Tag Archives: Mini-lesson: Reading

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.

Mini-lesson Monday: Thinking about Complexity

Many of my writers seem stuck in simple sentences. I think this has something to do with their reading fluency. When I ask them to read me a few lines out loud, they read in monotone with faltering phrases and seemingly little knowledge of the workings of punctuation. One of the best assessment tools I have for knowing what my readers need to help them become better writers is these few moments of one-on-one read alouds– them to me — in conferences. These conferences also remind me how closely my reading and writing instruction must be aligned. If my students cannot read well, I cannot really expect them to write well. (And it shows the huge variance of abilities in my AP Language classes.)

In an effort to move my readers and writers into more complexity, and to get them to start paying more attention to sentence structure in their independent reading, I know I must expect them to take action with what they learn. But I do not want to mandate anything I cannot keep up with, nor anything that will make students not want to read. So I decide to start a new challenge with our “quotes board” — the one that’s remained largely empty for most of this year.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels students will recognize and identify interesting and complex sentence structures; they will then copy the sentence into their writer’s notebooks and/or onto a notecard to use it as a mentor; then in their weekly blog posts, they will write and practice their craft, including at least one beautifully constructed sentence in their post. (If they choose to share their mentor sentence, they will pin it to our “quotes board” to display it for the week.)

Lesson:  First, I remind students that we’ve talked about sentence boundaries and sentence structure since the beginning of the year. I tell them that today we’re going to learn two different types of sentences:  periodic, and loose or cumulative, and look at how writers link details and ideas within sentences that create description and often rhythm.

I say, “We are going to study sentences from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Doerr is our writing coach for the week. Let’s see what we can learn about writing more interesting sentences.”

I project the loose sentence, and we talk about where the independent clause lies within it. “How do all the details trailing off of the main idea make the sentence more interesting? What do you notice?”

loose sentence 1

After we’ve discussed the loose sentence, and I feel like students understand what makes it loose and how to identify this type of sentence, we move to the periodic sentence.

I project the following periodic sentence, and we talk about where the independent clause lies within it. “Why put the main idea of the sentence at the end?” I ask.

periodic sentence 1

We discuss why the author might have chosen to craft the sentence this way. “What does putting the main clause of the sentence at the end do for the meaning?” I ask.

Next, we study a few other beautifully crafted sentences I pulled from the novel. (There are so many!) Each time encouraging students to talk with one another to first identify the independent clause and then determine if the sentence is loose or periodic or an interesting combination. I remind them to discuss the meaning of the sentence and why the structure might matter.

We study.

beautiful sentence

and

beautiful sentence 2

And before we move into searching for loose and/or periodic sentences in our own independent reading books, I ask students to practice reading these four sentences aloud to one another.

“Pay attention to the rhythm of the sentence and what the punctuation does to create that rhythm,” I say. I give them a few moments to read sentences to one another at their tables. Low stakes. They know one another well, and there is no pressure. They help each other read, which is exactly what I want in my community of learners.

Follow up: I ask students to pay attention to the sentences in their independent reading books. “Watch for loose or periodic sentences,” I say, “and here’s the challenge:   When you find one, write it out on a notecard, and post it on the quotes board. Let’s see how many of these beautiful sentences we can collect this week.”

And remember to write at least one loose or periodic sentence in your blog post this week. Let’s work on crafting beautiful sentences like Doerr in our own works.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Plot Pyramids in Reading and Writing

2000px-Freytags_pyramid.svgThis year I experimented with literature circles to not only explore four of the popular whole class reads associated with our ninth grade curriculum but to also inject some choice into the required reading.  This was my first time attempting literature circles and while I recognized the potential struggles, my hope was to inspire open conversations about these complex and challenging texts.  In the past, class conversations with my students were dead and lackluster.  They were oftentimes reduced to leading plot-based questions. This year though, I couldn’t take a second quarter of policing reading, empty conversations, and painful silences, which meant I opened class time to small group conversation and taught reading skills through mini-lessons.  My classroom shifted from teacher-centered lessons on books to student-centered conversations on reading.

