The Best Close Reading Strategy There Is

Close reading is the buzz word up here in New York (and any other state implementing the Common Core State Standards). EngageNY is surely not at a loss for lessons that help teachers with close reading strategies. And if there is one thing they all have in common, it’s that before we ask students to “closely read” a text, we must first model it.

But how authentically do we model an approach to reading? I know we do a lot of modeling, but how authentic is it? One of the best ways teachers can model their approach to grappling with literature is to read a piece in front of the class for the first time. That’s right, a cold read in front of a group of students.  Probst (2004) suggests that by doing this, it forces you “to rely on the very processes you are espousing for your students” and “gives you the opportunity to model some of the behavior you hope to elicit from them” (p. 67).

This is a great lesson to start the year. I’ve done this for years, and without fail two things happen when I do: 1. Increase in active participation; and 2. Allows the student to see the teacher struggle.

The biggest problem we have as English teachers is that students have been trained to wait for the answer. Every kid sitting in your classroom at some point in his or her English education has waited long enough for the teacher to tell them what the theme of the novel is. They might have a few ideas floating in their heads, but why chance being wrong when the teacher is eventually going to tell them? After all, the teacher has already studied this poem and knows what the theme is, so eventually he’ll tell me, right? Unfortunately, this is all too common.

Reading a piece cold in front of the kids eliminates the fear that a student’s thoughts will not align with some preconceived teacher-answer. Students think to themselves, “hey, if this guy doesn’t know, why don’t I chime in?” As I read through a piece for the first time with kids and think aloud my annotations on the overhead, students blurt out what they’re thinking. Because I’ve made myself vulnerable in the process, the students feel more comfortable in challenging me or sometimes simply pointing out details that agree with where my analysis may be going.

This also allows students to see that closely reading a piece of literature is difficult. As teachers, we spend hours developing lessons, and much of that time is spent reading and rereading a text so that we can be prepared to teach it properly. The kids don’t see this, and think we’ve effortlessly analyzed a specific element within a piece. Because of the difficulty students have with literary analysis, this only frustrates them since it suggests that it should be easier than it really is. A cold read can let them know that it’s not supposed to be easy.

So give it shot. Have another teacher make some copies of a text and put them in an envelope. (I just ask my neighboring teacher to make X copies of a specific genre, usually asking that it be within a certain length. And yes, you’ll need one for each class, so you’ll want to find a teacher who really likes you.) As you take the copies out of the envelope, tell the kids that you’ve never seen the poem/essay/short story before that you’re about to read, and that you want to show them how you analyze a text for (pick one):

  • theme or purpose
  • comprehension of a complex text
  • an author’s craft
  • how you want them to utilize a specific reading strategy

Then put the text on the overhead or smartboard and model the process. I guarantee will be authentic.

Good luck and be sure to email me or come back to the blog and let me know how it went.

McConn

NOTE: If you’re on a grade level team, have each teacher on the team make copies, place them in envelopes, and trade with each other.

 

Teaching Rhetorical Appeals

Hello teachers. As promised, here’s the second installment of lessons I’ll be posting weekly this fall. Nonfiction seems to be the big topic, so I thought I’d provide a lesson on rhetorical appeals in persuasion.

What  follows is everything you need to write an effective lesson plan on the impact of rhetorical appeals, which will include the content objective, language objective, the standards covered (both CCLS for my New York friends and TEKS for my Texas friends), along with a detailed description of the full lesson cycle. At the end of the lesson, I’ve also included all the resources.

This lesson would come after an introductory to the rhetorical appeals, so students must have a working definition of the appeals before they can start “Engage and Connect.” While I have it listed in the standards as a 9-10 grade level, it could easily be used for other grade levels depending on the depth of analysis. I’ve also included my notes on the “Organization Pattern” of the piece and “Sentence Stems Addressing Authors Purpose (Informative/Persuasive)” (both below), which can be used to help students with comprehension and expanding on the standards covered, as well as using academic language effectively.

