Tag Archives: Mini-lesson: Reading

Mini-Lesson Monday: Great Sportswriting is Worth Two Reads

In fifth grade, I attended a writing workshop with sportswriter Paul Daugherty at the helm.  A columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, he encouraged we wee ten-year-olds to think about how we might revise more quickly and do our prewriting in our heads.  He spoke about his experiences writing half a story while watching a game unfold, sometimes being tempted to write the ending before the ending had even occurred.  At age ten, I found him eloquent, mysterious, and inspiring–I decided then that I wanted to be a journalist.

Although I dropped my journalism major after one year in college, I still enjoy Daughterty’s columns in the Enquirer and occasionally Sports Illustrated.  And as an adult, I see his process in his product.  The craft of Daugherty’s writing is one of the things that made me enjoy sportswriting, and now, strong pieces about America’s most-loved athletic pastimes are some of my favorite things to read.

So, when Tom Romano sent me this piece from the New York Times, I thought immediately of how students would love the “metaphorical, descriptive” writing “with quotes and assertions and a great final line.”

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Tom Romano’s great description of this piece in the Times.

Objectives: Identify patterns in the author’s writing to characterize his voice; find where the author cites evidence that supports his claims; infer the writer’s process; apply concepts of writer’s voice and strong argument writing to your own nonfiction pieces.

Lesson:  I’ll distribute copies of “Twitchy, Sweaty, but Triumphant” by Michael Powell for students to read, but I’ll also have the piece projected on the Smart Board so kids can see the great accompanying photography.

Because ’tis the season of moving past narrative and into nonfiction writing (in which we often harness the power of narrative, by the way) students will have already been immersed in a study of making claims supported by evidence, crafting a clear and purposeful structure, and maintaining a voice and style that defy the conventions of a five-paragraph you-know-what.  This article will serve as a mentor text that features all three, plus some insight into that long-ago lesson I learned from Paul Daugherty: the speed of a sportswriter’s process.

“We’ve been studying a variety of nonfiction pieces that have great style as well as strong claims–commentaries, columns, and speeches.  And here’s another example of those traits in this sports article.

“As you read it, look for the writer’s voice and the way the writer makes claims and supports them with evidence, as we’ve been doing throughout this unit,” I request.

We take ten minutes to read through the article, annotating quickly and noting writerly moves that jump out at us.  I model on the document camera, noting what I see–the unnamed players throughout the first paragraphs of the piece, creating a universal scene; the sheer entertainment of his vocabulary (words like gluttonous, beatnik, facsimile that you wouldn’t expect in a sports article); his unique turns of phrase.

I then ask students to share in table groups what they noticed about craft and claims.  After they share and we debrief, I return to the article.

“One of the things I find fascinating about sportswriting is how quickly it has to happen.  The turnaround is so quick–we spend a few weeks polishing pieces of this length, but these writers only have a few hours.”

(In keeping choice central to my curriculum, students always get to choose either their process, genre, or topic.  Because in this unit students are constrained to one genre–nonfiction–I will make an effort to help them choose their own topics and processes.  That’s wisdom I gleaned from Writing With Mentors.)

“I want to consider the writer’s process, and I found some good evidence of it:  let’s look at Powell’s tweets from during the game.”

I pull up Powell’s Twitter account and we scroll down to see his game-time tweets, many of which contain some of the same phrases  in the article: the Dead End Kids, the Lackawanna freight train rolling through, the pitchers being gassed.  Students notice these unique phrases immediately.

“What could you infer about Powell, given that this game ended at around 1:00 am and his piece ran at 9:00 am?”

I elicit students to share:  “He was already writing a bit during the game.”  “He writes sports all the time so he can already pull up a lot of the jargon quickly.”  “He really loves his subject, since he’s up watching the game and tweeting and having fun with it.”  “He’s knowledgeable about the history of these teams–maybe he did a lot of research beforehand or maybe he just knows it from writing about it a lot.”

Now, students have painted a picture of the piece’s author.  We can go into the reading warm, not cold.

“So, let’s read again, and consider his process this time,” I ask.  “Look now to see how his tweets–evidence of his prewriting–are in the article and what that teaches you about his process.”