Objectives: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will draw, identify, and label the multiple components of Freytag’s Pyramid.  They will construct a plot pyramid using class notes and apply the concepts learned within the mini-lesson to construct their own plot pyramid based on their literature circle’s chosen book.  Students will summarize the moments within the book that coordinate with the various points on the plot pyramid, citing evidence from their book to support their analysis.  Finally, using guiding questions, students will discuss and critique the author’s use of plot to move the story forward.

 Lesson:  I began class with a recap on Freytag’s Pyramid.  Many of my students had seen this traditional plot triangle in sixth grade but hadn’t revisited the concept since then.    They understood that plot provides the backbone of the story, yet to them, plots looked rather one-dimensional, rising perfectly at a 45-degree angle, peaking smack in the center of the story through one climax, then cleanly declining at the same 45-degree angle.

Avid readers know this is far from the case: if every book had the stereotypical plot-triangle-shape, there’d be no sense in reading.  It would be as perfectly predictable as Hallmark’s line of holiday movies (although I admit I love them just the same).  Good readers understand that plots are messy; they jut out at multiple angles, taking longer to rise in some cases or providing a false climax only to plateau and eventually rise farther.

IMG_1288I typically like to use novels I am currently reading and/or studying to model my analysis of plot.  This year I discussed Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison as an episodic novel since I am studying it with my AP Literature students.  Other options include previously studied short stories, whole class reads, or popular novels-turned-films.

I then provide students with time and guiding questions to draw and create their own plot triangle that they will then present to the class.  As they chart their plots providing explanations and evidence, they must also answer the following: What makes your plot shape distinctive? How might it differ from other books you’ve read?  What is the climax? How did your group decide on the climax? Why do you think the author decided to place the climax where they did?  How did the structure impact your personal reading of the piece?  Did the structure create suspense or the did the rising action last too long?

The conversation part of this is key; my students’ success derived directly from their ability to sit with their peers and draw out the plot’s structure.  In the end, many students struggled with distinctly placing the climax.  This gave me time to sit with groups and help guide their understanding.  They had deep conversations over the artistic choices of their authors, arguing that Golding could have decreased his rising action in Lord of the Flies or that Steinbeck’s decision to place Lennie’s death at the end of Of Mice and Men had the greatest impact.

Some students claimed that there were multiple climaxes in their novels while others were adamant that only one existed.  These discussions culminated in consensus, which students then shared with their peers. In the end, each group arrived with a firmer understanding of how plot can guide readers through suspense, excitement, and tragedy.

Follow-Up: This mini-lesson is two-fold.  It serves as a basis for deeper literary analysis, but it also provides a starting point for my next free writing unit.  Over the next couple weeks, students will harvest an idea from their writer’s notebooks, workshop the pieces, and finalize them prior to the holiday.

Using their knowledge of plot from our literature circles, they will apply these concepts to their own stories, completing exercises from The Plot Whisperer Workbook by Martha Alderson to help structure their narratives, fiction, and poetry.  I’m hoping that this recycled mini-lesson and common concepts will reinforce the interconnectedness of reading, writing, and craft.

How do you approach plot with your students? What mini-lessons do you make a point of revisiting throughout your year?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Introducing Thematic Units through Poetry

d284bf40a1804c66d4fff674f59b350eSince the Freshman English curriculum is set up thematically, I like to introduce quarter themes through poetry.  While I love the quarter’s discussion of larger themes, students oftentimes lose the goal, purpose, or relevance of these themes as the quarter progresses.

In turn, I make it a point to introduce the quarter’s themes independently as a pre-reading exercise.  Instead of asking questions specifically about lit circle or whole class novels, I lead in with poetry that will help students begin teasing out the bigger ideas from the beginning.

