When students arrive to class they are greeted with the question: What do you know about Robin Hood? The responses come fast and furious: he’s in cartoons, movies, books…he lives in Sherwood Forest…rob from the rich, give to the poor…he wears green…he shots arrows…the sheriff of Nottingham is his enemy…and on, and on it goes. This way students become interested and engaged in the story we are about to read and it provides an opportunity to build background for students who may not have heard of this legendary character (English language learners, for instance).
The passage for this lesson comes from a set of texts released by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2006. It was used as part of grade 7 English Language Arts assessment that year. I decided to use it with sixth graders because of the high interest topic and because the open response question fits our unit on character change.
As they read, students search for and mark answers in the text for the multiple-choice questions. They also add annotations in the margins summarizing what they read or asking questions. They tend to move through this process quickly and efficiently. I sit and read with a few struggling readers and the rest of the students work independently. After reviewing the answers we move on the next part: the ORQ.
Answering an open response question (ORQ) can be challenging and, therefore, takes practice. Some students intuitively pick up on the process and find their own way to proficiently meet the criteria of the question. However, most students benefit from being taught a strategy and by being guided through the process with scaffolding that is gradually removed. There are a few ways to do this. One is a graphic organizer and another is a checklist. On both there are notations for color-coding. Students tend to think of this as fun and sometimes overlook its practical purpose, so modeling the process is essential. Rather than simply highlighting or underlining each sentence in the suggested sequence of colors (blue, red, orange, yellow, etc.), students need to actually stop and think about their writing. Did I restate the prompt or skip that? All too often I find myself saying something like, You cannot highlight the first sentence blue if it is not a restatement! To avoid this scenerio from repeating itself, I ask students to fill in the graphic organizer and then stop before writing out their response so we can talk through the writing process.
Before ending class and sending students off to write out their responses for homework, I give them time to discuss Maid Marion’s character traits and the quotes that support those examples. It is interesting to listen in to the conversations. Some comments include: “Why do you say that?” “Tell me more about your thinking.” or “Hey, I chose that one too!” The purpose of this lesson is for students to gain valuable practice identifying character traits and searching for direct text evidence. So I want to have the best possible notes to work from while writing. Attached are two examples of completed responses. One demonstrates color-coding and the other develops each trait in a separate paragraph. Some thoughts on student responses appears here: