When my students and I talk about reading, we talk about writing. If they pay attention to not just what the writer means in the words on the page, but how the writer crafts that meaning with words on the page, they move much quicker into the rhetorical analysis they must do on the AP Language exam in the spring.
But it is not easy. So many of my readers read below grade level. They struggle with fluency, so their reading is slow and laborious, and as a result, they miss out on much of the flow of the language that leads to constructing meaning as they read. If they cannot comprehend, how can they analyze craft?
They are pretty good at identifying devices and figurative language and the like though. They are pretty good at identifying structure. They’ve learned writers have different ways of approaching a topic, but they are not so good at discussing why. Why did the writer craft the text that way? What does that move do to further the writer’s message? What effect does it create? What is the tone?
So, this lesson came about as a way to help my students practice some critical thinking about how writers make choices with language — and as a bonus, introduce my readers to four new book titles.
Objective: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will recognize a variety of structural and craft moves in fiction and non-fiction texts. They will identify patterns and compare effectiveness through discussion. They will analyze the tone. They will summarize their discussion in their writers’ notebooks, and apply their understanding to future reading and writing assignments.
Lesson: Introduce three new titles as choices for independent reading by providing copies of the first few paragraphs of The Other Wes Moore, Nothing to Envy– Ordinary Lives in North Korea, and The Dog Stars. In small groups, giving each group one (or more of the passages depending on the time you want to take for the lesson) instruct students to read the passage and determine the structure and the craft moves the writer makes to begin the books. Ask: Why do you think the writer chose to begin the book this way? What does that beginning do to capture the reader’s attention? Why might it be an effective way to do so? What is the tone of the passage? How do you know?
Help students recognize the effect of beginning a text with a passage of dialogue versus startling information versus first person narrative. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What structure do you find the most engaging? Why?
Follow-up: Students will apply their understanding to their independent reading books, and as homework will write a one-page response that analyzes the first few paragraphs of their books.