Close Reading with Chaim Potuk's 'Zebra"

43 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will analyze characters and figurative language by close reading a passage from Chaim Potuk's “Zebra."

Big Idea

Close reading gives students room to explore and analyze literature using productive struggle and explicit guidance from the teacher.


10 minutes

Read the two poems on the board, "The Toaster" and "The Garden Hose."  Identify the types of figurative language used in both poems. Use your notes!


Identify the types of figurative language being used in the topic sentence. Copy the lines that prove your answer and cite the lines in the concrete evidence.  Explain your reasoning in the commentary. Summarize your paragraph in the concluding sentence.


Daily Grams

10 minutes

Day 39



  • For Grandma's birthday gift, Cory and I brought an Ontari blender from Zerfing's Appliance Store.
    • Grandma is capitalized because it is being used as a name, a proper noun.  If it were 'my grandma,' it would not be capitalized.
    • Ontari and Zerfing's Appliance Store are all proper nouns.


  • Logan announced, "We've decided to marry on December 12, 2015, at 2 o'clock."
    • A comma is needed after announced because it is a dialogue tag.
    • Quotation marks are placed around the words that Logan actually said.  Note that the period goes inside the  quotation marks.
    • We've is a contraction of we have, so it needs an apostrophe.
    • Separate dates from years with a comma.


  • How do you know whether to use no or any?  How do you avoid the double negative?
  • "Don't get (no/any) ideas. . ."
    • Using no would put you in double negative territory which is double plus ungood.
    • Using any is correct adverb to avoid the double negative.


  • A sentence, a complete sentence, tells a complete thought.  It has a subject and predicate.  It has a subject and verb.  Fragments do not tell a complete thought.  Run-ons combine too many thoughts at once with out proper punctuation. The number of words does not always tell whether it is a fragment or run-on. There can be long sentence fragments and there can be shorter run-on sentences.
    • "Her glare told us that she was not happy." This sentence has a subject and verb.  It is a complete sentence.
    • "Jana, resting her foot on the brake at a traffic light" is not a complete sentence. Jana is the subject.  The dependent clause tells more about Jana, but it does not contain a verb in the predicate.  It is a fragment.
    • "They moved, all of their friends helped them." This is a run-on sentence.  There are two subjects and two predicates.  A conjunction added after the comma would solve this sentence's problem.

Sentence Fluency

  • Lang enjoyed his hiking trip, got blisters on his heel.
  • This sentence is a run-on sentence.  It is missing a conjunction after the comma, a very simple fix.

Close Reading: Reviewing the Procedure

5 minutes

We reviewed the procedure for the close reading strategy. My school made posters of the close reading strategy from the pdf poster in the resources section, and they finally arrived a couple of weeks ago.  It's been hanging up, and this was the first close reading lesson since they arrived.


We reminded them that they'd be reading this passage not once, not twice, not three times, but FOUR TIMES! WOOT!


As they read the passage, they should use the annotation symbols.  Of course, the best annotation symbols were the ones that individuals create for themselves, but the annotation symbols on the poster give us all a starting point.


Before moving on to the first read, we asked students to select three different colors that they would use for the three different readings and create a legend so that it was easy to see what colors were used for each read.


I have boxes of colored pencils that can easily be distributed, one box to a group, for those students who don't have their own colored pencils or highlighters.

First Read: First Impressions of Character Traits

20 minutes

The first read is a 'cold read', but since students have read the story previously, it's not really a cold read. This is one of the more difficult passages in the story, and it give an excellent opportunity to discuss traits, motives, and metaphors, which has been the focus for the last week.


We told students to read the passage silently and independently.  While they were reading, they should make their annotations, underline, and write comments in the margins.


This was difficult for students.  They don't necessarily know what is important. That's the productive struggle that is important for students to have.


After most students were finished, we gave them the quickwrite prompt. They wrote for about five minutes on the prompt, and then read their quickwrites aloud in their groups.

