Common Core Close Reading for 7th Graders

Close reading is  a challenging concept for 7th graders. And summer reading is something that is great in theory, but often problematic in practice. It is often hard to know what to do with summer reading when school starts again in September.

This year, I think I have found a way to use summer reading to practice close reading. (Cue the Hallelujah music!)

I started the year as I usually do, with a series of lessons explicitly centered on annotation (available at this site under the DIY page).

I immediately followed up with more practice using our shared summer reading novella, The Well by Mildred D. Taylor. In terms of readability, The Well  is accessible as an independent read and the content promotes engagement.  It is also the prequel to the very last book we read in seventh grade, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, making it a purposeful choice for summer reading. Using it for meaningful instruction at the start of the school year validates student effort. This has been a win-win for my students this year.

Here is how I used summer reading to advance close reading and to get baseline writing samples from all students.

Days 1-3:

I tell students that in about a week’s time, they will sit for an on-demand, writing assessment of the summer reading book. I also tell them that they will spend the next week preparing.

I begin by asking students to complete a graphic organizer centered on the five basic literary elements: plot, setting, character, conflict and theme. To facilitate differentiation, I assign homogeneous collaborative groups. We share this work whole class. Though it ate up three class periods, I found it was worth the time invested as it oriented kids to important elements of the book.

Day 4:

We followed this up with another explicit annotation lesson. I photocopied pages 10-11 from the novel and we read it together, whole class, using a modified Socratic method where one student read aloud a paragraph or two and then I allowed time to jot down margin notes. When everyone had a chance to annotate these paragraphs, I opened the floor to questions and comments. Kids practiced appropriate discussion behavior and worked as a class to peel away the layers of meaning in the passage.  The homework for this day’s lesson were two Common Core short responses using the annotated pages.

1) Which of the following best describes the relationship between the Logan family and the Simms family? (Either choice is valid.)  

Disrespectful                    Angry      Open with a topic sentence that expresses a clear claim. Cite, explain and connect two (2) text based details from the pages you annotated to support the claim.

2) How does Taylor characterize Hammer in these two pages? Open with a strong, specific topic sentence that describes Hammer. Follow up with two different text-based details Taylor includes that show this about Hammer.     


Day 5:

This is when I announced that the in-class, on-demand writing will be tomorrow and the next day.

Students exchanged short responses with a self-selected partner. I gave each pair highlighters and told them to find the claim and the two details. The kids were surprisingly engaged in this peer editing task and by the end of class, we had debriefed and extracted the required elements of a constructed short response. Homework was to annotate another excerpt from the novel, pages 28-31.

Days 6 and 7:

Students came into class with two annotated excerpts. I gave them one more excerpt to annotate in class (pages 71-75) and four Common Core constructed response questions.

Writing Prompts:

Identify and describe the setting of this novella. Explain how this time and place contribute to the primary conflict. Open with a strong, specific claim that addresses the prompt. Include at least 2 relevant text-based details. 

The second prompt is a mini graphic organizer, a two column chart asking student to first describe Hammer Logan, Charlie Simms and David Logan and to provide something specific he does that shows this about him.

What factors contribute to the on-going feud between the Logan and Simms families? Open with a strong, specific topic sentence and follow up with two specific text based details that support the claim.

Mildred D. Taylor uses first person narration in this novella. Identify whose point of view she gives to her readers and discuss two ways that this point of view affects the way readers understand the  events in the story.

Day 8:

Finally, I followed up with a full period teach-back in which kids examined model responses and wrote letters to me telling me about how they felt about this work, setting goals for future in-class assessments.






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