead I asked the students to spend a moment using the THIEVES strategy to preview and make informed predictions about what the text would be about.
  5. With the text projected, I modeled reading the first paragraph, then rereading to think aloud for them about key words and phrases – including thinking aloud about why these were important words or phrases. img_7372
  6. The students had pieces of blank paper folded into quarters and I drew four quadrants on the dry erase board. (When we don’t have copies of the text to mark on, this is an alternative.) I wrote the key words and phrases for the first paragraph as I thought aloud. The students caught on and started contributing words to the list. They also copied these words onto their papers. img_7373
  7. I stopped and modeled using my key word list to summarize aloud what I’d learned–I did this with a student partner who brought her notes to the front.
  8. The class and I did a shared think aloud for the 2nd paragraph and listed words together. We stopped and thought aloud about what we’d learned in both paragraphs – with a partner – using the key words we’d written. student-pasta-2
  9. I released responsibility to pairs for the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. They listed key words and stopped to summarize aloud with each other. Eventually, THESE NOTES CAN BE USED TO WRITE SUMMARIES OR HIGHER LEVEL THINKING RESPONSES TO THE TEXT.
  10. We wrapped up by discussing what we’d learned as well as the strategy of determining what is important.

The classroom teacher finished the next day by coaching the students in determining what was important for two more paragraphs. The text was an eight page article. That’s TOO LONG for this kind of reading and note taking. If you’re working with a text this long, I’d suggest jigsawing the following sections (after you’ve done one section together like we did)  – assigning small groups to read a section of a text (from one subtitle to the next) and determining key words. Then when they jigsaw, they have to share what they learned with their new group. Another option is to choose a shorter text OR because they’ve read carefully the first section, ask them to finish reading without listing key words. That careful reading of the first section should launch them towards better understanding.

Hope this helps.

S

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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!

Can your 6-8th grade students explain how two authors present the same info and reveal different points of view?

Here’s a lesson for teaching students to analyze how two authors writing about the same topic may shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of the facts (Common Core Standard 7.9).

  1. Go to Science News for Students and locate an article that cites a study. Most of these articles do cite studies. For example, the article “When smartphones go to school” by Kowalski cites a research study by Jeffrey Kuznekoff at Miami University Middletown. Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 7.06.26 AM
  2. On the Internet, do a search for an article that cites the same study. I found “Take Note” when I searched for Kuznekoff’s study.
  3. Ask the students to read both texts and then jot their thoughts about each author’s point of view and discuss.
    In “Smartphones go to school,” while the author presents both sides of the issue (whether learning can happen via smartphones in the classroom), her presentation of the facts leans towards the argument that smartphones can be a distraction, dangerous and even addictive. Kowalski cites several studies and when she quotes Kuznekoff, she tends to quote him on the negative aspects of smartphones in the classroom. In “Take Note” the author explains Kuznekoff’s study in more detail and seems to be leaning towards the idea that teachers need to learn to work with technology like students’ smartphones and if they do, this can be beneficial.
  4. Closely read excerpts from the text that discuss the study. Close read for this purpose–How does the author shape her presentation or her message? Underline details and write in the margins. You might have to teach students language that identifies what the author is doing to shape their presentation of the information – you might have to introduce types of details like introduces study, explains study, presents counterargument, quotes an expert or researcher, shares negatives–benefits–disadvantages–positives–advantages, concludes with…, cites other studies, hypothesizes, draws conclusions. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART –TEACHING STUDENTS to identify and name THESE TYPES OF DETAILS. I find that I have to model heavily when first teaching students how to do this!  This is my annotation of an excerpt from “When smartphones go to school”              Scan 347Scan 348 Here’s my annotated copy of “Take Notes”                           Scan 349Scan 350
  5. Coach students as they have conversations about the differences and similarities in the authors’ presentations of the same study.
    Here’s one 7th grade student’s notes about the article “When smartphones go to school” articles–gleaned from her annotations                  Scan 351                                                                            Here’s her notes about “Take Note” Scan 352
  6. Ask students to write in response.
    Below is the 7th grade student’s response. There’s definitely room for her to grow–but her initial attempt reveals an understanding of what I was trying to teach.

