Tag Archives: Mini-lesson Monday

Mini-lesson Monday: Personal Reading Challenges

If you’ve ever taught juniors, you probably know my struggle. The third quarter of every year, students hit some kind of mountain of a speed bump. I think they are tired, overwhelmed, a little undone.

Junior year is hard for many of my readers. It’s the first time most have taken an AP class, and some are taking two or three. Competing with APUSH is something I’ve become accustomed to —students choose to do their history homework over English every year. Textbook reading for history looks like homework while the reading I need students to do, reading books that fill their heads with knowledge and stories and vocabulary and empathy does not.

When we hit the wall this spring, I asked a group of my students to help me design a plan to get our reading lives re-energized. They kept it simple:

  1. We should create personal reading challenges.
  2. You should talk to us more about what we are reading.
  3. We should talk to each other more about what we are reading.

This lesson shows how we created our challenges. The more talk part? That was a reminder to up my game with conference and to remember to schedule time for more talk around books.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will assess their reading lives so far this year, predict how many books they can read this spring, and design a personal challenge that will help them continue to grow as readers.

Lesson:  I projected this question on the board at the beginning of class and asked students to write for five minutes in response:  Think about your reading growth and improvement this year. Can you honestly say you are better now than you when you walked in the classroom in the fall?

 

I then asked students to talk to one another about their responses. And then we talked as a group about how we can up our reading game. I explained that a few of their peers had suggested that everyone craft their own reading challenge, and I showed them mine.

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Then, I gave everyone a notecard, and they went to work. Here’s a sampling of some of my students’ personal reading challenges for the end of the year. I think they’ve decided we are playing bingo. (An interesting idea for the beginning of next year, too.)

Read a book that makes your brain hurt. That’s my favorite!

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Follow up:  I’ve met with more students the past week than I had in the three weeks prior to creating these challenge cards. I appreciate my students reminding me — and wanting me to talk to them more about their reading. The cards serve as excellent talking points for our conferences.

We can never talk to our students one-on-one enough! I know that is true, and I know we get caught up in a million other things that consumes our conferring time. I am recommitted. I want my students to leave me with a sure knowledge that they’ve advances as critical and thoughtful readers who know how to choose books they enjoy and books that challenge their thinking and their abilities. Since students came up with the idea for this little challenge, they have shown much more interest in it than other challenges I’ve created in the past. A good reminder for me. Now, I see kids standing at the books shelves, and when I ask what they are looking for or if I can help them find a book, more often than not, they tell me they need to find a book on their challenge card.

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: Reading Challenges

On Friday, I shared Jak’s reading challenge essay about Patricia McCormick’s Cut.  Today I want to share how I framed the assignment that led to his writing such a piece.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will assess their current reading comfort zone, compare their reading of their challenge book to their typical reading experience, and analyze in writing both kinds of reading.

img_0342Lesson:  With their first quarter reading ladders on hand, I’ll ask students to reflect on their goals from that ladder with their tablemates.  I expect that each table will arrive at the consensus that they wanted to challenge themselves in terms of genre or text difficulty.

With that goal in mind, I’ll booktalk several titles and explain how they might serve as challenge books–Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable might challenge a reader in terms of its topic (rape); Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See might challenge a reader in terms of its length, multiple points of view, or vocabulary; or Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods might challenge a reader in terms of its genre (nonfiction).  I’ll continue to booktalk potential challenge books throughout the quarter.

For the remainder of today’s lesson, though, I’ll ask students to hone in on what they’d like to learn as a reader in order to achieve growth through their challenge books.  In writer’s notebooks, students will list the skills they’d like to acquire, using their tablemates to help them brainstorm.  We’ll develop a shared list on the board to help give further inspiration, and students will try to find a book that might offer many of those skills (vocabulary acquisition, a new genre, organization, etc.) through booktalks, their own searches, or recommendations of friends.

Follow-Up:  Once students have selected their challenge book and completed it, they will complete three follow-up activities (listed on the handout).  Students will write a one-pager describing their reading of the text, work with a group to reflect on their growth as readers, and then present their learning, mini-booktalks, and a creative project that represents both.

