Two major elements of the Common Core are close reading and constructing supported argument in written responses. This is a week’s worth of lessons for seventh grade English classes centered around a short story. Included in these lessons is a non-fiction reading chosen to provide prior knowledge students will activate when reading the short story. Because the Common Core demands depth over breadth, I allowed a week with my students.
For English teachers accustomed to reading short stories more quickly, this represents a change in how you will do business. However, I just worked through this series of lessons and I can assure you, the time this required was well spent. Close reading is a brand new concept to most seventh graders and I was able to model the process.
The New York Times reading “Drums and Bells Open Indian Museum” By James Dao (available on the Times site through the archives), the short story, “The Medicine Bag” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, a four quadrant graphic organizer, a character wheel, teach-back, highlighters
Day 1: Distribute copies of the article from the New York Times entitled “Bells and Drums Open Indian Museum” by James Dao. With students, I read this piece, using a modified Socratic method. Initiate the reading activity by inviting students to write and share three questions inspired by the title. Remind students that titles are thresholds into reading experiences and considering titles allows a moment to reflect on the possibilities. Additionally remind them that these questions need not be profound or may never be answered; they are simply warm-up exercises.
Read the article aloud, stopping every few paragraphs to allow students time to annotate and to discuss. Remind students that discussion should be reflected in their margin notes. Exit ticket: One thing I know now about Native American culture that I did not know at the start of class today. Homework: finish the reading, annotating.
Day 2 (block– period and a half): Working in pairs, students are to use the reading to support the following statement: Native Americans want to preserve and protect their endangered culture. Students use highlighters to isolate three different text-based details from the reading. They must then completely paraphrase. Share. Collect and grade. (Even though it is a lot of extra work, I grade a lot of this type of work for several reasons. One, it gives me a lot of grades at the end of the quarter which reduces the possibility that one bad grade will sink a kid. Two, it provides that extrinsic motivation most middle school kids require to do their best work. Three, it creates a progress paper trail for kids. I store some of these assignments in their cumulative writing folders and from time to time, they are asked to look back on their work and reflect on their progress.)
Distribute copies of the short story. Begin reading, again using the modified Socratic method. Students finish reading for homework.
Day 3: As they enter the room, each student gets a large sheet of paper, folded in half. On the front, students write one question they have about the story. I encourage them to write thinking questions as opposed to plot-driven “what will happen next” variety of questions. (An extra by-product of this activity: Writing questions helps kids become better test takers.) They exchange questions with another student and they use the text to answer. This process is repeated two more times. It becomes increasingly difficult to find text-based support. The third responder always has the hardest job. While kids are working, I circulate and try to find the two or three questions I know kids have to answer to understand the story. So far, this has not failed me: someone always asks the “right” questions. The question is returned to the owner who “grades” the responses for clarity and content (they love using the red pen on each other). Finally, I call on the questioners who asked the “right” questions without calling them this. I put on the board and generate responses and elicit details. The kids take notes.
Homework: Graphic organizer summarizing plot, centralizing information for internal conflict, symbolism, and paraphrasing. I created a graphic organizer and copied it on 11″ x 14″ paper. I folded the page into quarters. One quarter is plot and kids have to extract the four main events of the story. One quarter is dedicated to the internal conflict Martin experiences in the story. The third quarter is about the ways in which the medicine bag is a symbol and on the final quarter, I ask kids to paraphrase a passage I have selected. (NOTE: This can be differentiated through the choice of passages.)
Day 4: When students come in they see on the board, “Joe Iron Shell is best described as___________________.” They copy the question as they see it and list the adjectives that they think could fill in the blank.
Then I give each student a highlighter and they use their texts and graphic organizers. They go through the texts and their homework highlighting details that show characterization of Joe Iron Shell.
Next, working in pairs, they complete one quad of the character wheel. Character wheel is a big circle printed on 11″ x 14″ paper divided into four parts: Actions, Speech, Thoughts, Relationships. They first need to find the things that Joe Iron Shell does. They fill in the quad with the actions he takes. Then we reconvene whole class, compile a class list. I am prepared to fill in if kids miss important actions.
Individually, they go to the section labeled Speech. They find the five most significant things he says and copy these quotes into the character wheel. We share responses.
We move onto to Thoughts as a class and again generate a class list.
Homework: Relationships and the characterization paragraph
Day 5 (block–a period and a half): Writing teach-back.
Homework (assessment): Students must use both texts to prove or disprove the following statement: Preserving culture and traditions is an effort that is necessary.