I try to incorporate pre reading activities whenever possible. I think it is so important to access prior knowledge and give students some kind of framework before jumping into a complex text.
This particular story, Ghost Cat, by Donna Hill is one that the typical sixth grader will understand, but there is some complex vocabulary and rich figurative language that make the descriptive sections a bit difficult. This description is what sets the mood of the story, so it is important that students grasp it. This pre reading activity exposes students to some of the key passages in the story "Ghost Cat" before they read it. I choose the passages based on their importance to the plot, but I didn't want to give anything anyway. I made sure to choose several passages that contained description of the setting and figurative language because we will be focusing on mood while reading this week. I picked seven passages because my class it divided up into seven groups.
Once I chose the passages, I just typed them up in a larger font so that a small group of 3 or 4 could all read it at the same time. Next, cut the passages out, and you are ready to go!
This activity works well with large white boards because students can quickly erase their work and move on to a new passage. Another variation is to tape the passages on large pieces of paper, and have students move to other groups and read each other's work before they respond. Since I wanted each group to read all 7 passages, I thought the white board method would work best.
Each group makes a work space for each of the members on a large white board. Give each group a passage to read. Once they have all read it, they quietly respond to it on their white board. After each person in the group has responded, the students discuss their responses. Since the passages are random, they often have trouble getting started. I tell them to write what they think is going on in passage, how the passage makes them feel, what the passage makes them think about, or anything else that pops into their minds.
I did have a student in my first class today write, "What do you call a fish with no eyes?" as his response after reading a passage that described the house in the story. I gave him a questioning look, and he said, "You told me to write whatever popped into my brain!" Lesson learned. I need to be more specific! (The answer, by the way, is fish. A fish with no eyes...i's...Gotta love sixth grade boys!)
After everyone has read their passage, the groups rotate passages and start again with a new one. I typically give each group 3 minutes or so for each passage. Any more time than that and they kids will start drawing or playing hangman on the white boards. : )
As they are working, I walk around to the groups and help answer any questions. I sometimes need to define vocabulary words or explain passages, but for the most part I have chosen simple passages that everyone can understand. If students are off task, I will gently redirect and help them get focused.
The students are usually pretty engaged in this activity because it moves quickly. This story in particular is suspenseful so they are eager to find out what happens next.
Now that students have some background knowledge of the story, I want them to make a prediction about what will happen. They will need to fold a piece of white paper into 3 columns. The center column is for the prediction. Label the left column Evidence For and the right column Evidence Against.
Have students write a prediction based on what they read in the passages. Once they've written their predictions, I ask them to share with the class. Today we are just setting up this prediction chart, but the students will not be actually reading the story until tomorrow. I am having them set up the chart with their prediction today while it is still fresh in their minds.
Tomorrow when they read the story for the first time, they will use their predictions to guide their reading. As they read, they will be looking for evidence that either supports or refutes their prediction. It really doesn't even matter if the prediction is correct or even close. The whole point is that as the students read a complex text, they are reading for a reason. Because they are looking for this evidence, they will be reading carefully and looking for detail. This process helps with comprehension and critical thinking because as the students move through the text, they are evaluating it.
It is fun to see the students interested in reading the story! They are excited to find out if their predictions are correct