Science News
Carl Straumsheim, Take Note, June 8 2015, web page
Kathiann Kowalski, When Smartphones Go To School, March 3rd 2016, web page

I read two articles on separate websites, by different authors, about the same
study, conducted by professor Jeffrey H. Kuznekoff. He had 145 students watch a video
and then take a test on it. One group of students was able to text and tweet about
anything during the lesson, another could only text or tweet about class related things,
and a control group could not use their phones at all. As a result the control group and
the group that could use their phones for class related purposes scored a letter grade
higher than the group that could text and tweet about anything. I learned that phones
can be a distraction during class if not used specifically for learning purposes.

Though the two authors were writing about the same study, they had a very
different point of view. Kowalski briefly touched on the positives, and went into detail
about the negative aspects. Her view on the subject of smartphones in school seemed to
be generally negative. To support this view, she also used results from three different
studies, as well as quotes from three experts. Straumsheim focused on only the one
study, and went into great detail about not only how it was conducted, but also both
the negative and positive sides of the argument of phones in school. He seemed to be
saying that smartphones can have benefits in the classroom, if teachers learn to
integrate them in a positive way.

This takes a lot of work on our part–model, model, think aloud, engage in shared thinking aloud, create anchor charts with the types of details author’s use, do it again and again and again.

Hope this helps.

Sunday

Are your students tired of writing summaries and analytic essays?

I’m shaking up how students respond to informational texts. I’m experimenting with letters, Hall of Fame posters for a bulletin board in the classroom entitled “People Who Have Changed the World,” designing and writing content for a book entitled Did You Know, and classified ads. Regardless of the format, though, I’m still  REQUIRING students to tap and explain text evidence related to a main idea.

I tried this a few weeks ago with several groups of 4th and 5th grade students during small group guided writing lessons. (I was giving demo lessons–as a consultant in a school district.)  Here’s the routine I established for the series of lessons (4 lessons at about 20 minutes each):

  1. Lessons 1-2 closely read for a clear purpose 1-2 short informational texts and annotate or take notes. By short, I mean 1-3 pages of text. For example, one group of 4th grade students read two pages of text in their anthology on the work of public officials like city council members. The second text was a one page article from Scholastic News on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s plan for the water crisis in Flint, MI. Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.49.07 AMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.49.07 AM                      The essential question was How do public officials accomplish things to help people? They took notes on a two-column chart.                               Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.01.14 AM                                                                                During these two lessons, there were several opportunities for students to turn and talk to a partner about what they were learning–this is a very important bridge to writing!
  2. Lesson 3 – Start with 5-10 minutes of conversation. I asked the students to review their notes and turn and talk with a partner about what they’d learned about how public officials accomplish tasks. With this group, I noticed that they needed more support in talking in depth about this topic versus just listing what they learned off their notes. So I pulled the group back together and we had a “conversation” –this means no one raises their hands. We just talk and as needed I prompt students to ask each other for clarification, to ask for more details from a peer, or to build on what a peer said. As they did this, I took notes (based on what they were saying or my interpretation of their comments) on a small dry erase board – for the students to refer to as they talked (see image below).                                                            2016-02-04 15.15.15
  3. Lesson 3 – Set a purpose for writing and develop criteria – 5 minutes. For each format I explored with students, we developed criteria. For the hall of fame poster and the Did You Know book, I used a mentor text (that I found on the Internet) which I showed them on a small laptop (see below).  For the poster and the DId You Know tasks, I asked partners to collaborate.                                                                   Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.31 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.42 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.58 PM                                                                         Below are examples of criteria we co-developed and referred to over and over again as the students wrote.                                                                                   2016-02-04 15.17.542016-02-02 10.16.33 2016-02-03 15.30.27For the 4th grade lesson with texts on public officials, the students had to write a letter to someone they think should run for public office and explain why – with reference to the texts they’d read. Notice that part of the criteria is the student must refer to the texts read–tying a main idea from the text into the letter as well as text evidence and an explanation.  For the hall of fame poster, we decided they would refer to text evidence and explain how the two historical figures (Gus Garcia and Frederick Douglass) in the top right hand corner of their poster. For the Did You Know two-page layout, they would refer to what they’d learned from texts in the text under the question and then integrate throughout the graphics, side bars, etc.
  4. Lesson 3 – Engage in shared writing – 5 minutes. Below is an example of shared writing with the students who read about public officials. I chunked this. So we picked a person to write a letter for together and then they picked their own person. We wrote an intro for our shared person letter and then they wrote one for their own person. We wrote about text evidence for our shared person letter and then they wrote about different evidence for their own person.                                                                                      2016-02-04 15.16.28
  5. Lesson 3 continued and then Lesson 4 – Students write independently (or with a partner) – 25 minutes at the writing table with me there to coach. Students continue writing their pieces – in particular, the part where they have to refer to the text and explain. These may not be completely done by the end of these lessons but I’m not worried about taking these all the way to publication. What’s important is that quality time at the table with me present to coach while they write for 25 minutes.
    They can finish independently and I can confer with them briefly about finalizing later.
    Below are examples of students’ drafted letters. Notice how they integrated information from two texts into their letters.                                                     Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.16.20 PM                                                                                               (BTW – Mr. Taylor is the principal at that school! Another student wrote a letter to his mom and two chose friends they thought would be good public officials.)                                         For the letter below, the group of students read a text about Jane Addams and about Gus Garcia with an essential question regarding how these historical figures advocated for people. The author of this letter chose to write a thank you note to her teacher–thanking her for advocating for students and for teaching students to advocate for others – similar to Addams and Garcia.                                                                      Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.18.57 PM                                                                                           There are all sorts of letters students can write – thank you, encouragement, inquiry, requests, etc.  One group read about how scientists collaborate and then they wrote a thank you note to a classmate who’d collaborated with them in some way (to build a bridge in science, to complete a math word problem, etc.). They had to include what they’d learned from two texts about the power of collaboration.    