Objectives: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will identify the central theme of the poem “Trolls” by Shane Koyczan, stating its message, and quoting from the text.  They will interpret the meaning through individual quick writes and group discussions, and they will apply the concepts learned from their discussions to the books they are currently reading in literature circles.

Lesson: The Freshman Team’s Quarter two theme is “darkness of man’s heart,” which I introduced this year through Shane Koyczan’s poem “Trolls.”  The purpose of this quick write is threefold: it introduces students to denotation and connotation; it allows us to discuss second person point of view, and it provides a smooth transition into our quarter theme.

First I hand out the printed copy of “Trolls” and I play the video for students.  Students then perform a five-minute quick write to the poem by either pulling an idea or a quote from the poem and using it as a sentence starter or by responding to the poem as a whole.  Regardless of their method, their goal is to connect pencil to paper for a full five minutes until I tell them to finish up their line.  During this time I model my own writing on my document projector.  Our quick write time is followed by two minutes of Kelly Gallagher’s “RADaR marks” in which students return to their writing, colored pencils in hand, to quickly review and revise their work.

I love the immediate reaction and rawness of their writing in these moments, which makes it the perfect time to turn and talk within our groups.  I first model my writing then ask students to share theirs, urging them to read at least one line from their responses.  These quick writes provide the necessary steps to build a writer’s community.  The more students share these tidbits, the more willingly the engage in the writing process with each other at every step.

It is these individual discussions that lead to greater questions about Koyczan’s use of denotation and connotation to describe both mythical trolls and Internet trolls.  We talk about his intentions in starting the poem with the fairytale line of “Once upon a time” as well as his reliance on second person to not only garner solidarity with his audience but to attack cyberbullies.

Once we’re done discussing the intricacies of the language, I send them back to their groups to contemplate what Koyczan has to say about the darkness of man’s heart.  Starting with poetry allows them to grapple with major themes in a small burst.  Spoken word poetry plants these ideas before they even begin to delve into more complex novels.

Follow Up: This quarter is the first time I have done literature circles.  My students chose from Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, or a combination between Of Mice and Men and Animal Farm.  I used Koyczan’s poem to practice our literature circle roles and then to use our roles as a basis for discussion in the literature circle groups.

Because “Trolls” was short, accessible piece, students were able to discuss the theme before we even began our reading of our exploration of our lit circle books.  That being said, this process of discussion, while simple, allows students to explore themes, thus building the necessary foundation for them to further examine these themes within their novels.

Here are some additional poems to pair with literature themes:

Theme: Loss of Innocence—Poem: “Jellyfish” by Sarah Kay

Theme: Individual and Society—Poem: “To This Day” by Shane Koyczan

Theme: Identity—Poem: “Names” by Rachel Rostad or “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar paired with “Masks”  by Shel Silverstein,

Theme: Love—Poem: “How Falling Love is Like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali

Theme: Coming of Age—Poem: “On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins

Theme: Invasion of Technology—Poem: “Look Up” by Gary Turk

What theme-poem pairings do you use in your classroom?  What suggestions would you add to this list?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Sentence Boundaries and Adding Some Variety

Sorry, I forgot to record the book’s title.

Even the students in my AP English class struggle with correct punctuation and varying their sentences. In one-on-one conferences, I’ve started to remind them more often to pay attention to how the author of their self-selected books craft meaning. I used to get glossy-eyed blank stares, but students are beginning to understand that writers make intentional moves to draw us in, and keep us within, the pages of their books.

“As a writer, you must do that, too,” I remind them.

This lesson grew out of a conferring conversation with a student who told me:  “I just do not understand all the comma and semicolon stuff, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say in my writing.”

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will recognize the sentence boundaries and the variety of sentence structures in their self-selected books. They will make observations about the author’s use of punctuation in these sentences, assessing the writer’s effectiveness in crafting meaning. Students will then use their author as a mentor as they apply their knowledge of sentence boundaries and sentence variety and create, revise, and rewrite sentences in their own pieces of writing. Finally, through peer-to-peer conferring, students will evaluate the accuracy and effectiveness of one another’s sentences.

