Tag Archives: teaching reading

Orally rehearsing with key words can boost writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope this helps.

Sunday

 

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

 

 

“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

4 Types of Context Clues in Info Texts: Bookmark & Lesson

Ugh! Unfamiliar vocabulary in informational texts can be a huge stumbling block for our students. The image below is a bookmark a colleague and I developed for a lesson. I’ve also attached a word document with the bookmarks for easy copying. We based this on the work of Baumann and colleagues (2009).

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4 Types of Context Clues Bookmarks IN COLOR

The lesson was with a group of fourth grade students reading an article from one of my favorite websites – Science News for Students. The article was about research studies that are revealing how females and males respond differently to sports-related concussion. This was a complex text – I actually cut one section of the article (the first part under the subtitle “Probing the Chemistry”) that I thought was too difficult for the students. The article was about a page and a half total. I’ve inserted the word doc below. You could definitely use this through 6th grade or higher even.

Context Clues Science News for Students article

I’ve attached lesson procedures here if you want to try this out.

Context Clue Type Lesson Procedures

Here’s what the lesson looked like for me:

  1. Introduced the article (posted on the doc camera) with previewing and predicting. We previewed the title and deck and made relevant predictions – I modeled some and I asked the students to turn and talk with a partner as well.
  2. Asked the students to determine the author’s main idea as they read individual copies of the article a first time. Conferred with individuals as they read. The first question for each conference was: What did you just learn from the text? This helped me determine where to go next.
  3. Regrouped and wrote key words from the text on a sticky note on the doc camera–females, males, concussion, depression, sensitivity. I modeled – with a student partner – using these key words to discuss the main idea. As the students summarized and discussed the main idea with a partner, I conferred and continued to add words to the sticky note as needed: reacted, response, differences, investigate.Context clue lesson 4th grade
  4. Introduced the 4 types of context clues with bookmark posted on the doc camera. Modeled thinking through the meaning of “concussion” and modeled boxing the word, underlining helpful clues, consulting the bookmark to determine what type of clue and then annotating the type of clue on the article.
  5. Guided students in following a similar routine with a second word — prone.
  6. Asked the students to identify a third word of their own and attempt to box, underlined, consult bookmark, and annotate. Conferred with individuals. Regrouped once and shared what one student had done as far as thinking and annotating on his copy of the article (placed his copy on the doc camera). Asked students to continue identifying and thinking through additional vocabulary. Below is a scan of my annotated article that I had on the doc camera–these are my notes by the end of the lesson. So I modeled, guided, and then stepped back in at particular points to highlight what students were doing with other words.  Context clues lesson 4th grade my notes
  7. Regrouped and asked the students to write a reflection on the process they engaged in to think about unfamiliar vocabulary. I provided a sentence stem – see image below.

Context clue lesson 4th grade 2

Context Clues lesson 4th grade reflections

This was a major workout. Many of the students flew–some used the bookmark and some didn’t. Of course, there were some students who did not progress and had little to show when I finally got to them. I really think this is the kind of lesson that should be done in a small group!!!! Either way – the students need more experiences discussing how they figured out the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary and the types of clues the author used.

My objective for this lesson was not for students to say “I used context clues to figure out the meaning of the word.” Instead, I want to hear students say something like:

Well, I identified some words in the text that helped me understand this particular word. I knew the words might explain or identify the meaning of the word or the words might be synonymous or the words might just give me examples of this word. When I underlined the words and thought about the types of context clues, I realized I sort of knew the meaning from general details the author gave.

In the end, it’s not about whether the student identifies the “right clue.” Instead my goal is for the students to use the language of the context clues to explain how they made meaning.

Okay…I’ve also attached a chart with an explanation of the four context clue types and examples–as a reference.

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Four Context Clue Types Taught in Word Study Lessons

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.

student annotated text 5th

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!

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.

 

 

 

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.