Tag Archives: close reading

Using Love That Dog to Inspire Young Poets

8 Apr

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April is poetry month–you can check out my guest post on the “All Things Upper Elementary” blog to read how you can use Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog to help your students learn how to mentor off of great poets!

Primary Source Analysis: Letters

21 Apr

I found some letters from the Internment Camp period, written between a librarian named Ms. Breed and children she knew in the camps, that have been saved and archived.  They gave some insight into how the children of the camps thought about their predicament, as well as their general outlook.  It’s a little like a mini internment version of Ann Frank’s Diary.

I was thinking about how to share these with the students, and specifically how to have them make meaning from the letters (without me lecturing about each line).  We could have done a similar activity to what we did with previous primary source documents–a write around, a discussion of the letter with a partner, etc.  But I wanted to try something different.  I wanted each child to try to engage with the letters on their own before they began to work with others.

Enter Notice and Note, the new book by Kylene and Beers that I referenced a few weeks ago.  One of their strategies for close reading involves students reading and annotating the text on their own, and then discussing remaining questions or thoughts as a group.  I modified it slightly as follows:

1) Students read the text independently, annotating with a “!” or “?” things that surprise or confuse them.

2) Students re-read the text, writing down their questions if they still have them, or, if they interpret the meaning on the second reading, writing their new thought.

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3) Students share their remaining questions with the class.  We put questions on the SMARTboard, and then the kids discussed them in small groups.

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4) The class discusses the most salient questions or thoughts as a whole. 

We repeated this structure for four letters.  It was an interesting experiment.  Kids came up with questions from the literal (what does “morale” mean?) to the inferential (if there was no fence up for a period, why didn’t people try to escape?)

I liked the fact that students had to grapple with the text on their own, but also got to discuss their ideas with a group and share out with the class.  On the flip side, I probably need to do some more work modeling what kinds of things you could question.  I had a fair share of students tell me they had no questions, and then when I read a line from the letter and asked them what it meant they said, “Oh, I didn’t understand that part.”  It seems like recognizing when you’re confused is still a concept we need to work on.

Food For Thought

1 Apr

The Atlantic had an interesting article from E.D. Hirsch, reflecting on the Core Knowledge program, the Common Core, and close reading, titled, “How Two Poems Helped Launch a School Reform Movement.”  The crux of the article is the idea that the single most important factor in comprehension is prior knowledge–deep seated background knowledge.  According to Hirsch, when researching effective writers, what he ended up discovering was what made an effective reader.  The answer, was 10% technique (strategies) and 90% background knowledge.

It’s an important reminder that even though the common core recommends students learn the skill of close reading, a strong background in “core knowledge” is necessary for students to succeed.  Struggling students typically have a much narrower band of prior knowledge in traditional educational areas.  In our rush to teach students how to analyze text, we need to be careful not to forget that everything we do is tied to our prior understandings, beliefs, and feelings.  Prioritizing the strategies and “process” of reading, over the content, could do students a grave disservice.


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