We read the article again, a fresh purpose for reading helping us see the writer’s process come to life.  Once we’ve finished, we talk in table groups and then debrief as a whole class about the evidence we see of Powell’s writing process based on his tweets and what we know about sportswriters as a group.

These two reads give us three things:  another example of writer’s craft, more examples of claims with supporting evidence, and an example of process.


I love this great photo of the Cubs’ moment of triumph from the Wall Street Journal. 

Follow-Up:  After students read this piece, there are many opportunities for follow-up.  One is to simply have them apply its writing lessons to their own nonfiction pieces.  Another is to have a lengthy conversation on writing processes, and how they can be short yet incredibly effective–students can see that prewriting doesn’t have to take the form of a web or an outline, but that it can be tweets, too.

Daugherty’s work, the now-defunct Grantland, and The New York Times sports section are some of my favorite places  to find great sportswriting.  What are some of your favorite resources for finding great nonfiction for your students? Please share in the comments!


Mini-Lesson Monday: Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?

It’s the end of our nine weeks. Well, kinda. I have one class of English 3 students that are at midterm since they are on accelerated block, and I’ve got two classes of AP English Lang who I share with AVID every other day in a year-long class, so they are at about the 4.5 weeks mark. Talk about crazy trying to keep the pacing straight and everyone moving.

One thing I know:  All my readers need to revisit the goals they set for themselves the first week of school. We’re going to start with independent reading. I’ve seen a little too much of this lately:


Taken after exams when I suggested students use the time to read.

and not enough of this:


Daily routine: 15 minutes of independent reading

I set the standard high and ask my students to read three hours a week. This is difficult for busy teenagers who are not used to reading (and if we are honest, many are not used to completing any type of homework).

We will read this article this week “Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?” and create our personal reading challenge cards. But before we do, I want to get students thinking about themselves as readers and what reading can, and should, mean to them and what they hope to accomplish in their lives.

Objective:  Interpret a quote on the importance of reading and connect it to my own reading life; construct a plan to help me meet my reading goals.

Lesson:  Students will select up two literacy/reading quotes and glue them into their writer’s notebooks. They will then think about their reading habits over the past several weeks of school and write a response to the quotes that connects their reading experiences (or not) and begin constructing a plan on what they can do differently in the upcoming weeks to either continue to grow as readers, or start to.

Follow-up: Later in the week we will also read “The Insane Work Ethic of Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos, and 15 Other Powerful Leaders” and write a synthesis-type response using the two articles and their personal goals for reading.

Please share in the comments your ideas for getting and keeping students developing their reading lives.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Developing Social Imagination by Making Connections

imgresI’ve been reading Peter Johnston’s excellent Opening Minds with my preservice teachers, and it’s a must-read.  One of the skills Johnston says the most open-minded students possess is that of social imagination, or being able to understand “what others are feeling, to read people’s faces and expressions, to imagine different perspectives, to make sense of abstract ideas, and to reason through this.”  In other words–empathy on all levels.  It strikes me that this is both a reading skill and a life skill.

To have your students practice social imagination, as well as grapple with a complex issue, try the following mini-lesson–which I believe I’d stretch out over two class periods.

ObjectivesDistinguish the differences between meaningfulness and happiness according to the article; Connect the concepts of meaningfulness and happiness to yourself, the characters in your independent reading books, and people in the world.

Lesson: First, I’ll emphatically booktalk Viktor Frankl’s 1946 classic, Man’s Search for Meaning.  This book, written in just seven days while Frankl was imprisoned in Auschwitz, argues that life is always worth living as long as one feels they have a purpose.

Next, I’ll distribute copies of The Atlantic‘s article “There’s More to Life than Happiness,” which pairs Frankl’s book with current research on happiness vs. meaningfulness.  To give students a purpose for reading, I’ll ask them to read the article with a pen in hand, noting the differences between a happy life and a meaningful life.  

To get kids synthesizing the information, I’ll ask, “Once you’ve finished the article, answer this in your notebook for a quickwrite: which do you think is more valuable–a happy life or a meaningful life?”

The article is lengthy, and I’ll allot 30 minutes for students to read and respond in writing before we debrief.  As a whole class, we’ll have a discussion in which we focus on what the article argues, what the students believe, and how culture may have nudged us to believe those things.

imgres-1The next day in class, we’ll refer back to the article before beginning independent reading time.  “As you read today, pay attention to the characters in your book–are their lives more happy, or more meaningful?”

