Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Read Like a Writer

We are sharing our love of the written word as a part of the Superb Writers’ Blogathon. In partnership with Grammarly grammar checker, this series is bringing helpful hints to all kinds of students.

CCSS Writing Anchor Standard 5 says that students should be able to “develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing” with expectations for revision increasing with age.


Revision includes elaboration. One way to elaborate is to focus on getting your meaning across through the use of a variety of author's craft. Reading texts like a writer will help your students discover and use author's craft.

Katie Wood Ray in her book Wonderous Words says,
When we read with the eyes and ears of a writer, we focus less on what the writer is trying to say and more on how the writer is saying it. Specifically, we look at the craft moves the writer makes to get his or her message across and the way those moves affect us as readers.  When we notice an author’s intentional use of craft we have a window into the mind of the writer and we can begin to teach our students how to use these techniques in their own writing and stand on the shoulders of professional writers.
It is during close re-readings of texts that you can shift your instructional focus from what the piece is about to how the author wrote it. This type of reading will help students apprentice themselves to great writers, taking apart the writing to see what they can learn from it.  

Reading like a writer does not come naturally to everyone. In his book, LIVE Writing, Ralph Fletcher compares it to watching a magic trick.
Don't be surprised if this kind of reading feels new and awkward at first. It may be a kind of reading you've never done before. Then again, you may not respond to a piece of writing in the same way I do. That's okay. Writing is not an exact science. Each of us will learn something different from the same piece of writing. Reading like a writer is like watching a magic act. The magician cuts a rope into three pieces, puts it into a hat, wave the wand, and pulls it out:  Presto! The rope is back in one piece!  Our first reaction to a magic trick is: "Whoa! Awesome!" But that is quickly followed by a second reaction: "How did he do that?" And a split second later there is usually a third reaction:  "Do it again so I can figure out how to do it myself."
How do you teach students to read this way? Use the CCSS Language Arts standards to provide you and your students a focus for the close reading.

Here is an example. 

The focus of this series of lessons will be CCSS Anchor Standards W-5, RL-4 and L-5a, more specifically grade 5, with the goal of having students recognize and interpret figurative language and to then be able to elaborate in their writing using what they’ve learned. We are going to focus on metaphors, similes, and personification.

We chose the book Owl Moon because it is so rich in figurative language. If you haven’t read the book before, make sure that you first read it to your students for enjoyment. After the first read, ask "What did you think? Did you like it? What were you thinking about or wondering as I read it?" 

Explain to students that they will now be reading the story again but this time like a writer. During the first re-reading, ask students to highlight words and phrases that help them to  see, feel, and hear what is going on in the story.  "What are the words that helped you feel like you are right there, in the story?" Then ask students to turn and talk with a partner. "Tell your partner what the word/phrases were and tell him or her what the word/phrase did for you as a reader." This important step helps students to not only solidify their own understanding but to also gain another person’s perspective.

Introduce similes and metaphors as one of the techniques that authors use. Ask students to go back to their highlighted phrases and find metaphors or similes. Have them share whole class. Create a list of the metaphors and similes they've found. Explain to students that they will be creating a writing tool for the class writing center, a Similes and Metaphor book.

Using 8 1/2 x 11 paper, have students make a ¾ Book Foldable®.  On the inside of the left tab, students will write one of the similes or metaphors. (the snow below it was whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl ) On the outside of the upper right tab students will write the comparison (snow is being compared to milk in a cereal bowl), underneath the right tab, write the interpretation of the metaphor or simile (It means that the snow is very white and clean looking) and on the bottom of the right side, draw an image of the simile or metaphor. Glue all of the students ¾ books side by side to make the class Similes and Metaphors book.

Next, assign partners pages from a previously read chapter book. We like The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, which is filled with rich figurative language. With a partner, they will locate more similes and metaphors, and create additional ¾ books of their favorites for the class side- by-side book. Be sure to provide time for students to share. 

