Tag Archives: teaching with informational text

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

 

Explode to Explain

Are your students citing “text evidence” without really having control of the meaning of the quote they choose? Do they state “in the text it says” and then fill in the next blank with a quote they may not really understand? Do they forget to explain further or elaborate?

Here’s an idea a group of teachers and I tried last week. After a lesson that provides time for the students to read and discuss the article, give them the luxury of time to contemplate what one quote from the text means – to explode the meaning of this quote in order to explain it further. One sentence in an informational text can be loaded with a lot of meaning – it’s worth the time for students to slow down and really think about what the author is talking about and the implications of what the author is saying.

For the first small group lesson (20 minutes), I introduced a NEWSELA article about the eco-boats that were hired to clean garbage from the Rio Bay in preparation for the Olympics. My introduction included defining and discussing the difference between garbage and sewage (important to understanding the article), previewing and making informed predictions about the content of the article, and then the students reading while I conferred with individuals.

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For the second lesson, we talked about one of the main ideas – “Water pollution is a problem in the Rio Bay” – written in purple ink in image below.  (Remember – this is just one of the main ideas in this article.) I shared a supporting quote from the article with them – written in blue ink on chart- and we worked our way through the details in that particular quote. In the image below, notice how I jotted what the students were thinking in red ink.

I modeled talking about what this quote means using the notes in red to help me explain my thinking. Then I asked a student to do the same. THEN I asked partners to turn and talk to do the same. My goal was for them to speak fluently about what they understand this quote to mean–and then be able to write about it.

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I closed this lesson by asking the students to explode an additional quote from the text that supports the main idea – “Tons of garbage and raw waste flow down rivers each day.” They wrote this quote in their response journals and attempted to explode.  I conferred heavily. They will continue to need support doing this for awhile.

For a day 3 lesson, we reviewed the notes on the quote we’d exploded together and engaged in a shared writing to explain that quote. See the image below. Then they returned to the quote they’d exploded, orally rehearsed with a partner what they planned to write and then wrote.

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Notes – I determined the main idea we’d use. I chose the two quotes. This is more about saving time and cognitive energy to get to the heart of what we needed to do–thinking through and explaining “text evidence.” Later the students can take on more of this. During these three lessons, this small group of students just began to get what we were talking about as far as explaining. They need to do this a LOT to get a grip on explaining the text evidence they are citing.

In the end, there’s a lot of power in this exercise–increased comprehension, increased content knowledge, and being able to speak and write more fluently (and knowledgeably) about what they’ve read.

A big thanks to the 3-5th grade teachers in the NKC School District who went on this day long journey with me and to RENEE for being my think partner!!!

Hope this helps.

S

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

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

How much independent reading of nonfiction in k-8?

My last blog entry was about starting the year by encouraging students to read nonfiction. This is a big deal in the field of Common Core and in a world where we have to read a lot to understand what’s happening around us. How much independent reading is sufficient, though?  Recently, at an institute,  I stated that 50% of independent reading should be nonfiction. I need to clarify…even revise this. So bear with me.

A few thoughts…

  • Students need to discover and sustain a “joy” for reading.  This may include reading a LOT of fiction. Totally. I get it. So I’m not saying we have to give up a certain percentage of independent reading of fiction for nonfiction. What I’m saying is students should be reading nonfiction text independently MORE than they have in the past. That may or may not be 50%. Either way, for most students (and teachers) the answer is more.
  • And I’m also not saying the joy of independently reading nonfiction can happen with just any nonfiction text. The same rules apply for nonfiction that are used for fiction. Self-selected nonfiction texts need to be of high interest and high quality. Aesthetically and topically appealing. Some nonfiction is really just good for research–reading bits and pieces of, you know? And some nonfiction is just not well written and not worthy of even picking up. This is also the case with some fiction! :). This means, as teachers, we have to know what’s out there in nonfiction publishing that would be a joy to read. At the kinder-3rd (even 4th) grade level, there are a LOT of these books. And don’t forget nonfiction picture books are sometimes meant for older students (like 4th-5th-6th even.) It’s true–it’s harder to find appealing nonfiction for independent reading in the older grades. (If you need titles, let me know.) If we know titles/authors of nonfiction and book talk these titles/authors, I think students will read nonfiction independently more often. Otherwise, they may not.