Don’t forget to email me with topics or standards that you’d like to see covered in a lesson and I’ll post one on ETP@B. My email is mmconn@binghamton.edu

Essential Understanding:
How do specific appeals impact an audience?

Content Objective: Today we will analyze a persuasive text by explaining the impact specific appeals have on the audience. (CCLS: RI.9-10.6 (this is the central CCLS covered, but you could list more depending on how you tweak the lesson) TEKS: 19B, 10.B

Language Objective: Today we will utilize academic language effectively by using given sentence stems to discuss impact on the audience. (Academic Language: Appeal to logos/pathos/ethos, impact, audience, purpose.) CCLS: SL.9-10.1; ELPS: C.3j

Engage and Connect ( 10 min):The following can be found in an ad for toothpaste. Identify which appeal is created in the following sentences:

  1. I have been a dentist for 20 years, so I know clean teeth when I see them.
  2. Four out of five dentists recommend…
  3. Think of the children! (Image of children brushing their teeth)
Monitor student responses. Randomize and have a student share their responses (sentence stem). Ask if students missed any and help clarify any confusion.Use the following sentence stem: This sentence creates an appeal to ________ because/by…
Introduce New Learning (10 min): (Note: Students need to have an understanding of rhetorical appeals before the begin this lesson.)
Impact on audience – How do these appeals impact the audience and how does it relate to the author’s purpose? Have students answer the following questions as they relate to the warm-up. (appeals have been introduced prior to this lesson, but the word impact might be new)
Ethos – How does credibility help an argument?
Logos – How does the author present evidence in a way that leads or misleads you into a certain way of thinking?
Pathos – What are some common emotions that are created through certain words and images?
Think/Pair/ShareGive students a couple of minutes to think about the questions as they relate to the warm up. Have the students pair up and share their answers. Randomize and have students share their thoughts.

 

 

Lead Guided and Independent Practice ( 30 min):
Guided Practice ( 15 min):Introduce the three column journal with examples using the warm-up. (resource below)
Discuss the aspects of the journal.

Think aloud pre-reading strategies for the persuasive text “Abolishing the Penny Makes Good Sense” by Alan Blinder.

  • Look at pictures, headings
  • Make predictions

Read the selection aloud, checking for comprehension periodically.

After reading, have students think/pair/share purpose statement

Have groups share purpose statements and write one that the class thinks is the best on an anchor chart.

Start from the beginning of the piece, and choose a quote to think aloud as you complete a journal entry (see example below). Be sure to incorporate the purpose statement decided on by the class.

Depending on your students, you can continue to think aloud, or have them work in groups with various levels of scaffolding.

  • Give groups quotes to complete the journal entries; OR
  • Allow groups to choose quotes within certain sections of the piece; OR
  • Assign different appeals to groups and have them write journal entries that cover assigned appeal

Have groups share their journal entries and discuss with the class.

 

 

Independent Practice (15 min):

Have students choose a quote and discuss the impact with a partner. Again, you can:

  • Assign a quote; OR
  • Allow students to pick from various quotes; OR
  • Allow students to pick a quote from a specific part of the text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While reading aloud, randomize as you question students about the text to ensure comprehension and engagement.

 

 

Monitor group work as students complete their entries.

 
Asses the group work as they are being presented. Ask students to contribute to the groups entries to make them stronger.

 

 

 

Have students share their analyses.

.

Close the Lesson and Assess Mastery (10 min):

  1. Review the lesson and remind students of the connection between impact and purpose.
  2. Have students write a journal entry for their chosen/assigned quote that they discussed with their partner.

 

 

 

This will be there ticket out.

 


DIFFERENTIATION: How will I scaffold and/or accelerate learning? For whom? How will I group my students?

SCAFFOLD: Students who struggle with finding quotes can choose from teacher-preselected quotes. Students who need help writing/discussing about purpose/appeal can use the sentence stem.

ACCELERATE: Students who feel they can write a journal entry about their own quotes can choose their own.

What materials, resources, and technology will I need to prepare and arrange? (All are included below.)