When we wrap up silent reading time, I’ll ask students to turn to a neighbor and tell about the characters in their book, and whether they’re happier or more purpose-driven.  This time will double as peer book recommendations as well as a quick assessment of the text-to-text connection.

After asking students to share out any really great characters they heard about (to give the class more reading recommendations), I’ll ask students to open their notebooks and quickwrite about a text-to-self connection–“is your life right now filled with happiness or meaning?  Or both?  What do you want for the future–happiness or meaningfulness?  Freewrite about this issue in general.  These responses will stay private.”

After writing, I’ll ask students to grab a post-it note and make a text-to-world connection–from their parents to friends to public figures to entire communities, countries, or cultures.  I’ll collect the post-its for a quick assessment.

Follow-Up: I’d like to return to the idea of meaningfulness vs. happiness with a reading or writing unit on the issue.  We could collaboratively study almost any novel, poem, story, or article in reading workshop through the lens of identifying purpose vs. happiness, or explore the issue further in a writing workshop geared toward either narrative, informative, or argumentative pieces.

How might you have your students consider the issue of meaningfulness vs. happiness?


Using a “Traffic Light” System to Explore Readers’ Interests and Sensitivities by Amy Estersohn

9kThis summer my social media has been clamoring about content warnings and safe(r) spaces within an academic community.  To what extent do we as educators bear responsibility for how our students respond to the material we may present to them?

I’m sure some educators probably feel that such gestures are a product of an over-coddled generation at best or somehow reduce literature to mere plot points at its worst (spoiler alert: Johnny dies), but I decided that I wanted some way of understanding my students’ emotional lives and some understanding of what topics upset them or get them excited.

On the first day of school this year, I introduced and modeled a traffic light system in response to independent reading:

Green — topics I like to read about and topics that interest me.

Yellow — sometimes I like to read about these topics, and sometimes I don’t

Red — topics that upset me.  If I come across this topic in an independent reading book, I stop reading.

I modeled a response for my seventh graders, using touchy subjects that often come up in middle grade fiction.  I described divorce as a red topic for me, autism as a yellow topic, and illness as a green topic.  

Reader responses were fascinating.  Death and illness books were by far the most divisive, with some readers describing death as a green topic and others as a red topic.  Holocaust books were similarly divisive.  Many readers described enjoying books that were “sad, but not too sad.”  Some readers identified red topics that I would have never identified on my own as a potential tough topic (e.g. car accidents, physical disfigurement.)

imgresAlso interesting was that what I know about my readers’ personal lives didn’t always square with what they wrote about their reading topics.  Some of my readers seem to want to read books that mirror their real-life struggles.  Others want to veer far away from those topics.

Based on these responses, I adjusted some of my lesson plans slightly.  I had been planning to use parts of Lisa Graff’s phenomenal Lost in the Sun as a whole-class model for character, but based on these responses, I’m not sure all of my readers would appreciate reading about survivor’s guilt as much as I did.  Instead, I’ll use parts of Jason Reynolds’s As Brave As You to teach the same concepts.

I don’t see myself swooping in to warn a student before starting a book as lovely and potentially upsetting as Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson or The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner.  However, I want to continue the conversation about red, yellow, and green topics. As independent readers, we have a right to establish limits, and when we read a part of a book that approaches or goes over our limits, we have a right to put it down and talk to somebody about what’s upsetting us.

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in Westchester County, NY.   She also reviews comic books for http://www.noflyingnotights.com.   Follow her on Twitter at @HMX_MSE.

Mini-lesson Monday: Deeper Reading


I posted this on the TTT Facebook page on Saturday, but I think it also makes for a good mini-lesson, so here goes:

I went to a session by Kelly Gallagher at #IRC2016. He shared ideas from his book Deeper Reading, combining ideas he’s using with his students now. I was reminded of his thinking around thinking from a text: What does the text say? and What does the text not say?

Gallagher shared a few images from the news, a fact statement, an ad for a truck, and he modeled how he asks his students these two questions as ways to get them thinking about their reading.

