Deal Me In: Promoting Close Reading

I really like the Common Core skills; I really hate the rote drills that have come to be associated with Common Core over testing.

I wanted to find ways to prepare kids to meet the demands of Common Core standards without resorting to  workbooks or  buying into pre-packaged “miracle lessons” guaranteed to prep kids to stare down “the test.”

Reading comprehension and well crafted writing were already the centerpieces of instruction in my 7th and 8th grade literature based English classrooms.    Realigning to the “new” standards was a matter of redefining the focus of every lesson to jive with some of the ” improved” demands of the Common Core curriculum.

To challenge kids to write defensible original claims and find appropriate supporting details, I created the following activity.  I recently used it with seventh graders reading  A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, but it is an in-class learning activity that can be adapted to any work of literature, fiction or non-fiction.  It is student centered and allows kids to see themselves as members of a learning team by developing a sense of collegiality. It also demands that kids listen to and follow directions.  Another great by-product?  It’s fun.  So far, every time I have used this activity, it has been engaging and productive. Kids ask when they “play cards” again.

  • Prerequisite Skills: I used this for Chapters 1-12, so kids were well into the parallel stories in the book. I think this activity works best when kids have a relationship with the text. Kids also have to have some experience with what constitutes a strong claim as well an understanding of the five basic literary elements: plot, setting, characterization, conflict and theme.
  • Opening Ante: I distribute a large index card to each student On  the unlined side of each card, I have handwritten specific directions. These directions ask kids to first  rewrite our class-generated definitions for one of  the three literary elements kids would be working with in these two chapters:  characterization, conflict, and setting. Then I ask kids to use that literary element to write an original claim about an aspect pertaining to that literary element.The directions on each card are unique and that was the biggest challenge for me: coming up with twenty-two distinct ways to approach the activity.  As they write on their cards, I remind them to compose clearly expressed, concise claims that can be proven through effective use of text-based details. Students sign their names to their claims.
  • Reshuffle the Deck:Once everyone has a workable claim–and this may take some time, so if you have kids who are finished sooner than later, have them start looking for  acceptable relevant evidence in the text–it is time for kids to shuffle the deck. Collect the cards and redistribute them among the class. No one should have his/her own card at this point. Then I tell kids to read the claim on the card they have been given and to find and recopy one passage from the text that could be used to prove the claim.  This forces kids to go back to the book–something 7th and 8th graders typically resist in the belief they can operate on memory alone. Students again put their names after their recopied passages.
  • Deal Again: Since the best writing will provide at least two specific text-based details in support of an original claim, I reshuffle the deck and-deal the cards to another student who searches the book for a second text-based detail to support the claim. They recopy the passage. Students sign their work.
  • Call:Finally, the cards are collected and returned to the originators of the claim. Volunteers read aloud their claims and one of the recopied passages and the learning community decides if the text-based evidence is acceptable (thumbs up) or not (thumbs down).  We do not get to all of the claims, but this generates enough discussion to serve multiple purposes: reviewing argument and text-based evidence, reviewing literary elements, reviewing the events, characters of the text.

Homework: Kids take home their cards and paraphrase both passages recopied from the text.


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