How do you summatively assess your students’ reading growth?

Poetic Mini-Lessons from Real-Life Mentors

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Fiction writer Emily works with Tyler, Logan, and Willy to discuss a poem.

If your town is a university town, like mine is, there are guaranteed to be some amazing writing mentors right under your nose.  Have you taken advantage of them?

Our university’s MFA program offers courses in writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and I was lucky enough to connect with these fine folks through the Bolton Writing Workshops, which were a fantastic challenge for me to participate in.  And my students were lucky enough that several of the program’s MFA students were willing to come into our classroom and write beside them.

Our writers came to visit one of my least-poetically-inclined classes, bearing many mentor texts, three poem prompts, and two revision exercises.  They wrote beside my students and their seriousness inspired earnest effort from my kiddoes–I was so impressed.  Rarely have I seen fourth period so calm, engaged, or thoughtful.  Their method consisted of three steps–read, write, revise.

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Nonfiction writer Whit works with Dylan, Scott, Mariana, and Hailey to analyze a poem.

Read poetry.  The Bolton writers brought over 20 poems for my students to study.  A pro read the poem aloud, my students following along on their own copies at their desks.  We absorbed the language, the tone, the emotions of the poem.  The Bolton poets asked questions like:

  • “Why is the poem called this?”
  • “Do you believe this speaker?”
  • “Did you like this poem?  Why?”
  • “How many characters do we see in this poem?”
  • “What do we think of this (image, line)?”

Their language was important to me, as it created a community of writers by using the word “we,” focused on responsiveness to the poems rather than the extraction of meaning, and encouraged a variety of responses.  My students engaged with this kind of talk fully–I loved the quiet murmurings I heard as teens worked to construct meaning and understand these poems.

We read closely a variety of poems that did what we wanted to try–prose poems like “Instructions on How to Cry” by Julio Cortazar, or free verse like “The Instruction Manual” by John Ashbery, for a poem about instructions on how to do something.  Then we wrote.

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Logan’s poem about how to hunt

Write poetry.  Next came the writing–very low stakes, line-by-line, three times.  We wrote a poem where each line corresponded to a month in the year, one from the point of view of an animal, and one list of instructions on how to do something we felt expert at.

In poems with eight to twelve lines, my students wrote about hunting, death, school, love, welding, graduation, trust, and a wide variety of other topics.  Each poetic prompt allowed for a student to write about whatever was meaningful to him or her.  I loved the lovely images they produced, no matter the topics–like Logan’s “soft brass shells” in his hunting poem.

We wrote three drafts, then revised.

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Dylan’s poem about how to weld

Revise, revise, revise.  The revision process, like the writing process, was low stakes.  The Bolton writers advised my students to:

  • “Cross out your two worst lines.”
  • “Repeat your best image or line somewhere else in the poem.”
  • “Circle a line you love so we can share it.”
  • “Think about where you might add some alliteration.”

Language was celebrated, no matter how fancy or plain.  Dylan’s use of similes, metaphors, and alliteration in his poem about welding received lots of snaps.  I believe he felt comfortable sharing it because of the authentic atmosphere the professional writers created–he knew he’d be taken seriously, and his words were met with thoughtful  responses from both the Bolton poets and his fellow students.

The two-day workshop was a fantastic reminder of how simple it is to celebrate poetry in any classroom, within any timeframe, as part of any unit.  Simply read beautiful poetry, try your hand at a few drafts, then revise as much as you need to.  I loved participating in this workshop and watching my students blossom, acting and thinking and talking like serious poets.

Have you brought any writers into your classroom or school?  Please share how it went in the comments!

Mini-lesson Monday: A How-to on One Way I Teach with Short Texts

“Hey, Mrs. Rasmussen, I noticed this passage when I was reading,” Geovany said after class as he flipped a few pages in The Kite Runner and read a few lines. “That just really make me think, and it’s really nicely written.”