If you’ve tried shaking up responses to informational text done at the guided writing table, I’d like to hear about it!!!

Hope this helps.

Sunday

 

 

What about using the language of text structure to help students compare texts?

Teaching the language of text structures can help students compare and contrast texts more easily.

I gave a lesson to a 5th/6th grade class a few weeks ago with two current event articles on drones. The first article “How can you get a bird’s eye view?” from Wonderopolis is written in an enumerative (or descriptive) text structure. There is the overarching topic of drones and then sub-topics that describe or explain different aspects of drones. The students did an initial read for the purposes of answering the questions, “What is a drone?” and “What are drones used for?” If you skip down to the image after next, you’ll see that I posted the questions for the students to consider during this initial read and then to discuss in pairs. I jotted down a couple of key words before they talked with a partner.

Then I posted the definition of a descriptive text (I thought “enumerative” might be too abstract).

descriptive text structure

After I posted the definition and explained briefly, we engaged in a 2nd read to identify the different sub-topics – putting a box around a word or phrases in each paragraph that identified the sub-topic. Below is an image of my copy of the article that was projected with the document camera. I modeled thinking aloud about how the first three paragraphs were an introduction and then I read aloud and thought aloud about how the fourth paragraph was focused on defining drones.

1st and 2nd read drones

I followed by introducing the 2nd article – “Drone Control” from Scholastic News. I asked the students to read the article and to think about any additional information they were learning that wasn’t in the first article. After they read and discussed this in small groups, I introduced the text structure for this article – problem-solution.

problem solution text structure

We did a 2nd read to identify details that revealed problems and solutions. Below is my copy of the article that was projected with the doc camera and that I marked on to model identifying problem and solution details before releasing responsibility to partners. Notice that the author doesn’t write a problem and then a solution. Instead there are multiple problems posed and more than one solution – this is a complex text!

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By highlighting the differences in structure, it was very easy to talk about the differences in content.

Grrrr… If you remember my last blog entry, I don’t believe that texts always have easily identifiable structures. Most of the time they don’t. (In that blog entry, I describe using a building analogy to help students understand simple and more complex text structures.) If I’d had the opportunity, I would have followed up this lesson with a third article “Invasion of the Drones” which I think at first glance has an enumerative structure–it lists several sub-topics related to drones. On a closer look, though, I think it would be helpful if students realized that each of the sub-topics is an EFFECT of drones, a circumstance (etc.) that is CAUSED by drones.  So at the micro-structure level (a part of a text within a larger text) there are causal relationship structures.