Create a 2 Tab Foldable® for the last page of the book. Glue it side by side to the last 3/4 book. Label one tab similes and one tab metaphors. Tell students that they are going to find similes and metaphors in all of the great books that they are reading and that you'd like them to keep adding similes and metaphors to the class book. They can collect them under the tabs on this last page (or pages if you need more).

Have students read a piece of writing that they’ve been working on to a peer. Together they will find places where the writer could elaborate with similes or metaphors and then add similes or metaphors to the piece.

After these introductory lessons, continue to observe your students' understanding and use of figurative language. Are they noticing similes and metaphors in the texts they read? Are they able to interpret what they mean and what impact they have on the reader? Are they using similes and metaphors in their own writing?

We've created a formative assessment tool to help you monitor the progress of your students and ensure the implementation of the targeted standards. We developed a progress map using the The National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment (NCIEA) Learning Progressions Frameworks. The Learning Progressions Frameworks was designed for use with the Common Core State Standards. They help you see your students along a continuum of learning, rather than simply seeing some students “behind” in their learning (Hess, 2008a). To use the assessment tool, look for evidence of your students demonstrating the descriptors/progress indicators. Jot down the evidence underneath the descriptors/progress indicator that is being demonstrated by the student on the progress map.  

The next step would be for students to repeat this process looking for the figurative language of personification.

Check out Dinah-Might Adventures for directions for the 3/4 Book Foldable® and other Foldable® ideas.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Unfolding the Common Core

These days we are expected to implement the Common Core State Standards. Well, at least forty-five states have adopted them so far. So, over the next series of blog posts, we will be focusing on a variety of Foldables® that can help you teach in ways that will bring your students to the the Common Core Standards' level of work in reading. There are 10 Common Core State Anchor Standards for Reading and they progress through the grades with the goal of ensuring that all students are college and career ready in literacy by the time they leave high school.  

The CCSS requires that:
“Students cite specific evidence when offering an oral or written presentation of a text. They use relevant evidence when supporting their own points in writing and speaking, making their reasoning clear to the reader or listener, and they constructively evaluate others’ use of evidence.” (CCSS for ELA and Literacy inHistory/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, Introduction, p.7)

Therefore, the focus of each of our posts will be on CCSS Reading Anchor Standard 1, 
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text, as it serves another Reading Anchor Standard. 

This post will target Anchor Standard 3, more specifically grades 3-5, with the goal of describing characters, drawing on specific details in the text which students will then use to support their thinking when writing or speaking.

We will show you how we did the lesson for grade 4 but depending on your focus at your grade level you can modify it to fit your needs.

But, before we begin, we want to share a quote that truly resonates with us.
“The ultimate purpose of reading literature is to explore what kind of person we want to be as well as how to become that kind of person and avoid becoming something else.  That’s why we love literature and find it such a powerful pursuit to undertake with the students. We think that the lessons on understanding character … help students experience something of the feelings about literature that we have.  That’s an important goal – one that’s well worth the effort to achieve.” (Smith &Wilhelm. Literary Elements. New York: Scholastic, 2010, p.59)

We used this quote because we couldn’t have said it any better ourselves.  The standard as it stands alone is an important reading skill and could easily be taught in isolation. But teaching students in a way that involves them in learning from the characters in stories and looking to books for insights about themselves and the lives of others gives them purpose for reading. We love the impact that literature can have on our own lives in that our own learning about life can be enhanced through our reading about the lives of the characters in books.

So, how can teachers help their students to understand the importance of really knowing the characters, learning about their own lives as they read about the lives of others?  Well, we hope that the strategies that we are providing in this post will be a good beginning.     

The following activity uses a Foldable® template found in Dinah Zike's Notebooking Central: Notebook Foldables®: Literature Response Including Literature Circles.

We used this lesson in a literature unit that uses the book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, as an anchor text. Students explore the essential questions; How did I become who I am today? What will influence who I become? as they closely study the journey of fictional characters, keeping track of the effects that each significant encounter with an event or character has on him or her. It is critical in this unit that students understand the characters fully in the beginning of the story.

In this lesson, students begin by re-reading closely part of the story to find textual clues about the main characters. Then they use those clues to make inferences about the character's personalities, beliefs, values, and emotions.