Second Read: Character Motivation

20 minutes

We reminded student to switch colors for this second read.  This time, my student teacher read the text aloud while the students read along silently.  They should annotate new things that jump out at them, or even annotate things that seemed important during the first read and seemed even more important during the second read.


After my student teacher finished reading aloud, we showed the quickwrite prompt for this second read, which focuses on motivation.  Why did the characters tell the stories they did?  What was their motivation for telling these stories?   We gave students about five minutes to write at least five sentences before prompting them to discuss in their groups.



Third Read: Figurative Language

20 minutes

The third read ties in characterization, motivation, and figurative language.  This was the read that is done by the teacher, in this case, my student teacher. She read the passage aloud, stopping to annotate, comment, and model her thinking.


My students, especially Honors students, have a hard time not responding to the questions that the teacher asks during this third read.  They're used to answering teacher questions, because that's what they do every single day in every single class.  When teachers model think alouds, they answer the questions out of habit, not out of disrespect or not following directions. 


Some things that she annotated in this third read:


  •  "Mrs. English called it a class in imagination."  This makes it seem like a creative writing class, but "Zebra was grateful that he did not have to take notes in this class.  He only had to listen to the stories."  So it's not a creative writing class, it's a story-telling class.  Why are they telling stories three times a week?  What kind of a class is this?  Why are only ten kids chosen every year?  What are they chosen for?
  • The description of Andrea as a "freckle-faced, redheaded girl with very thick glasses" is an example of direct characterization, because the narrator is directly telling us about her physical appearance. Her story, though, is indirect characterization because the author is revealing her personality through the character's words.  I wonder what her story reveals about her.  She tel.s a story about a woman scientist who heals treas that have been broken by lightning.  Does she see herself as the scientist or as the tree?
  • Mark is also described by direct characterization.  He has "something wrong with his upper lip" and has  "quavery voice." Kevin is described by direct characterization.  He talks in "blurred, high-pitched tones" and speaks with his hands. Mrs. English often repeated many of his sentences quietly.  I think that detail indirectly reveals some of her personality.  She quietly repeats his sentences.  She thinks that what he has to say is important.  She cares about Mark, when many people would dismiss him because it's difficult to understand him.
  • Zebra's story is totally a metaphor for what happened to him.  He is the bird that crashed into the windowpane, but his windowpane was the car.  If Zebra's story reveals something so clearly about him, the others' stories probably are metaphors for them.
  • Andrea says that Zebra "always tells such sad stories" and that he is "a very gloomy life form."  Since the author is revealing character through dialogue, it's indirect characterization, and the indirect characterization reveals some telling things about both Zebra and Andrea. Zebra is very depressed because of the accident.  He might not have a lot of friends because of his gloominess, which is totally understandable. Andrea's words also tell a lot about her.  Her language is distant.  Referring to Zebra as  "life form" makes it seem like she doesn't see people as human.  Perhaps she doesn't see herself as human.  Oh! Her story about the scientist and the lightning!  If she doesn't see herself as human, she's the tree.  She's what's damaged and she hopes that someone will come along and fix her.  It's interesting that she wants a woman scientist to fix the tree, not just any scientist. 
  • So. . .this class.  It seems like everyone has something they struggle with.  Zebra is physically injured.  Kevin and Mark seem to have disabilities that they were born with.  Andrea seems to be socially awkward.  I wonder if this is a class that Mrs. English has for students who don't fit in, who are outcasts.  Is it like counseling?  For that matter, who are the other six kids in the class?  Why does the author mention these students and not the others?


After the third read think-aloud, we showed students the prompt, which focuses on figurative language and how their annotations were different than the teachers.  Again, they were given five minutes to write their quickwrite before taking in their groups.



5 minutes

Think-Pair-Share: What was the most important thing you got out of today's lesson?  What do you now understand that you didn't before?


Today's lesson pictures is a picture I took of Nicholas Wilton's Silent Fall.  It's one of the pictures in our textbook.