If students understand and can easily use words like text structure, descriptive, sub-topics, dimensions of a topic, problem-solution, author poses, causal relationships and so forth to describe the texts they are reading, they will more easily be able to compare and contrast content as well as remember that content and perhaps even think critically about it.

In other words, I’m not looking for students to say, “This is a problem-solution text structure.” I want students to be able to say, “When I was reading this, I noticed that the author poses several problems with drones like… and that he also poses solutions to some but not all of these problems like…” OR “When I was reading this, I noticed that the author describes several different dimensions of drones or sub-topics related to drones like…”

If you’re interested, I’ve attached a list of the text structures with “kid-friendly”-ish definitions that might be used on anchor charts. Explanation of Traditional Text Structures

I also explain text structures further in my book Unpacking the Complexity of Informational Texts, Chapter Four “What do we mean by a text’s structure?”

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Hope this helps.

S

“Building” analogy to teach “text structure”

How many of us hunt for the perfect texts to teach “text structure” and end up just banging our heads against the wall? It’s because texts are more complex than five simple structures. I’ve been thinking about this and tried out a new analogy with a group of students today – text structures are like buildings.

A building has a purpose (to be a home or place to live for a family, to serve as a temporary structure as in a portable at a construction site, to be a grocery store where we can be food and other items, to be a place of worship where people of a particular religion can come together, etc.).

An author has a purpose (to tell the story of…, to instruct, to describe, to persuade, to explain).

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The building’s purpose drives how it is structured–how it’s put together, how its parts are arranged, how the parts connect. For example, a grocery story where we shop for food and other necessities is primarily one large room organized into sections for different types of foods. There is certain flow to the store so customers can get from one section to the next.  A home or a place to live is organized into bedrooms or spaces for sleeping, a kitchen for eating, a den for watching television. There are hallways that connect the rooms. These structures share some features consistently – but are also different. While most grocery stores share particular features, they are different from each other as well.

An author’s purpose drives how she structures the text (e.g., enumerative/description, sequence/chronology/narrative, comparison, causal relationships, problem-solution). If the author wants to teach you about drones, she may use an enumerative or description text structure–introducing the topic of drones and then talking about different aspects of drones — military use, modern drones, rules being drafted by the FAA for drone use, possible future effects of drones. If the author wants to instruct you in how to make a birdhouse, she may use a sequence text structure, listing the steps in numerical order. If the author wants to persuade you that girls around the world should have access to schools, she might use a problem-solution text structure or a cause-effect text structure. Depending on which structure she chose, the texts would be organized differently. These structures share some features consistently – but can look different (i.e., the content can be different and different types of details can be used).

Stay with me here–this sounds easy, but there’s a nuance to this analogy I want to tease out.

What if the building has more than one purpose and therefore is organized for multiple purposes? What if the building has an art gallery and a pizza joint open to the public on the first floor and private apartments for living on the second floor?

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PERFECT because many complex texts have more than one structure. The author has decided that more than one structure can meet his or her purpose or the author has multiple purposes within a text. Have your students ever read an article about a particular animal like the elephant that discusses different aspects of the elephant’s life and at the end there’s a section on how elephants are endangered and how one group is trying to save the animal????? The overarching or larger or macro-structure is enumerative/description, but, in that one section, there’s a micro-structure of problem and solution.

The point is we need to teach students to think flexibly about a text’s structure. My goal is for students to use the language of author’s purpose and a text’s structure fluently. I want to hear a student say the following:

Well, this article is mostly structured as a description of drones–how they operate, what companies are already using drones and so forth, but then there was a sidebar! And the structure of the sidebar was a little bit different in that the author discussed the effects drones cause like a lack of privacy.

Okay…just thinking. I used this analogy and some of the pics above to introduce two text structures to a group of students today. More on that soon.

Hope this helps.

Sunday

The Coding Strategy – Helping Students Self-Monitor while Reading Info Text

Do you have students who read a text and are clueless about what they read? Or when you prompt them to share what they learned from a text, they frantically look back at the last sentence they read and then spit it out verbatim?

