In a previous lesson, students chose one of three articles related to our ever-changing world to read, to mark up the main ideas and important details and to answer some comprehension questions. One of the articles is about the rain forest a second is about climate change and the third is about life in the deepest part of the ocean.
Today I ask the students to sit with others who read the same article. At this moment, I hear a student say, “If I knew we were doing this, I’d have chosen a different article to be with my friends.” –which makes me glad I did not mention it! To begin the lesson, I want to review the skill of identifying text structure, so I ask them to talk with others at their group and decide how the article they read is organized. Common text structures include: description, sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, problem/solution and list/enumeration. It is a pleasant surprise when students at each group pull out the worksheet from a few days ago used during a lesson on this topic. They are to back up their decision by providing quotes from the text that signal an organizational pattern. Those who read the article on rain-forest medicine decide on sequence after first considering description. The signal words that finally tip them off are: “for thousands of years,” “today,” “now,” and “someday.” The students who read about climate change decide on cause and effect based on the appearance of those words in the text and phrases such as “when there is….Then.” The students who read about life in the deepest parts of the ocean come to agree on description because of the list of characteristics that make life possible deep below the ocean’s surface.
Working in small groups, students compare their answers to the comprehension questions and address any discrepancies. They enjoy this type of work and are usually successful at it as long as everyone participates appropriately by staying on topic. The biggest problem often becomes keeping the volume of the conversations at a reasonable level. Otherwise, people end up having to talk really loud just to be heard by someone right next to them. To avoid this, I give a reminder of the expectations for quiet voices before starting –“Your voice should not be heard beyond your table group”— and then move students away from a group if someone does not heed a direct reminder. If it is more than a few people being loud, then the whole class must work silently for two or three minutes before resuming group work. In this case, I appoint a student to monitor the clock.
The next step in the lesson is to continue working with the same group to check the main ideas and details highlighted in the text. Once a group comes to a consensus, they are given a graphic organizer to fill in and write a summary of the article. When done each student submits their marked up text, graphic organizer and final copy of the summary to me for grading. This formative assessment is important in gauging student mastery of comprehending informational text.
As I circulate among the groups, I point out ways to add transition phrases to smoothly connect ideas and, as inspiration to their peers, ask students to read complex sentences that make their writing interesting and that avoid a series of short sentences which would make the writing choppy. But I spend the bulk of my time meeting with a small group of students that need support with basic writing techniques: state the main idea, present important details in sequence, and add a concluding sentence.
About fifteen minutes before the end of class, I assign finishing the summary as homework and group students by threes (with one person that read each article) to describe what it was about. This way they get to hear about all of the topics and practice their speaking and listening skills. I ask them not to simply read their summary, but to use the highlighting in the text as a guide when speaking. Each student should address any questions or comments made by their peers. However, not everything always goes smoothly when it comes group work, particularly today. Behavior management becomes key at times like this.