“And this is what I want you to understand, that good, real good, was born out of your father's remorse. Sometimes, I thing everything he did, feeding the poor on 
the streets, building the orphanage, giving money to friends in need, it was all 
his way of redeeming himself. And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, 
Amir jan, when guilt leads to good.” ~Khaled Hosseini

That might have been the passage. I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember the moment. It’s one of my favorites of the year.

Geovany did little work in my class until these book clubs. I’m not sure he finished reading even one book all fall. Although bright and capable, he is busy. He works 20 hours a week changing tires at a local auto shop, plus school with at least one AP English class. Mine. I know Geo has big hopes for his future, and I know he wishes he had a dad. He’s written a few times this year about how he wishes he had a father to mentor him, care for him — be a dad to him. So when Geovany showed me that passage in The Kite Runner, and when he explained that he’d made a connection to it, I knew all my talk about reading and noticing how authors craft language was working.

I will keep doing what I know works.

This lesson is an example of how I use what my colleagues and I call a triple play. We got the term from Penny Kittle. A triple play is when we find a passage that allows us to do three things with it:  1. have student write a personal response to the passage, 2. talk about an engaging book students might like to read, 3. study the author’s craft — not necessarily in that order. This lesson uses a passage from Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. (Actually, there’s two passages because I love them both!)

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will make observations about a text, write a response, discuss and analyze the author’s craft, and construct meaning of their own modeled after the writer’s.

Lesson: First, to give students a glimpse into the book, I introduce it by reading the cover, 18075234which has three interesting quotes:  1. “A brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frieghtening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak; then two from the book:  2. “The bottom is only the beginning.” and 3. “My feet are on safe, solid ground, but that’s just an illusion.”

I ask: What do you think this book is about? After we read a passage from this book today, analyze a little bit, and write a little bit, I hope this is a book you will want to read.

Next, I give students a copy of the passage. I read it aloud first and ask students to pay attention to anything they find interesting that the writer does with language. They almost always find the literary or rhetorical devices I hope they will. Sometimes they do not know how to name it, so this is where I teach academic vocabulary. We discuss the effect of the devices on the meaning of the passage or why the writer might have made those choices when constructing meaning. We almost always talk about tone. Depending on where we are in the school year and how much we’ve done with analysis, I may ask students to write an analytical paragraph that answers the craft study question.

Finally, I ask students to read the passage again to themselves and then write a response. Some suggestions for response prompts are at the bottom of the passages. Students have about 10-15 minutes to write. I always ask students to read over what they wrote and then revise before they share. Sometimes students share at their tables. Other times we share out as a whole group.

Follow up:  Throughout the school year, I use a variety of texts I pull from books I read from my classroom library. You’ll find other passage I’ve used if you search the categories for craft studies (or just click there).

A few times a year, I ask students to find significant passages in the books they read. Sometimes they construct their own “craft study” questions. (I especially like to do this when we read in our book clubs.) Sometimes students answer the questions they construct in formal response one-page essays.

The goal is to help students learn how to identify and analyze the moves writers make to craft meaning — and to help them practice writing using these moves as models for their own craft.

And just maybe they will make connections to a text like Geovany did to The Kite Runner.

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: Identifying & Imitating Voice

Comedy is all about voice, and we’re gearing up to notice and imitate as much voice-filled comedy as possible in the next few weeks.  When thinking about how to help students identify and craft their own written voices, I thought of a lesson Amy and I shared in Franklin a few weeks ago.

721003Objectives: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  students will make observations about a writer’s craft, identifying patterns in sentence structure, punctuation, and word choice to help define voice.  Or, in the Common Core, students will interpret words and phrases phrases as they are used in a text and analyze how [they] shape meaning or tone.

Lesson:  I’ll distribute copies of this excerpt from Peak by Roland Smith, which will serve today as both a booktalk and a mentor text.  I’ll introduce the piece as a book I loved, then segue into how it serves as an examplar of voice.

“Peak–that’s the main character’s name–is writing the whole book in the form of journals to his English teacher, so his voice is very conversational.  I found him pretty hilarious and sarcastic.