Before we get into conversations about main ideas, author’s point of view, summarizing content and so forth, we may want to provide time for students to grapple with questions like:

  • What did I understand or learn in this text (or section of text or even just this sentence)?
  • What did I not understand?
  • I didn’t understand this, so what can I do to figure it out?

I use the Coding Strategy (Hoyt, 2008) to introduce or reinforce self-monitoring with students. After each sentence or paragraph or section of text, students stop, think, and code the text with one of the following:

*I already knew this information.

+ This is new information.

? I don’t understand this part or I’m wondering about…

! Wow this is interesting and this is why I think so…

This is an image of the bookmark I give students. I’ve attached a PDF here.  CODING BOOKMARK 11_12_15

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Here’s an easy lesson procedure:

  1. Explain the skill and strategy. Self-monitoring means to keep track of what we are and are not understanding and then to use fix-up strategies to repair meaning. Then explain the strategy. When we code our thinking, this means we read, stop, think & jot a code and write a few notes.
  2. Model using the Coding Strategy to self-monitor. Read aloud from a text projected for all students to view and write aloud codes with notes about your thinking. When I introduce this strategy to students, I read aloud, think aloud, and write codes and notes – before the students did this on their own. See image below for a lesson I did with 5th grade students.  Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 6.45.20 AM
  3. Direct students to read a chunk of text and stop to write a code with a few notes on a sticky note.
  4. Ask students to talk with a partner about what they learned from the text as well as their codes and notes.
  5. Proceed in a similar fashion with additional chunks of the text, coaching students during individual conferences, and providing time to stop and talk with a partner. Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 6.53.29 AM
  6.  CLOSE – Students can end up with very fragmented thinking if they just code like crazy and don’t also think about how all of the details they are reading are related. During conferences and at the end, I pose questions that require synthesis like “So looking at all of your coded notes, what do you think the author’s purpose was for writing this text?” or “So what did you learn from reading the whole text that was important?” Ask the students to think across their coded notes. At the end, ask the students to place their notes in the middle of a sheet of paper and draw a frame around. Then ask them to write the main idea in the frame. For more information on the frame analogy for teaching main idea, see a recent blog entry I wrote.

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Caution!  Beware. Students will use all of your sticky notes, putting just a code on each, and then not be able to recall what they were thinking when they wrote that code. Make sure they jot a few words to help them remember what they were thinking at that point.

ALSO, when you model or confer with individuals, think aloud about parts of the text you did not understand (with a ? code) or that you might not understand if you were their age. Most students do not code for what they don’t understand – and need prompting to do that. I haven’t elaborated on this here – but you need to help them articulate what they can do to repair their meaning making. Have a list of strategies in your mental pocket for this.

If you want to read more about this including looking at sample lessons and a rubric for assessing students’ coding, check out Chapter 6 “Self-Monitoring While Reading” in my book Close Reading of Informational Texts or send your questions to me by email at sunday@sunday-cummins.com.

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Hope this helps.

Sunday

The Pasta Analogy-Helping Students Determine What’s Important

Do your 2nd-8th grade students struggle with determining what is important when reading informational texts? Are they unsure of what to underline and annotate? I remember one fifth grade student saying, “Well, I underlined the whole text because it was all important!”

Two suggestions.

  1. Make sure there’s a VERY CLEAR PURPOSE for reading & determining what is important.

Here are a few sample purposes –

Purposes Related to Specific Content

  • How was the scientist Norman Borlaug innovative? Why was this important?
  • What have we learned about Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, that we never knew before? Why might this information be “exciting” as the author states?
  • Why might we consider Mary Fields extraordinary?
  • How should we be prepared for severe weather? Why?

Purposes Related to Skill Building

  • What is the author’s purpose in this text? What details in the text make you think so?
  • What is the author’s main idea? What details in the text support this main idea? (Okay…as clear as this one is, it’s still hard. You might consider liberating your students by providing the main idea – see my recent blog entry on this.)
  1. Introduce the PASTA ANALOGY to help students think about what might be important and what might be less important.