Lesson:  Every student needs their independent reading book. If a student is reading a book of poems, or a graphic novel without many sentences, you will want to supply a stand in book for this lesson or ask the student to find a book she’s previously read.

Tell students that you’ve noticed in their writing that they are ready to make their sentences more sophisticated. Correctness is one way to do this. Varying the length of sentences is another way. Instruct students to turn to a random page in their books, say page 51. Ask them to read the page in search of one long sentence and one short sentence. Give students sentence stips or blank paper and have them write out the sentences they find in their books. They should spell and punctuate the sentences exactly like the author does.

sentence boundaries lessonNext, in small groups, ask students to discuss with one another the structure of the sentences. They might put all the short sentences together and compare them. Then they might put the long sentences together and look at how the authors use commas to separate ideas. Some students will know more about grammatical terms than others, and that is okay. The idea is to get students noticing how writers compose within the boundaries of standard English and to get them to understand how punctuation works to craft meaning. Ask questions that help them discover why boundaries and variety work to produce effective writing.

You may choose to have students imitate the sentences they chose from their books. Imitation is a useful tool for many writers.

Using self-selected books, not just to practice wide reading, but to teach students to read like writers, adds an important element to the workshop classroom. Our writing improves when we take the time to notice and apply the skills of professional writers.

Follow up:  Have students review a piece of their own writing. The writing can be in any stage of the writing process. They should study their writing to evaluate their use of sentence boundaries and variety. Encourage students to revise their writing as necessary, remembering to use the author of their books as their mentors.

Extension:  This lesson works to have students study leads, similar to what Jackie wrote about in the mini-lesson Pick up Lines and Leads. It also works to have students search their books for sentences that include imagery.

 

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

Mini-lesson Monday: Exploring a Page’s White Space in the Writer’s Workshop

PrintCircling the room, I hand out books in preparation for book speed dating. I place Ellen Hopkins’ Crank on a student’s desk.

“There’s no way I’m reading this,” she mutters to her friend. “This thing is huge.”

“Open it up.” I turn towards her, waiting for her to crack the book. She flips to a page and realizes the entire book is in verse. She flips again and again, every page has a minimalist feel, the text spread out, placing emphasis on each word within the sea of white. The sheer length of the book disappears and she is sucked into Hopkins’ narrative.

The more time I spend with teenagers, the more I value the use of that essential “white space.” I love book talking Patricia McCormick’s Sold or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; despite their complex and emotional content, the books are instantly more accessible simply because of their unique structure.

This is why when we discuss paragraph breaks in writing and aesthetics and structure in reading, we also discuss the glory of giving the reader’s eye a break.

Objectives: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will recognize the use of white space within a piece of writing. They will make observations about the author’s use of this tactic, assessing the writer’s effectiveness in employing the use of white space. Finally, use choice reading and whole class examples as mentor texts, they will practice using white space within their own writing by formulating paragraphs at various lengths, revising these paragraphs through peer conferencing, and applying this craft in future writing assignments.

Lesson: Divide students into groups of three or four and have them open up their independent reading books to any page. Ask them to brainstorm what they see based on the page—tell them not to look at content, but instead the structure of the page—the text, paragraph breaks, and length. Have them compare their pages to each other, noting the similarities and differences. Once they have completed this, bring them back together into a whole class discussion. While they discuss their observations, compile a list on the board of what they noticed.

I love to breathe life into authors and remind students that a writer consciously makes decisions on the craft of their pieces. In turn, I have them to return to the structure of their page, focusing mostly on the line breaks, white space, and the spacing and formatting of the text in general. They reflect on this in their writer’s notebook, asking themselves: why do you think the author made this decision? What did they want the reader to think and/or experience?

IMG_2906Following their reflection, we return to discuss their individual pages as a class. Students volunteer to share why their author might have made the stylistic or structural decisions they did, which in turn, inspires other students to reflect further on their own page choices.