ANNA OREILLYCASE IN POINT – My daughter loves reading books about historical figures or events as well as memoirs. Last year she devoured I am Malala (junior edition) and then passed it on to friends. BUT she only reads these books when I recommend them. She NEVER searches them out on her own.

  • Independent reading of magazine articles (and similar short texts) as well as longer nonfiction texts need to be a choice during Sustained Silent Reading, Independent Reading, and the like. If Accelerated Reader points or “pages read” or “number of books read” dictate what’s read for independent reading, this may be a problem.
  • The Common Core dictates that 50% of texts read should be informational texts which includes what is read during the content areas. So across the day 50% of texts should be informational. But if students are only reading fiction during independent reading and only reading informational texts during the content area instruction, where is the opportunity for transfer? Teachers are teaching with informational texts more than ever before–but most of the informational texts our students read are used during some type of guided practice (that’s a gut feeling) and students have very few opportunities to read informational text for joy and a deeper understanding of the world–on their own with a text they’ve chosen and strategies they learned at a different time of day. There are SO many benefits to doing this.
  • There’s not research to support what some of us know are the benefits of independently reading nonfiction. Not really. But there is research that supports the idea that students have to have opportunities to transfer learning–this has to include learning how to read informational texts and learn from those texts and then doing this independently on a regular basis. Time for self-selected independent reading of nonfiction is the perfect opportunity to do this. And there is also research that supports the point that students improve comprehension and vocabulary when they read WIDELY.

Okay…so if you ask me how much independent reading of informational text should be happening in classrooms, my answer is MORE. What does this look like? Small steps or big steps with support, support, support. Book and article and magazine talks. Specific recommendations for specific kids. Also following what we know about helping students develop a love of fiction, you know? Letting kids give a nonfiction text “a go” and then encouraging students to “dump” a text that is not a good fit. And so forth.

What’s happening in your classroom? If you have suggestions for lighting a passion for reading nonfiction independently or anecdotes about kids loving reading nonfiction independently, let me know.

And a big thanks to my librarian friend Michelle for asking me to clarify!!!

Hope this helps.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think it’s helping!!!

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Tips for using ‘Reading A to Z’ texts for close reading

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Reading A to Z is a common classroom resource for leveled informational texts. There are some good texts in this collection – I would just be cautious, read for quality, and choose with clear objectives or text-dependent questions in mind. Below I describe how a group of teachers and I chose excerpts from Reading A to Z texts for close reading and then I offer some tips.

This week I visited a school where the teachers are accessing Reading A to Z texts to teach comprehension of informational texts. For a lesson I observed, the small group of students read “George Washington Carver” – the level O text. This short text covered a large chunk of Carver’s life and was relatively well written, but…okay…wait…I have more to say about that below.

Let’s start with what happened when the whole text was used. After a first read of the whole text, the students had a very general idea of the author’s main ideas, but they were not at the point of being able to describe the key details related to one idea. There was just a lot to grasp – and conceptually, for 2nd grade students, some of it was very difficult. But that was not a deal breaker!!!

So we planned a second lesson with this text thinking the following would help –

  • clear text-dependent question set as the purpose for reading – What did Carver achieve?
  • clear definition for achievement – “a successful result brought about by hard work”
  • JUST 3 PARAGRAPHS to read and think about carefully during the lesson (pages 9-10).

ALSO A HUGE HELP was that the teacher was leading a larger unit of study with the whole class on historical figures and their achievements. So the students brought relevant background knowledge to the table.

When we went to choose a chunk of this text to answer the question “What did Carver achieve?”, we realized that many of Carver’s achievements were listed or grouped (like what he achieved in his childhood all in one paragraph) and not really described in detail (the “how” of achieving or the impact). There was only one section that really included any kind of depth on the details around a particular achievement – the initial problem, the solution, the potential impact- so we chose that. (See image below.) These three paragraphs focus on one problem and Carver’s solutions – the farmers were becoming poorer and poorer because the soil on their farms was worn out and the crops were shrinking. Carver teachers them how to create free fertilizer and he also sends out information about how to grow and cook crops other than cotton. The other parts of this text move quickly through time or topics and do not provide enough information for the reader to really grasp an idea. Do you know what I mean?