“Today we’re going to look at this excerpt from page one and try to see how Peak creates his writing voice.  Let’s all read this and annotate for craft–just notice HOW he’s saying what he’s saying.”

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After a few minutes of student annotation, which I am doing alongside them on the document camera, I’ll ask students to share their noticings in their table groups.  “Share with your tables what you notice about Peak’s sentence structure, punctuation, and word choice,” I’ll say, writing those bold terms on the board.

Once students have shared in small groups, I’ll ask each table to share out what they noticed.  As a group, we’ll arrive at some conjectures about Peak’s use of:

  • parenthetical asides to the reader
  • occasional fragments amidst his varied sentence structure
  • relaxed jargon
  • rhetorical questions.

Once we have those key terms in our notebooks, along with great examples from the text, I’ll ask students to practice using these skills.

“In this case, using these writing moves create a writer’s voice unique to Peak.  We’re going to imitate this piece now by writing a quickwrite about how we each got our own names.  Write your piece imitating Peak’s style, and use those four writing moves as you do.”

Follow-Up:  We’ll all take about eight minutes to craft our name stories, imitating Peak’s voice, in our writer’s notebooks.  We’ll share them in our small groups, then use that quickwrite as a seed prompt for a possible comedy best draft as we move through the unit.

How do you help your students craft their writers’ voices?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Storyboarding to Organize Writing

For me, narrative is central to all reading and writing.  I can find story anywhere–poetry, nonfiction, even a science report–so it’s no surprise that I teach about storyboarding a lot, both in the context of reading and writing instruction.  My students storyboard what’s happening in their independent reading novels, map out what they’ll present about through storyboards, and organize their writing using them too.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will organize the plot structure of their own narratives; create a map of their story structure, and differentiate between pacing speeds in scenes mapped out.  Or, from the Common Core, students will use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome.

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Mitchell’s narrative storyboard is reminiscent of lessons from Tom Newkirk’s Boys & Literacy class

Lesson:  Prior to this lesson, students will already have selected a narrative topic and talked it out, at least generally, with their peers.  They will be ready to create a start-to-finish storyboard for the structure of their narrative.  We will also have studied “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros to review pacing, and how to slow down and speed up scenes.

I’ll begin by modeling on the whiteboard for students.  “So, in my narrative, I want to tell the story of this pregnancy.  I want it to be kind of funny, so I’m going to focus most of my scenes on the funny parts–my husband’s and parents’ reactions when I told them, and my own reaction to figuring it out.

“So where should I begin my narrative, do you think?” I ask.

“Probably with suspecting you were pregnant,” a student chimes in.

“Yep.”  I draw a box on the board, and draw stick-figure me at my desk at school, question marks over my head, pondering whether I could be pregnant.

“Then where do I go?”

“Finding out you are for sure,” another kid says.

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Carleen’s narrative storyboard shows her addition of a flashback after partner conferencing.

“Yep.”  I draw another box next to my first one, using a directional arrow to connect them.  We go on in this vein until my storyboard is nearly complete, adding a flashback to previous disappointing pregnancy test results, and swapping the location of a scene.  Then I turn the students loose to draw their own storyboards in their notebooks.

Follow-Up:  After students have drawn their completed storyboards, I’ll ask them to find a partner to tell their story.  Often, this is where hiccups and gaps in the narrative structure are revealed–this second-draft talk.  Students will make revisions to their storyboards, and during workshop time we’ll begin writing actual scenes out in prose format.

In our next mini-lesson, we’ll choose which scenes to slow down and which to speed up, and work on various techniques to control pace.