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To introduce the pasta analogy, this is a quick conversation I had recently with a small group of students:

Have you ever made pasta before? (Pause. Students nod their heads.) So to make pasta you have to boil it in water until it’s soft, correct? (Heads nod.) And then you eat the pasta, correct? (Usually, students continue nodding their heads.) Wait! Don’t you have to drain the water first? You don’t want to eat the pasta with the water, right? (Students shake their heads emphatically.) The pasta is what’s important to eat and digest, not the water. It’s the same way when you are reading to determine what’s important. There are pasta words or phrases that we want to eat and digest and then there are water words that are less important.

You can figure out what words or phrases are pasta by thinking about your purpose for reading. Today we are reading to find out how the scientist Norman Borlaug was innovative. Remember innovative means to introduce or use new methods or a new idea. So we are only reading to locate details—or pasta words & phrases—that help us understand how Borlaug was innovative.

This is an easy introduction to the skill of determining what’s important as well as to the strategy of close reading. As the students read each sentence, they stop to think, “Are there any pasta words in this sentence, words that help me think about my purpose for reading?” As I confer with students, I refer to the purpose for reading and ask them, “What are you learning that might help you understand how Norman Borlaug was innovative? What are pasta words or phrases in this sentence that might help you?”

Below are artifacts from lessons I’ve given recently – when I introduced the pasta strategy and engaged students in underlining/annotating text OR in lifting pasta words from the text and listing them on notes.

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The image above is of a 5th grade student’s annotated text – when locating “pasta” or details that helped him/her think about how Norman Borlaug was innovative (purpose).

2nd grade shared writing of pasta

For this lesson, the students were reading in a text about weather and one of the main ideas in this text was that we need to be prepared for severe weather. We identified pasta or key details related to this main idea. The image above is of the purpose for reading and the shared writing of “pasta” details we did together. The image below is one student’s “pasta” notes taken during guided practice.

2nd grade student's pasta

Of course, this always leads to orally summarizing or composing and then writing in response. Students use their annotated texts or their lists of words/phrases to orally respond to the purpose for reading – with a partner, to practice saying aloud sentences they will write, and to write.

BTW – An educator stopped me one day and told me he was using the pasta analogy with first grade students reading above grade level!

If you want to read more about this, check out Chapter 7 “Determining Importance in a Text” in my book Close Reading of Informational Texts. I provide sample lessons and a rubric-like-continuum for assessing students’ codes.

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Hope this helps.

Sunday

 

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!

Guided writing lesson – a productive struggle

I had the honor of teaching a small 2nd grade group of students a guided writing lesson after we had done a guided reading lesson with an excerpt from an A to Z text, George Washington Carver, Level O. In a previous post, I wrote about the first lesson – close reading of an excerpt from this text. In the second lesson (about 25 minutes), I guided the students in using the key words they’d identified during guided reading to write a response to the text-dependent question, “What did Carver achieve?” Below are some of the words we’d written together while reading and thinking about how to answer this question. The students also had their own set of sticky notes to work from while writing.

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In the image above – you see the key words we generated together (after a shared reading and discussion on Day 1) on sticky note #1. On sticky notes #2 & 3, the key words were generated by individual students and shared when we regrouped after they read independently (still as part of Day 1). You’ll notice that I just picked a few that they shared to write on our common sticky note and that some of the students wrote additional words as you’ll see in the images of their own lists below.

We began by orally rehearsing how we would respond using the key words on our sticky notes. I coached one student in using the key words to create sentences (all orally) in response the question. Then I asked partners to turn and share how they would answer the question using their key words.

Then we regrouped and decided how to start our written response. One student suggested, “Do you know how Carver helped the farmers?” I wrote this on my piece of paper for all students to see and then encouraged them to use this student’s introduction or to write their own. You’ll notice in the examples below, they ALL wrote that intro. Totally okay, but in another lesson we might focus on different ways to start.  (See previous image.)

As each student finished writing the introduction, I asked the student to think about what we had done several times–we’d created a “next” sentence using the key words on the first sticky note. Because they had done this aloud several times – in the group, with me individually or with a partner, the bridge to writing seemed easier to cross. For a few students, I asked them to orally rehearse what they would write before writing; for other, more capable writers, I asked them to start.