We discuss “one sentence paragraphs” and how they stand out surrounded by the white space of heavier paragraphs. They explore how white space can frame longer paragraphs and why exactly writers might use longer paragraphs to convey their point or tell a denser story. We notice how the white space of line breaks can show the passing of time and why it is important for readers to visually have a moment to internalize this time lapse. And finally, as readers, we share how we respond to cramped passages versus double spaced books.

The process of using choice books paired with class discussion helps students recognize the value of their role as a reader as well as how they can utilize these methods within their own writing.

Following our discussion, I take a few minutes to reinforce the points we’ve made either on the white board or through a prepared PowerPoint. These slides provide visual examples from books I am currently reading as well as some tips for applying this knowledge to our own writing.

Follow-Up: At the beginning of the year, students complete a snapshot narrative followed by a longer personal narrative. Using the mentor examples as well as the examples from our choice reading, we look at how we can integrate white space into our own pieces either through line breaks, diverse paragraph lengths, or one-sentence paragraphs. Based on this mini-lesson, they can also trade narratives and provide peer feedback to one another.

What are some mini-lessons you use to help students analyzing the structure of books? How do you help them integrate these observations into their own writing?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Self-Monitoring Reading Homework

It’s the fourth week of school, and some students are starting to panic as their weekly reading homework grades are showing up in our online gradebook.  When they come to me, concerned, I ask, “Have you been doing your reading homework?”

Sheepish grins, embarrassed blushes, and nervous giggles follow.  I know I need to give my students some tangible reminder of why they need to be reading two hours per week.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Calculate how much you can read in two hours; Estimate how your reading rate will change over a two-hour time period; Assess your own reading fluency and growth.  Or, from the Common Core: Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

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Shailyn, Justin, and Mrs. Karnes’ paint strip bookmarks

Lesson — We begin class, as always, with independent reading.  I ask students to pay attention to what page they’re starting on and start a timer for 15 minutes on the board.

At the end of the 15-minute reading period, I ask students to count the number of pages read and multiply that number by eight to calculate their reading rate.  They complete their calculations and jot down their reading rates as I pass out paint strips and Sharpies.

“Today I want to remind one another about the importance of frequent reading.  We can’t become better readers without lots of practice reading, which is why your weekly homework is to read for two hours.  So, we’re going to make some bookmarks reminding us why we read, and also reminding us how much we should be reading.”

I ask students to take out their phones and look up a quote about reading.  Once we all choose quotes, I model on the document camera, writing my chosen quote on my own paint strip.  Students grab some Sharpies and a paint strip in their favorite color and doodle their quotes on their paint strip bookmarks.

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Students modify their reading rates in the Reading Rate column

“Once you’ve gotten your quote down, add your reading rate to your paint strip, nice and small.  You’ll want to change your reading rate whenever you switch books, and you’ll also want to note your new reading rates on the log sheet as it goes around each day.”

Then, I ask students to think about what might happen to their reading rates over time.  Jared predicts, “I think if I sit down for a solid two hours and read, I might read more than my reading rate.  When I really get going I can read pretty fast.”  Shailyn predicts, “My reading rate will increase…majorly!”

“What about if you read a harder book?” I ask.

“Um, I think I’d probably start out slow at the beginning, but as I get into the book, I’ll read it faster,” Shailyn adds.

“Awesome,” I say.  “We’ll have to see what happens.  So, as you use your bookmarks in the coming weeks, keep an eye on how your reading rate changes week to week, and how quickly or slowly you read your required number of pages.  I’ll check in with you in reading conferences soon.”

Follow-Up — Now that students have a tangible reminder of their reading homework to use as a bookmark, they can hold themselves more accountable.  The quotes give them a rationale for reading, and the written reading rates give them a reminder of their reading goals.  By self-monitoring both, students can assess their own reading progress far better than I can, and we’ll confer about that self-assessment during class for weeks to come.

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