I’d heard these same ideas before, but they resonated with me again. Critical thinking matters. We cannot get thoughtful writing, if we are not helping our students to think thoughtfully through texts.

Objective: Read a visual text, make observations and inferences that push critical thinking about a text. Draw conclusions and write your thinking.

Lesson:  Tell students that critical readers don’t just pay attention to what a text says, we also must pay attention to what a text does not say. This ties into the idea that everything is an argument — sometimes overt, sometimes covert. Bias also comes into play. So to get into some critical thinking today, we’re going to watch a short video about the refugee crisis.

Draw a T-chart. Label one column with “What does it say? and the other column “What does it not say?” As you watch the video make lists that answer these two questions.

Watch the video “Your phone is now a refugee’s phone.”

After students have time to do their own thinking and writing their lists (and maybe watch the video again), have them talk in pairs or small groups about the things they noted.

Hold a short whole class discussion about what it does for our thinking when we consider what the author, or in this case, the video creator, intentionally leaves out of a text.

Follow up:  Ask students to find their own text and apply this same thinking. Tell them they can find an advertisement, a chart or graph, an info graphic, another video — any text that they can answer the following questions:

What does the text say?
What does it not say?
Why does it matter?

Continue to ask students to consider these questions with a variety of texts throughout the year. This may also serve as a good exercise to help students find writing topics. Bonus!


Do you have any videos, ads, or short text suggestions that you use in similar ways to get students thinking critically? Please share them in the comments.



Mini-Lesson Monday: First and Last Lines

In the spirit of all the books we’re giving away (winners announced tonight!), today’s mini-lesson is one of my favorites to do with independent reading books.  It celebrates the beauty and power of language, no matter the text–poetry, nonfiction, YA, award-winners, graphic novels, and more.  It also celebrates the pure joy of discovery; the launch into a new world attained only by opening to the first page of a new book.

Objectives:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will identify patterns in opening and closing lines of texts, synthesize their noticings, and draw conclusions about a text’s craft and structure.

primcacyLesson:  “Have y’all learned about the concepts of primacy and recency in psychology yet?  Who can refresh us?”

A student reminds us that the concept says that the first and last items in a series are easier and more likely to be committed to memory.

“Well, this concept isn’t just for psychology.  It applies to books too.  The first and last lines of books are the most powerful, and the most likely to stick with us.  Let’s talk in our table groups about why the first and last lines are so powerful.”

I wander the room for three minutes as students discuss, in groups of 3-4, these concepts.  They conclude that the first line often sets the tone, introduces a new world, or hooks the reader with some mystique.  The last line, they say, helps keep the reader wondering, or solves a lingering mystery, or even makes you cry.

I write these conclusions on the board, or elicit them from groups if necessary, so that we’re all on the same page.

“Okay, let’s take a look at some of our current reads and see how they can grab our attention.  Open up your independent reading book and read the first line again, and then read the very last line, too.”  (There’s always some anxiety about this, but I reassure them that last lines rarely contain plot giveaways.)


(OMG, have you read this? It exploded in popularity the last few weeks of this school year. Read it!)

I ask a few students to give me examples:

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins with “I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen,” and ends with, “We rowed faster.”  
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany opens with “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meaney,” and ends with, “I shall keep asking you.”
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August begins with “The second cataclysm began in my eleventh life, in 1996,” and concludes, “Instead, for those few days you have left, you are mortal at last.”
  • Room opens with “Today I’m five,” and ends with “Then we go out the door.”

I ask students to write for a few minutes about all that they can learn from the first and last lines, based on what they already know of the text from reading.  This is key–the lesson is much different than a simple craft study of a text they’re not already invested in, because they’re bringing lots more prior knowledge to their text analysis.

7937843I quickly model with Room, whose plot is simply explained and well known from a recent booktalk.  “I notice the sentence structure first–both lines are short, simple sentences.  Then I get a sense of the narrator’s voice, as he is obviously five years old, and that shapes how I’m going to view the text.  I also know that while they start out trapped in Room, they manage to escape somehow, either literally or figuratively, because of the last line.  I’m intrigued by all of these things, and it sets me up for what sounds like a pretty good read.”  As I talk, I note on the board the kinds of things I’m noticing–craft, tone, characterization, theme, plot, sentence structure.