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After the guided reading lesson, we were very excited about how the lesson went and decided to plan another lesson for a higher reading group with a Reading A to Z Level S text, “Barack Obama.” We wanted to use the same text-dependent question since it related to the unit of study, but we were disappointed because even though there were several pages, the achievements were “listed” rather than described in detail. The best choice of text was one paragraph that described why Obama decided to become a politician and what happened as a result. There’s a lot of content in this one paragraph, but we thought it was decently

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We changed the question to – “Why did Obama decide to become a politician? And what happened as a result?” These two questions and this chunk of text get at his achievements.

So here are my tips for choosing texts from Reading A to Z:

  • Read the whole text. Does the author get at any idea in depth? (Like the Carver selection)? Discard the text if it’s no good–if it just covers a lot of information, but none in-depth, if there’s no explanation of “how” or “why,” if there just seems to be a list of events or facts. But remember for close reading, you only need a small chunk of text — so if there’s a short chunk that’s decent, go for it.
  • Create a text dependent question to help the students focus (preferably related to a science or social studies unit) while reading. Our young readers and striving readers may not be able to read for importance without a clear text-dependent question.
  • Choose a chunk of the text that can be read closely to answer this question. (This might happen in reverse – like it did for us with the Obama text. First we found the best chunk and then we wrote the questions.) BEWARE! The child should not be able to answer the question with one sentence in the text. That’s why we created a two-part question for the Obama text! The question should require the child to grapple with whole chunk of text chosen.
  • Also – if your students are reading in general at let’s say “level S”–choose a lower level informational text from Reading A to Z. The concepts are frequently difficult – as I’ll describe when I post about the lessons we gave.

Okay…more on Reading A to Z and on the lessons we gave with the Carver and Obama texts…soon.

Book review & text-dependent questions for War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus

War Dogs Churchill and Rufus

War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus (Selbert, 2013) has a lot of potential for teaching in grades 4-5 with students studying World War II.  While this book is listed for grades 2-5, I think it would be hard for 2nd and even 3rd grade students to understand the main ideas. For all readers, the author assumes some background knowledge about WWII–the conflict, the players, and the geography.

For 4th-5th grade students, this would be a good opportunity for partner reading or for a teacher read aloud with a focus on text-dependent questions like, “How does the author develop the idea that Churchill and Rufus are ‘war dogs’?” (CCSS RI 8 & L5). Selbert, the author, positions Churchill as “dog-like” at many points in the book–some more explicitly than others. For example, there’s a page that describes Churchill speaking to Parliament – “Winston, his shoulders set like a tenacious bulldog’s, wades to the front of the hall and begins to speak.” On another page, Churchill’s wife, Clementine, visits him and Rufus in a war bunker where Churchill’s office was during the war; the text states that she holds her husband’s hand and then kisses his cheek and, on the same page, she holds Rufus and “rubs behind his ears until he falls asleep.” Clementine is showing affection for both war dogs in a sense – Churchill and Rufus.

Selbert also includes quotes from Churchill that are critical in understanding the brevity of the war and even the ideas in the text. (FYI-Most of the quotes would be conceptually difficult for 2nd or early 3rd grade students.) The quotes are separate from the running text–see image below–and could be read carefully and discussed further after reading the whole book. A question for students to consider might be, “Why is this particular quote relevant in this part of the book?” (CCSS RI 4 & 5, L5)

IMG_4134

Students should have the opportunity to read and reread additional features the author includes at the end of the book–a timeline of WWII, a short essay about Churchill and his beloved pets, and another short essay about Churchill himself. In the intermediate grades, a teacher might read aloud the book and then engage the students in close reading of one of the two essays for the author’s main idea or in response to prompts like, “How would you describe Churchill based on your reading of this essay? Why? What parts of the text made you think so?” or “Churchill was an important figure in WWII. Identify and explain evidence in the text that supports this idea.” (CCSS RI 1 & 2).

A strong book introduction should emphasize the meaning of the title or a short discussion predicting the meaning behind the title. I didn’t pay much attention to the title, assumed I knew what I was going to read about – Churchill’s dog—and then as I read, felt like I wasn’t learning much about Rufus. When I rethought the title – War Dogs (plural), the book made more sense to me. My point is that students shouldn’t assume the book will be mostly about Rufus–actually it’s more about Churchill and his role in WWII. Rufus, a dog, is an access point for more important content.

This book was awarded the International Literacy Association Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Award for primary nonfiction 2014 which is awarded to new authors. I am going to be on this committee this next year – looking forward to it!