How do you use storyboarding in your classroom?  Do you have any resources for storyboarding digitally?  Please share in the comments.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Freezing Time

dumplinIt’s -4 degrees in West Virginia today, which might explain why I’m thinking about the narrative skill of freezing time.  I’m also thinking about it because I’m reading the fantastic Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, the story of an unconventional small-town beauty pageant contestant.  As I read, I was aware of how quickly the writing hooked me–I began to look for reasons why, inspired by Writing With Mentors.  My noticing of Murphy’s freezing of time to show me the thoughts and feelings of her narrator, Willowdean, reveals two skills I’d love for my students to utilize: the skill of reading like a writer and imitating the craft they notice in their own writing.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels:  students will identify and categorize Murphy’s craft moves, then revise their own narrative drafts to apply the concepts they learned.  Or, in the language of the Common Core:  Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed); Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

Lesson:  I’ll introduce Dumplin’ during book talks by describing the plot and passing out the following excerpt:

The car behind me at the drive-thru backfires, and I rush inside.  My eyes take a second to adjust to the dim light.  “Sorry I’m late, Bo,” I say.  Bo.  The syllable bounces around in my chest and I like it.  I like the finality of a name so short.  It’s the type of name that says, Yes, I’m sure.

A heat burns inside of me as it rises all the way up through my cheeks.  I run my fingers along the line of my jaw as my feet sink into the concrete like quicksand.

The Truth:  I’ve had this hideous crush on Bo since the first time we met.  His unstyled brown hair swirls into a perfect mess at the top of his head.  And he looks ridiculous in his red and white uniform.  Like a bear in a tutu.  Polyester sleeves strain over his arms, and I think maybe his biceps and his hips have a lot in common.  Except the ability to bench-press.  A thin silver chain peeks out from the collar of his undershirt and his lips are red with artificial dye, thanks to his endless supply of red suckers.

He stretches an arm out toward me, like he might hug me.

I drag in a deep breath.

And then exhale as he stretches past me to flip the lock on the delivery door.  “Ron’s out sick, so it’s just me, you, Marcus, and Lydia.  I guess she got stuck working a double today, so ya know, heads up.”

“Thanks.”

I give students a specific purpose for reading, since we’re looking at this text as a mentor.  “While I love a lot about this book–the author’s diction, how her word choices change the narrator’s voice and reveal her personality and sense of humor, and the fantastic chemistry between Bo and Will, today I just want to pay attention to how Julie Murphy paces this scene.  As you read, you’ll notice how she just freezes time so you feel like you’re holding your breath.  Annotate how exactly she does this, and we’ll talk about it in five minutes.”

I read alongside my students, modeling notes on craft with the document camera.  After five minutes I ask them to share at their tables, very specifically, what they noticed.  Then, I solicit from each table group one craft move they saw, and where it was in the text.

“Well, dialogue kind of brings you back into the present, like at the end when Bo says something and kind of snaps Will out of her daydream,” one student offers.  I write on the board, dialogue–keeps you present.

“Awesome.  What else?”

“The long description of Bo’s appearance stops the action,” another says.

“Yep.”  I write on the board, description–freezes action.

We continue until each table has shared a craft move they’ve noticed.

“Okay, so today during workshop, I want you to think about how you might play with freezing time in your narratives.  Use what we talked about to help you revise the pacing in your scenes, and if you think Dumplin’ sounds good, add it to your what-to-read list.”

Follow-Up:  During that day’s workshop, I’ll confer with students and see where they might be strengthening existing moments of freezing time, or adding some brand new ones, in their narratives.

Later, as we finish the narrative unit, we’ll return to the anchor chart we’ve been adding to and create a rubric that reflects the skills we’ve focused on, one of which will be pacing.  I’ll also hope to see lots of students reading Dumplin’ over the coming weeks–doubling a booktalk with a craft study lesson is usually a highly effective way to get kids hooked on a book.

 

Mini-lesson Monday: Taking on the Thesis Statement

Right now, my students and I are writing spoken-word poems. I’ve wanted to play with language this way for a long time now, but finally mustered the courage — and figured out a way to make this kind of poetry fit into my AP Language goals and the needs of my students as they prepare for the AP Lang exam.

While watching and listening to many spoken-word poems, I realized that most of them are an argument, filled with not only beautifully crafted language — devices galore — but they also show craft in the use of the appeals. With the help of my student teacher, Mr. Zachery Welch, we designed a unit that centers around the rhetoric in spoken-word poems. And we are all writing our own. (This is a challenge for me, but I absolutely believe the the importance of a teacher writing beside her students. Thanks, Penny Kittle, for teaching me that!)

