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.


  1. This is very helpful. I am a school testing coordinator investigating ways to introduce and explain the Common Core to teachers at my school. Seeing the text exemplars and ways to teach close reading make the Common Core changes more understandable.

  2. Clever ideas. Thanks for sharing.