Close Reading: Writing to a Prompt

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Students will be able to analyze character traits and motivations by citing evidence while writing an outline, rough draft, and final draft.

Big Idea

Students write an analytical paragraph from on a passage that was close read.


10 minutes

Today's journal asks students to reflect on who is responsible for raising children, as a way of, approaching "Thank You, M'am."

Journal Prompt:  An African proverb says, “It takes two people to produce a child, but an entire village to raise the child.”  What does this proverb mean?  Who is responsible for raising Roger?  Who is responsible for raising you? What qualities does someone who is raising a child need to have? What might motivate someone raising a child?


10 minutes

 The day before, students close read a passage from "Thank You, M'am" and analyzed the passage for character traits and motives. Today we continued to work on the skill of analyzing a character's traits and motives by writing a paragraph.

Here's the prompt for students: What do we learn about the  major characters from this passage?  What traits define them?  What is revealed by their motives?  Select two quotes for concrete evidence and explain what those quotes show about their traits and motives in the commentary. 

This questions is huge and needs to be broken down.

  • Who are the major characters?
    • Mrs. Jones and Roger
  • What traits define them?
    • Roger is weak, scared, "frail and willow-wild," and, easily over-taken.
    • Mrs. Jones is angry, determined, understanding, and caring.
  • What is revealed by their motives?
    • Roger wants to get away from Mrs. Jones after she catches him.
    • Mrs. Jones wants to know why he tried to steal her purse.
    • Roger lies in order to convince Mrs. Jones to let him go.
    • Mrs. Jones tries to understand Roger's motivations.

Next, I modeled writing an outline.  I showed students how I started with my two pieces of  concrete evidence.  I showed students how I didn't copy the entire quote in my outline.  I only wrote enough to remind me of the key ideas in the quote.  I included the page number and paragraph number so I could find it back easily.   I explained how I interpreted the concrete evidence in my commentary.  I wrote my topic sentence only after the rest of the paragraph was written, and then restated that topic sentence with a concluding sentence.  

I showed students my rough draft that I had written over the weekend. I deliberately chose quotes from passages that were NOT included in the close reading, but would still be acceptable to the prompt.  I fully expect that students will steal or borrow some of the adjectives I used to describe the characters, but by using different passages, they will have to cite their own evidence.  You could also write a paragraph about a text that you've previously read from, which I often do.

You might notice that I only cite page numbers in my citations.  I speak about that in this video. Basically, it boils down to my belief that teaching the proper MLA format for anthologies this early in the year isn't that important. When we do research, yes, we cover it more in depth, but now? Meh. Your mileage may vary.

Writing Workshop

30 minutes

After I finished modeling, I gave students time to work on their own outline in class.  I encouraged them to ask their group members for help, with the understanding that if they did so, the people across the room should not be able to hear them.

I walked around the room, checking on students' progress.  One of the biggest issues I saw was students who were not writing commentary, but rather, another bit of concrete evidence. To provide support, I did the following:

  • I asked them how their 'commentary' explained their concrete evidence.  
  • I asked, "So what? Why does that matter?"
  • I asked, "What's the connection?"
  • I asked, "What does 'blah' have to do with 'blah blah blah blah?"
  • Does your concrete evidence support your topic sentence?  How?
  • Does your commentary explain or interpret your commentary?  How?

For homework, students were assigned the final draft. I told students that I would be collecting everything for the close reading project--the annotated passage, quickwrites, rough draft, and final draft. And not to worry, the outline was the rough draft.


6 minutes

To help students revise their writing, I asked them to read their drafts aloud to a partner. No, they weren't necessarily done, so students should just read what they have done at this point.  I asked them to read their paragraphs aloud to each other--not swap papers and read silently, but read their own paragraph aloud.

This helps students hear their writing.  It forces them to slow down and really hear what they wrote, not what they thought they wrote. If they caught something, they should make changes.  If their partner was confused they should use that confusion to help them make their ideas clearer.