Close Reading:  Minli Characterization Clues 

Begin by showing students how to fold, glue, and cut the Characterization Clues Foldable®. First, cut out the Foldable® along the outer solid double lines. The “Clues” column on the left is the anchor tab to be glued down into their notebooks. After gluing into their notebooks, show students how to fold along the dotted line and cut the rows up to the dotted line. 

Pass out packets made up of pages 2-4 and pages 8-15 from the book. We chose these pages from the beginning of the story because there are many character clues about Minli. Students will need a pink highlighter. Introduce the activity by asking students how well do they think they know Minli so far? Say, "Did you realize that the better you know the characters in the story the more you will get out of the book? Really knowing the characters not only helps you better understand the story but it also makes it more enjoyable." Tell students that authors leave clues in the story that help readers get to know their characters. Say “Today we are going to get to know Minli by being reading detectives. We are going to find the character clues that the author has left.” 

Begin to closely read the first page together. Project the story either  using a document camera, overhead or SMART Board so students can follow as you model. Ask students to help you look for clues that the author leaves that reveal information about Minli. Refer to the headings on the left of the Characterization Clues Foldable®. Begin by looking for those clues about the character that the the writer tells us directly, then move onto the other clues;  the writer tells us the words the character speaks, the writer tells us the character’s thoughts and feelings, the writer tells us the character’s actions, and the writer tells us how others react to the character. 

As you look for clues, first model as students follow along and highlight the clues you’ve found, then gradually release responsibility to the students. For example, ask students to read the next paragraph to themselves or with a partner, highlighting the clues they found and then have them share with the class. 

Sort the Characterization Clues. 

Work with the students to sort the highlighted information found during their Close Reading under the appropriate clue types on the Characterization Clues Foldable®. There is room for only two examples for each type of clue. Have students individually decide which clues they think are the most important to put under the tabs and explain why. As they sort, discuss what they are learning about Minli from the clues. 

Partners: Ma and Ba Characterization Clues 

Assign partners for either Ma or Ba. Have students use yellow for Ma and green for Ba. Their task is to highlight clues and sort them into another Characterization Clues Foldable® that they’ve cut, folded and glued into their notebooks. When finished, have groups report out.

Make the Characterization Bulletin Board. 

To make the bulletin board display, ask for volunteers to draw the main characters they have encountered in the story so far, Minli, Ma, and Ba.  Arrange the characters on a bulletin board.

Create an Envelope Foldable® for each character. You can find directions for how to make an Envelope Foldable® in any of Dinah Zike's books. Label each tab on the Envelope Foldables® with the following: Feelings, Character Traits, What He/She Believes, What He/She Cares About. Staple the Envelope Foldables® next to the pictures of the characters on the bulletin board. Depending on your goals, you can use this board in a variety of ways. You can use it to display the characterization of each of the main characters, to keep track of the relationships between the characters, to compare and contrast characters, or as in our case, to follow the characters' journeys in the story, noting the impact that significant people and events have on them.

Character Envelope Foldables®  

Together, discuss and fill in under the tabs on the Envelope Foldable® for Minli, using the textual evidence that the students have collected in their notebook Characterization Clues Foldable®. Be sure students can support their ideas with evidence from the text. 

Divide students into groups of four, made up of two students who have collected clues about Ma and two students who have collected clues about Ba. In their groups, have them create two Envelope Foldables® like the ones on the board, one for Ma and one for Ba. Give the group about 15 minutes to fill in the information under the tabs, using the evidence they collected in the Characterization Clues Foldables®. After groups have completed their Foldables®, share whole class and combine their ideas into the Ma and Ba Foldables® on the bulletin board. 

Later in the story, students will encounter the Dragon, another main character. Use this as an assessment opportunity and have students individually find evidence, fill out a Characterization Clues Foldable® and make an Envelope Foldable®

A Note About the Text

Where the Mountain Meets the MoonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is one of the 4-5 text exemplars list in Appendix B  of the CCSS. Be sure to read our earlier post about this book, Hero's Quest Shutterfold  Foldable® Project.