Then they took off  working more independently and I coached at the point of need. One student finished her first sentence and stopped and waited for me–this would become a teaching point, “How can you continue? What will you do after you write this next sentence?” Another student knew exactly what to do and kept writing, referring to the key words on her sticky note for help.

I started a conference with students by asking them to read what they’d written so far. This is always a good opportunity for students to realize they’ve made a mistake – omitted a word, or written something incorrectly and, frequently, they will correct or revise immediately. It’s also a good opportunity for me to say, “Did that sound right?” or “Does that make sense?” or “What is the tricky part in this sentence?” Then we conferred to problem-solve. For some – there are a lot of grammatical or spelling issues – I do not try to solve all of these at once because I don’t want to overwhelm the child. I target a 1-2 issues that I think the student would benefit from having some one-to-one help.

Here are a few examples of what the students (3 out of 5–ouch! I didn’t get to collect them all :() wrote.

Student #1

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(Note: Before the guided writing lesson, I rewrote the key words that we’d generated together in lesson 1 on a sticky note for each child; their key words were from the 2nd & 3rd paragraph of the shared reading and I wanted them all to have the whole list.)

My thoughts (keeping in mind, I only worked with this child for a short period!!!) –

  • The student is assuming that you, the reader, will understand that if the crops are smaller, there is less to sell and therefore the farmers, as stated in the response, “barely had money to pay [for food, etc.].” Still the student is grappling with some difficult content (given her age of 7-8) and she seems to have some grasp of the idea being conveyed.
  • She uses connective language – “but then” to share her logic! BRAVO!
  • She wraps up her response –she’s clearly mastered the formula of starting with a question and ending with “now you know.”

Implications for teaching –

  • She would benefit from reading more (developmentally appropriate) texts about crops and the economics of farming and how Carver helped the farmers–so she could increase her grasp conceptually. This is hard to do – but makes the case for working with text sets and reading across multiple texts on the same topic.
  • She needs to develop stamina for writing longer pieces–now I only know about her from these two lessons, but she had several key words describing what else Carver did to help the farmers and she did not extend her writing to include these.
  • She’s ready for a broader repertoire of options for beginning and ending responses–even creating some of her own with her audience in mind.
  • “farmers crops” vs. “farmers’ crops” – This might be a quick mini-lesson as part of guided reading/writing along the way.

Student #2

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(Note: You’ll notice my handwriting in black ink on the sticky notes. This was done during Day 1 conferences with this student. To help him articulate his thinking, I was the scribe!)

Notice how this student is a little more savvy in expressing what he understand–“the soil was getting tired”; even though he doesn’t entirely grasp the idea of nutrients in the soil, he gives explaining this concept a try. Kudos to him, you know? Again, I think the difference would be the opportunity to read multiple texts on the same topic.

Student #3

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This student seems to sort of understand what we were reading and discussing. She’s working really hard to create a coherent response, strategically using the connective “another reason” and wrapping up with “now you know why.” Again – she’s dealing with a difficult concept–it’s not that this is getting in the way, it’s that the student is grappling and needs continuous opportunities with just the right support. And you know what I’m going to say next? She needs more time with this concept, this idea of farmers struggling in the late 19th century and people like Carver coming to their aid or, maybe more appropriately,  just what it means to farm and grow and sell crops.

One of my colleagues who observed this lesson, said, “It was a productive struggle for them.” YES!!! Love this term for what the students were experiencing. Here’s a quote from an educator, , I found describing this term —

Students can experience productive struggle when given a task slightly beyond their abilities. As educators provide support for tackling a challenging problem through different approaches, they can help build critical thinking skills and develop grit. The objective isn’t necessarily to get to the right answer, but to engage in this process to advance learning and develop perseverance.

The trick is–

  • to engage these students in this kind of learning on a regular basis,
  • to support them just at their point of need
    • through discussion,
    • through trying to compose sentences orally first,
    • through opportunities to write and even sketch and act out as they grapple with a difficult concept,
    • AND through the use of text sets or multiple texts on the same concepts,
  • AND to gradually release so that they are doing more of this reading, writing, and thinking on their own.

Okay…hope this helps.

S