Close Reading: Superman and Me

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SWBAT use close reading techniques to unpack this powerful first person memoir.

Big Idea

Close reading = super strategy to unpack "Superman and Me."

Latin Roots Warm Up

10 minutes

This is our daily warm up, wherein students work with two or three Latin roots per day.  The resource that I use to get my roots is Perfection Learning's Everyday Words from Classic Origins.

Every day, when the students arrive, I have two Latin roots on the SmartBoard.  Their job is to generate as many words as they can that contain the roots, and they try to guess what the root means.  After I give them about five minutes, we share words and I tell them what the root means.

The students compile these daily activities in their class journals.  After every twelve roots, they take a test on the roots themselves and a set of words that contains them.

Opening Question

10 minutes

To start the class, I tell the students that we are going to be doing a close reading (our county calls them CAR's.)  The students groan and act like I have just told them to exhume a corpse.

So, I ask them, "What is the point of doing a close reading?"  I go further to ask when and if adults ever do close readings.  This sparks a discussion.

Here are some of the responses:

We do it to find words we don't know.

We do it to help us understand the text.

We do it to make connections to the text.

We do it to answer a question.


While some of these responses are better than others, the fact is that close reading of the text helps us to do those things (except finding words we don't know...that's what a dictionary is for,) but it also helps us to connect to the author's purpose.  Reading builds a relationship between the author/speaker and the reader.  The text is the vehicle.

Working with the Ideas

30 minutes

The piece that I chose for our first CAR is Sherman Alexie's "Superman and Me."  I absolutely love the voice in this piece ("I was smart.  I was arrogant.  I was lucky.") and it is yet another first person speaker for the students to "meet."  My secret, sneaky "teacher" reason for choosing it was that I have a LOT of kids who hate reading (or claim to hate it, at least)  in my classes this year and I wanted them to read a great essay wherein the author talks about the power of books.

After I give them the lecture about what CAR should be, we kick off our study of this piece with a "bump" reading.  In a bump reading, students read a few sentences then bump to someone else.  If the person they call is lost or not paying attention, he or she has to stand until someone else takes pity on him or her and bumps to him again.  (The middle school kids really like doing readings this way.  Sometimes, I think the "bumping" takes away from the reading experience, but at least they pay attention so they don't have to stand :))

So, after we read, I put a few things up on the smart board and we talk about them:

  • Rhetorical questions
  • Figurative language
  • repetition
  • structure
  • point of view/shifts

I tell the students that we are going to focus our annotations on those elements, but they are free to make additional notes.  Then, I give them two minutes to ask me anything before they get started.  In one class, a student asked me to explain a "pow wow" (mentioned in the text.)  In another, a student asked about Indian reservations.

I then ask them to do their best with annotating for about 20 minutes.  While they work, I circulate, nudge and question, as needed.


Looking Ahead

5 minutes

I like to give students "thinking" homework.  I know that most of them won't actually think about the topic, but some will.  And it gives them a little hint about what we are doing tomorrow.

So, the thinking homework (to be followed up with an entry ticket tomorrow) is a question that I found in the 50 Essays book that I have on my shelf.  This is a paraphrase:  Think about why Alexie uses the scene with Superman at the beginning of the essay.  How does  that scene (and Superman's action in it) connect to the end of the essay?

This sets us up tomorrow to talk about how "smashing through walls" is literal for Superman, but it operates as a metaphor for Alexie's life experiences as he becomes a reader.