Quote/Device Impact – (leads/misleads thinking; makes you feel; gives credibility) Purpose
I have been a dentist for 20 years, so I know clean teeth…  The ad creates an appeal to ethos because he is showing his experience as a dentist. By claiming that he has been practicing dentistry for 20 years, it makes the audience more open to accepting his preference. This is intended to get people to buy the suggested toothpaste since that is the preferred toothpaste of an experienced dentist.
Four out of five dentists recommend…  The ad creates an appeal to logos by citing a statistic. This leads the audience to think that a majority of experts in the field agree with using the toothpaste; therefore, the audience should come to the same conclusion. This is intended to get the audience to logically conclude that the toothpaste is the best and that they should buy what the majority of experts would choose.
Think of the children! (Image of children brushing their teeth)  The ad creates an appeal to pathos by showing/mentioning children. Referring to children instills a sense of fear and urgency in the audience because we want the best for our children, which means we don’t want them to have issues with their teeth. This is intended to appeal to our protective nature of children. We want our children to be safe and grow up with strong teeth; therefore, the ad attempts to convince the audience that the toothpaste is best for kids.

Sentence Stems Addressing Authors Purpose (Informative/Persuasive)

  • The author includes paragraph [X] to explain ______.
  • What is the primary purpose of [detail from the passage] in paragraph [X]?
  • What is the primary purpose of paragraph [X]?
  • What purpose does the reference to ______ in paragraph [X] serve?
  • By addressing [detail from the selection] as _____, [the author] ______.
  • In paragraph [X], [the author] refers to [detail from the selection] to support his/her argument that ______.
  • To make his/her case, [the author] relies mainly on ______.
  • In paragraph [X], [the author] refers to [detail from the selection] to support his/her argument that ______.
  • To make his/her case, [the author] relies mainly on ______.
  • Why does the author conclude ______ with a [rhetorical device]?
  • Why does the author list ______?
  • In paragraph [X], the author writes [detail from the text] to suggest ______.
  • Which of the following best summarizes the author’s argument?
  • In this selection, the author uses the example of [detail from the text] to ______.
  • In this selection, the author poses questions in order to ______.

Examples for “Abolishing the Penny Makes Good Sense”

 

Quote/Device Impact – (leads/misleads thinking; makes you feel; gives credibility) Purpose
“An economist rarely has the opportunity to recommend a policy change that benefits 200 million people, imposes costs on virtually no one, and saves the government money to boot.” (p. 648, para 1) The author, Blinder, is an economist, and sets up the beginning of the essay by referencing his profession.   This creates an appeal to ethos because as an economist, the author is knowledgeable on the subject. Moreover, since he follows up his profession with a suggestion that promises to help most of the population in America, the reader is left with a sense of trust in the author’s thoughts that follow. This allows the reader to be more accepting of Binder’s position that the penny should be abolished.
“Pennies get in the way when we make change. They add unwanted weight to our pockets and purses. Few people nowadays even bend down to pick a penny off the sidewalk. Doesn’t that prove that mining and minting copper into pennies is wasteful?” (p. 648, para 2) listing issues – rhetorical question By listing issues with the penny and ending in a rhetorical question, the author leads the reader into thinking about how “the penny has outlived its usefulness.” The details are included as a series to set the reader up for a forced conclusion that comes from the question. This leads the reader to a better understanding of how wasteful the penny is and, therefore, needs to be taken out of circulation.
“Today, if it rained pennies from heaven, only a fool would turn his umbrella upside down: The money caught would be worth less than the ruined umbrella.” (p. 648, para 2) figurative language, imagery, word choice. The author creates a humorous image that is intended to shame those who still think the penny is worth keeping. The very idea of raining money is usually associated with a fantastical wish come true. However, Blinder calls those who would take advantage of “raining pennies” a fool, and even further insults them by pointing out the cost. This humor is intended to place shame onto those who still feel the penny is worth having in circulation, and to convince them that it is not worth what they might think it is.