The performance task for this unit reads:  Craft a spoken word poem that addresses a personal conflict and/or a social issue, include rhetorical techniques and literary and rhetorical devices to convince your audience of the need for positive change. Perform your poem for the class live, or create an automated slide show with visuals, or a video recording as a way to digitally perform your poem.

This lesson stems from our work  — and the need for students to include stronger thesis statements in all of their argumentative essays.

Objective:   Using the language of the depth of knowledge levels, students will identify powerful lines in a spoken-word poem that serve as position statements. They will discuss and then categorize these statements in order of importance as it pertains to the poet’s overall theme. Students will then formulate three powerful thesis statements of their own and revise their drafts to include these powerful thesis-like lines.

Lesson:  Watch and listen to “Paper People” by Harry Baker. Ask students to pay particular attention to the lines of the poem that hold the weight of the poet’s position. They must listen carefully because Baker’s poem is primarily crafted with the alliterative “p”. Give students a copy of the lyrics, and on the second listening, having them mark specific lines they think represent Baker’s position. Then, ask students to discuss the lines they marked with their small groups. As a class, determine the line that best serves as Baker’s thesis.

Next, instruct students to write three thesis statements for their own poems. They should discuss their thesis statements within their groups and help one another develop powerful statements that hold the weight of the meaning in their poems. Then, instruct students to revise their poems, including all three of their new strong lines.

Follow up:  Students continue to revise and strengthen the arguments within their spoken-word poems. They should also remember to write three powerful thesis statements in their argumentative essays and challenge themselves to use all three in their writing.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Reader’s Response to Frame a Unit

Penny Kittle recently shared this article about the diminishing attention span of humans, thanks to the plethora of instant-gratification stimuli that burdens our plugged-in students.  I was reminded of my vow to help my kids simplify their lives, slow down their minds, and just…be.

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The unit plan Mike and I designed

All of this led my student teacher, Mike, and I to design a unit plan around mindfulness, reflection, and deep thinking.  We wanted to use all of Siddhartha, parts of Hamlet, articles like the one above, various poems, the music of Cat Stevens, activities like contour drawing, and exercises like meditation to help our students slow down and explore their minds.

 

So, today we’re launching this unit of self-reflection and self-exploration, and one of the first mini-lessons we’ll teach is a reader’s response to “The Eight Second Attention Span” article.

Objectives:  Using the language of the depth of knowledge levels, students will identify patterns in Egan’s writing that align with our unit theme, cite evidence in the text of those patterns, and synthesize Egan’s argument with our prior readings.  Or, from the Common Core:  students will read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

41drZBnWSzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Lesson:  We’ll pass out copies of the article for students to read and annotate, and they’ll also have their writer’s notebooks out.

“First,” I’ll say, “let’s read this article and just identify Egan’s argument.  What is he saying?  Underline or highlight key lines or facts that help make his point.”  We’ll read and annotate together, me using the document camera to model.

“Once you’ve figured out what Egan is saying here, go ahead and jot it down in your notebook in your own words.  What’s the gist of what he’s talking about?”

After the jot, students will talk in their table groups about the article and what they’ve noticed.  We’ll share out as a class and make sure our thinking is in sync.

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Nonlinguistic storytelling through doodles–one of my proposed solutions from my response. We’ll do this exercise later in the unit.

“Okay, so Egan ends by offering two solutions to this problem.  What are they?”  Gardening and deep reading, students will offer.

 

“Let’s write a response for a while in our notebooks and brainstorm what our own solutions to this problem would be.”

We’ll all write, me modeling once again on the document camera.  Then students will share in small groups what their proposed solutions are.

Follow-Up:  I’ll ask students to practice one of their two proposed solutions are over the course of the week, then request a one-pager reflecting on the experiment.  We’ll apply our reading of the article, our practice of deep thinking, and our reflection on all of it to our unit of study as we move forward in our exploration of our themes.

 

Mini-lesson Monday: Moving Past Identify

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?

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

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.

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