Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Peek into our Short Text Unit

We are currently in the middle of our Short Text unit in reading workshop and Literary Essay unit in writing workshop.  These two units are integrated and students are learning how to read texts closely to lift the level of their interpretation, deepen their comprehension, and strengthen their conversation and writing about reading skills.  Students are learning how to leave tracks of thinking on short texts, write patches of thinking by stretching out their interpretation with thinking stems, and write literary essays about a claim they have for a short text.  Stay tuned for a post about our literary essays tomorrow! 

Before beginning each unit, I always have a conversation with students about the unit's purpose and how it is going to go for us as readers and writers.  Below is the chart we created during our first mini-lesson for the short text unit when we discussed its purpose.  Prior to the conversation, I wrote the questions on the chart and left room for student's comments and thinking.  This chart was completely co-created with students as you will notice their first names beside their contribution.  Also notice the important statement at the bottom of the chart - "You will still read your chapter books! :)" It is so important to continue to have students read their chapter books independently no matter which unit we are teaching in reading workshop.   Students need to continue to strengthen their stamina, ability to hold onto their thinking through a longer book, have choice, and transfer the skills we are learning into their independent reading of chapter books.  

Below are two of our charts that were created to keep track of our teaching points for each mini-lesson.  We create teaching point charts for each unit to keep track of all of our teaching points so we can refer to them during mini-lessons to build onto our learning and students can use them as resources while working independently.  New teaching points are added to our chart at the beginning of each mini-lesson.  These charts are great visuals for the students to see all the skills and strategies we have learned and are practicing as readers and writers. 

Below are two charts that were created during mini-lessons on how events impact characters and teach them lessons and how to identify the theme in texts by thinking of the whole text.  These charts were created with the students as you will notice their names beside their contributions during the lesson.  For the chart to the left on impact and lessons, I gave each short text club a choice of which text they wanted to use for this important work and gave them two post-its (one medium and one large).  I gave them about 5 minutes to work as a group to identify and agree on an important event that impacted the main character and write down how it impacted the characters and taught them an important life lesson.  Once the groups were done, they added their post-its to our chart in their sections depending on which text they chose.

One professional book that I reference in this unit is Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. To read my post about Notice and Note, click here.   If you haven't read this book, definitely add it to your stack to read soon! In this book, they share six important "signposts" that are significant moments in texts where readers should pause to read more closely and think deeply about.  Kylene and Robert have specific names for each signpost and give a description of these significant places in texts.  Rather than give students the names of the signposts, I wrote the descriptors on large post-its and placed them on a chart at the beginning of the lesson.  I asked students to read the descriptions, think about them and how they may be connected, and share what they noticed with their partner.  After talking with their partners, they realized all of the moments can be connected to one another and shared how one can lead to another.  Then I modeled identifying these moments in our first chapter book read aloud, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick.  Students then tried this work out with their partner by identifying the six moments in our other chapter book read alouds and were excited to find out that all of the books had these 6 moments!  To end the lesson, students created names for each of the six places and I wrote the name on a separate post-it near the description. By having the students create their own names for these signposts, students internalized them and began using them right away because they felt a sense of ownership in developing these important places to pause in texts to think, jot, and talk! 

Enjoy the weekend! 


  1. I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog posts and honestly wish I was teaching with you both! Your examples from class usually match ideas I've been thinking about so they provide guidance and give me the courage to try new ideas. I appreciate so much that you share your thoughts and experiences on this blog!

  2. HI Melanie,
    I've been referring to this a lot as I teach a short text unit with my 4th grade class. I've never taught this unit, and am so grateful for the guidance! It is dovetailing with test prep, which is also nice. It means that every test passage we look at connects back to an authentic reading experience with another short text. I'll be posting on my own blog about it soon, and referring and linking to your post as my inspiration.
    Thanks again so much for posting this!!
    Stephanie Parsons