 

Organization Pattern

Paragraphs 1: Sets up the reader with an understanding of who he is and why his argument is important. The author ends the paragraph with a clear call to action.

Paragraphs 2-3: These paragraphs are intended to show the ridiculousness of the penny. The author uses humor to instill a sense of shame into those who do not share his position.

Paragraphs 4-7: These paragraphs address the “numbers” of the argument. Each paragraph takes on the following different counterargument and uses factual statistics to refute each claim: para 4 = amount of time wasted; para 5 = cost to tax payers; para 6 = inflation; para 7 = sales tax.

Paragraph 8-9: These paragraphs take on the biggest argument for keeping the penny: sentimental value. However, the author cites nations with more tradition than the US have gone the way of abolishing their smallest unit of money.

Paragraphs 10-11: The author concedes to the sentimental value, but also offers up solutions for keeping the “sentiment” somewhat valuable. He then closes with an overstatement that is intended to shame those who have the power to abolish the penny.

 

 

Teaching Literary Analysis: Reading More, Not Less

As English teachers, we are conditioned to think that reading less more critically can get us the results we are looking for when it comes to analyzing and evaluating literature. “Less texts, more depth” is the rallying cry for those who support the ELA Common Core Standards. However, while the majority of research on extensive reading focuses on motivation and comprehension, there is research that tells us reading more is also as effective as intensive, close reading for developing the ability to analyze and evaluate literature.

But the purpose of this post is not to document the research and make claims about different approaches to teaching reading. Instead, as the 2014-2015 school year begins and teachers finalize their curriculum maps and lessons plans, I want to offer teachers extensive reading approaches that attempt to enhance students’ ability to analyze and evaluate.

When we want students to analyze specific elements in a text, we tend to implement close, analytical reading strategies, which means trudging through a single text for a few days, sometimes weeks. However, conventional wisdom should tell us that the more students see the specific element within literature, the easier time they’ll have evaluating and analyzing said element. If I want my students to analyze imagery in poetry, then I might want them to see a variety of ways imagery is utilized, instead of asking them to belabor the use of imagery in a single poem.

Let’s say I would like my students to analyze how Stephan Crane utilizes imagery to develop conflict in his poetry. A traditional approach might be the following lesson:

Closely read the poem “Supposing that I should have the courage” by Stephen Crane. Then, in groups of four, complete and discuss the questions that follow:

1. Draw a picture of what you see when you read the poem.
2. Compare drawings with your group and discuss the similarities and differences.
3. What associations do you make with the words “red sword,” “castle,” and “kingdom”?
4. How does the denotative meaning of the word “sinful” help convey meaning? (Use your phone to look up the word.)
5. How does the denotative meaning of the word “virtue” help convey meaning? (Use your phone to look up the word.)
6. What associations are made with the picture Crane is painting in this poem?
7. Considering everything you’ve discussed with your group, how does Crane utilize imagery to develop conflict in     “Supposing that I should have the courage”?

*I have included all the poems mentioned at the end of the post.

This lesson would end with groups sharing their discussions whole class, maybe putting them on butcher paper and facilitating a gallery walk, and closing with independent work on a separate poem by Crane.

But I think this approach, if done too often, leaves out opportunities for students to be exposed to more poetry and more uses of imagery. Here is an extensive approach to the same question:

 Read the following six poems by Stephen Crane. Then, in groups of four, discuss how Crane utilizes imagery to develop conflict in his poetry.

“Supposing that I should have the courage”
“Little Birds of the Night”
“A Slant of Sun on Dull Brown Walls”
“Content”
“A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;”
“I saw a man pursuing the horizon”

**Don’t forget, these poems are all included at the end.

Again, this lesson might end with a whole class discussion, and an assessment of student learning would need to be implemented. But having students read good poetry that demonstrates the use of imagery versus questioning the use of imagery in a single poem is at the heart of what makes the extensive approach more effective. Moreover, when I teach literature extensively, I find that students enjoy the time in class more.  Above all, students are exposed to more texts and are given more opportunities to see how great writers craft their work.