Students write for five minutes about these topics.  Because they’re midway through these books, they have more knowledge of the text than just the first and last lines.  After a few minutes of writing about what they’ve noticed, I ask, “Now, how does revisiting the first line, and looking ahead to the last line, shape your reading of the text?  What do you find yourself thinking about?  What do you predict might happen?”

Follow-Up:  After students have written their reflections, I ask that they pass notebooks.  They’ll read all of their table mates’ entries, providing 2-3 mini-booktalks–a variation on speed dating.

This lesson could also be a great companion to Jackie’s mini-lesson on writing leads.

This lesson also acts as one of a series of lessons leading up to the students’ writing of a craft analysis of their independent reading books.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Notebook Passes

While we’ve written often about the value of writer’s notebooks–how to set them up and establish them as part of a learning routine–I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of sharing notebooks, creating a community space for writing, and keeping the writing process transparent.  Similar to how revision is a daily part of workshop, peer feedback is too.  It’s key that we know how to open our notebooks to other eyes so that our writing can grow its best thanks to many brains.  This mini-lesson focuses on a low-risk intro to an open notebook and its role as a workshop norm.

Objective: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, make predictions about a character’s actions and interpret  their actions thus far; create a response to a peer’s questions and inferences.

41Cx8mY2UNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Lesson:  I love to introduce students to each other’s notebooks through a shared bit of reading.  Early in the year, we’d just finished reading a selection from Fahrenheit 451 about halfway through the novel, and were all intrigued by what in the world was going on with the variety of characters.  What was Guy’s wife doing with herself all day?  Was the fire chief good or evil?  Would Guy become a reader?  Would the mechanical hound eat everyone alive?  There were more questions than answers (as is the norm in workshop, I feel), so we turned to our notebooks.

“Today, we’re going to write a letter to a character we’re fairly interested in.  Maybe you find Guy indecisive and aggravating.  Maybe you think Clarice is a great role model.  Maybe you think Ray Bradbury himself is a genius for predicting so many of today’s technological innovations.  Whoever you’d like to write to, ask them all the burning questions you have and don’t worry about the answers!”  I turn to model on the board, writing to the main character’s wife.

“Be as real as you want–I’m going to write to Millie, who lives in this trancelike state all the time, obsessed with TV and media.  She drives me nuts!  I’m going to really hit her with some hard questions.  But know that we’re going to share our letters, so don’t get too crazy.”

img_0966We’ll take 6-7 minutes to write our initial letters, and I circulate the room as kids work to select and address a character.

“Okay, time up.  Sign your letter, and then I want you to pass your notebook to the person to the left of you.  Whoever gets your notebook is going to write you back–but here’s the catch.  They have to pretend to be the character you addressed.  So if you wrote to Millie, like I did, then whoever gets your notebook will pretend to be Millie and try to answer all of your questions.”

We take a few minutes to read letters, giggle, ponder a response, and then write.  After about 5 minutes of responding, I ask students to close their in-character letters, then return the notebooks to their owners.  When kids get their notebooks back, the volume in the classroom inevitably increases–everyone loves seeing someone else’s words in their notebook, and there are questions about handwriting and the veracity of a response and shouts of laughter at someone’s humor.

“Okay, take a few minutes to read your responses, then summarize both letters with your table.  As a group, talk about all the new insights you reached about these characters.”  The classroom gets loud as everyone shares at small tables.

Follow-Up:  Once small group sharing concludes, I ask for a few volunteers to share exemplars and we discuss those characters in depth as a class.  I love this lesson because it gets students to deeply analyze characters, as well as creates a norm for notebooks as a space for shared writing.  It’s a lengthy lesson–usually consuming the quickwrite and mini-lesson portions of my class–but one that’s worth repeating frequently to get students doing deep analysis and writing to one another in a no-risk way, which lays the groundwork for more vulnerable sharing later.

As we move further into the novel, I’ll ask students to revisit these letters to see if their predictions came true or their questions proved insightful.  Further, when I collect notebooks, I can check for deep understanding of the text with these letters.

How do you use notebooks to create a shared learning space or blend reading and writing instruction?


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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.25.13 PM

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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Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.34.29 PM

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?

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.


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