May 20, 2014

Checking Authenticity of Text Details

On a weekly basis, I try to have my students do a more formal "writing about reading."  I learn a lot about my students through reading their responses about who they are as readers AND writers.  It's kind of like a double bang for your buck.  A couple of weeks ago, I did a writing about reading minilesson that just happened to be my favorite to date for this school year.  For step one, I had my students conduct a mini research on questions they had about their books.  I'd love to share it with you! :)

I'm a big believer for classroom management purposes to get students on task doing something right when they walk in the door.  My students know to grab their Word Study Notebooks and begin working on the "Do Now."  One of the activities I do for a "Do Now" is "Sentence Stalking."  Ever since reading Jeff Anderson's amazing book, Mechanically Inclined, I have turned my students into sentence stalkers.  Instead of D.O.L. where students are looking at what's wrong with a sentence which contains an unnatural amount of errors, students look at what's right or what is.  I pull sentences directly from our Interactive Read Aloud from the section we're reading that day so that students recognize the sentence when we get to it in the reading.  

Through consistent sentence stalking this year, my students have taken on "grammar language," and I also feel they have a much deeper understanding of why things are the way they are.  Often on grammar worksheets and drills, sentences are lined up in a formulaic way that make it easy to understand why, for example, a comma belongs in the sentence.  However, pulling a sentence out of the book isn't always as "clean" as a grammar worksheet.  

There have been many times this year where we have had a class debate on the purpose of a comma in a particular sentence.  There are some blurry lines when you go outside of the comfort zone of a worksheet where maybe there isn't a clear-cut answer.  The beauty of it though?  I have 8th grade students arguing about the purpose of why an author included a comma in a sentence.  Passionately I might add.  Most are able to explain to each other and to me during peer and writing conferences why they, as authors, include the punctuation and capitalization that they do in their own writing.

Our next routine as a class that we have maintained this year is to do an Interactive Read Aloud for 10 minutes or so a day.  I can't say enough how much an IRA routine this year has unified us as a class and really made my teaching during minilessons with modeling using our current IRA so much more effective.  Water for Elephants is a book that has varying sentence structures, realistic dialogue with well-crafted dialogue tags, high vocabulary, and a lot of descriptive/figurative language.  By reading sections of the text to my students (skipping a few of the scenes with sexual content), they were able to get the full plot line and get the benefit of a story filled with rich themes, symbols, and characters.

Students begin by jotting down the minilesson statement in their Reader's Notebooks.  For this particular minilesson, students focused on evaluating the author's details to see if they are consistent with real life.  Students write and discuss the minilesson so that the learning target for the day is clear.

I modeled this concept to my students by forming questions I had in relation to the authentic details Sara Gruen used about traveling circuses during The Great Depression Era.

I then modeled to students websites I found containing information to answer my questions.  We discussed how I formulated a search term to look for answers to my questions, and I showed them how I pulled information from the articles to answer the questions.

Sometimes, as teachers, we assume students just know what to do.  We say things like, "They're in eighth grade, they should know how to do that."  One of my most important takeaways over the last few years as a literacy coach and classroom teacher is a little modeling can go a long way.  Modeling should be brief and explicit, but it should always be part of teaching using the gradual release of responsibility.  When a minilesson is focused on one specific reading or writing skill, and that reading/writing skill is modeled, students have a much greater chance of taking on that skill independently.  

Continuing with the gradual release, students have a chance to work on formulating questions with a partner before moving into independent practice.

Students then take on the skill independently during the application portion of the minilesson.  This time allows me to then meet with small groups of students for guided reading or literature study while the rest of the class works on their application from the minilesson.

The minilesson concludes with a share.  Sharing is essential in getting students to form a community within a classroom and to make learning valuable to one another.

Students absolutely loved this minilesson.  It was so fun to hear the questions they had and what they found out through the research process of searching for the answers to their questions.  This is a minilesson that would work especially well for realistic fiction and historical fiction books.

Happy minilesson planning! :)


  1. Love your idea of sentence stalking!

    1. Thanks! It's from Jeff Anderson's Book Mechanically Inclined.

  2. Ditto on the above comment!! I agree that "sentence stalking" needs to be consistent and started the first day of school with a simple model. I am not a big fan of formal grammar exercises and you CAN teach grammar this way. Much more engaging and relevant to literature they are reading! I also agree with the DO NOW. I found out this year with my co-teach class they needed something "tactile" like a sheet of paper with the do now on it. There was always an organizational issue (where is my notebook, no pen/pencil, etc) so they just came in, and started. My advanced class was more organized and easy to settle so never an issue. Anyways, love your ideas! :)

    1. Thanks so much, Amy! The "Do Now" is definitely a lifesaver! :) Teaching our students organizational methods and keeping track of things from day to day is an important skill!


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