As a profession, we don’t seem to give enough credit to the act of reading great literature as a way for honing critical thinking and analytical skills. Instead, we feel it is necessary to stop and point out the elements and give the students “text-dependent questions” to grapple with every ten minutes. So next time you want to teach students how to analyze specific elements within literature, try having them spend the class time reading many texts instead of questioning the text.

 

McConn

***Below, I’ve also included another lesson that shows the differences in approaches using William Carlos Williams because, well, he’s one of my favorites.

Crane’s Poems

Supposing that I should have the courage

Supposing that I should have the courage
To let a red sword of virtue
Plunge into my heart,
Letting to the weeds of the ground
My sinful blood,
What can you offer me?
A gardened castle?
A flowery kingdom?

What? A hope?
Then hence with your red sword of virtue.

Little Birds of the Night

LITTLE birds of the night
Aye, they have much to tell
Perching there in rows
Blinking at me with their serious eyes
Recounting of flowers they have seen and loved
Of meadows and groves of the distance
And pale sands at the foot of the sea
And breezes that fly in the leaves.
They are vast in experience
These little birds that come in the night

A Slant of Sun on Dull Brown Walls

A slant of sun on dull brown walls,
A forgotten sky of bashful blue.

Toward God a mighty hymn,
A song of collisions and cries,
Rumbling wheels, hoof-beats, bells,
Welcomes, farewells, love-calls, final moans,
Voices of joy, idiocy, warning, despair,
The unknown appeals of brutes,
The chanting of flowers,
The screams of cut trees,
The senseless babble of hens and wise men –
A cluttered incoherency that says at the stars:
‘O God, save us!’

Content

A youth in apparel that glittered
Went to walk in grim forest.
There he met an assassin
Attired all in garb of old days;
He, scowling through the thickets,
And dagger poised quivering,
Rushed upon the youth.
‘Sir,’ said this latter,
‘I am enchanted, believe me,
To die, thus,
In this medieval fashion,
According to the best legends;
Ah, what joy!’
Then took he the wound, smiling,
And died, content.

A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;

A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;
He climbed for it.
And eventually he achieved it –
It was clay.

Now this is the strange part:
When the man went to the earth
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold.
Now this is the strange part:
It was a ball of gold.
Aye, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.

I saw a man pursuing the horizon

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never –“

“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.

 

William Carlos Williams Lesson

Intensive Approach

 Read the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams. Then, in groups of four, complete and discuss the questions that follow:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

  1. Draw a picture of what you see when you read the poem.
  2. Compare drawings with your group and discuss the similarities and differences.
  3. What associations do you make with the colors used in the poem?
  4. How does the denotative meaning of the word “depends” help convey meaning? (Use your phone to look up the word.)
  5. How does the denotative meaning of the word “glazed” help convey meaning? (Use your phone to look up the word.)
  6. What associations are made with the picture Williams is painting in this poem?
  7. Considering everything you’ve discussed with your group, how does Williams utilize imagery to show the importance of the ordinary in “The Red Wheelbarrow”?

Extensive Approach

Read the following six poems by William Carlos Williams. Then, in groups of four, discuss how Williams utilizes imagery to show the importance of the ordinary in his poetry.

 The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

The Term

A rumpled sheet
Of brown paper
About the length

And apparent bulk
Of a man was
Rolling with the

Wind slowly over
And over in
The street as

A car drove down
Upon it and
Crushed it to

The ground. Unlike
A man it rose
Again rolling

With the wind over
And over to be as
It was before.

The Thinker

My wife’s new pink slippers
have gay pompons.
There is not a spot or stain
on their satin toes or their sides.
All night they lie together
under her bed’s edge.
Shivering I catch sight of them
and smile, in the morning.
Later I watch them
descending the stair,
hurrying through the doors
and round the table,
moving stiffly
with a shake of their gay pompons!
And I talk to them
in my secret mind
out of pure happiness.

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

To A Poor Old Woman

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her