To get students thinking about the way the Ice Age setting impacts Maroo and her family, they look back through their notes from each chapter and sort them into four main categories: food, shelter, technology, and nature. Before class, I created a quiz on Socrative.com, so we head to that website now. After logging in, they see this prompt: Life during the Ice Age was tough! Living as hunter-gatherers with only simple tools was difficult. Of the following, which factor do you think poses the biggest threat to the family's survival? The response options are: the search for food; the need for shelter; nature: environment/geography/ climate; technology. The results from each ELA class that I see are roughly the same: nature/environment is the clear winner, with the search for food coming in second and the other two categories receiving a few votes each. If interested, you can import the quiz by entering this number: SOC-2325316.
Next year, I think I may give this quiz a few times. The first time would be right after reading chapter 1, then again at the middle and also the end of the book to track changes in student thinking.
Before students take part in the first formal assessment on the role of setting in this novel, we practice writing a response to an open response question (ORQ) together. We start by reviewing the prompt and analyzing the question carefully so that we are well aware of what is being asked. Then we review the rubric. The only scoring column that I read with them is that for a “4.” The reason for focusing on the top score is to encourage all students to set that as their goal. A good rubric is hard to find, but there is something about this one that I particularly like. It’s the standard for excellence that states: To score a “4”, your response must contain at least 3 DISTINCT main ideas as to how the setting impacts the character / conflict of the story. Details/examples in each main idea must not overlap with other details in the response. Such explicit language sets the students up for success. They are familiar with the language of this statement, such as ‘distinct main ideas’ and ‘overlapping details,’ from the writing program adopted by the school system. One thing you do not want to do is give students a rubric with language they cannot make heads or tails of.
Now that we know what to look for, we jot down the four categories identified in the activator as a reminder of what to look for and read the passage. Along the way, we mark up the text by underlining sections that relate to the prompt and write our thoughts in the margin. Before jumping into the writing, we use a graphic organizer to plan the response. The most straight-forward parts are restating the prompt and identifying three distinct claims or examples. There is also lots for agreement on possible quotes and they realize that not everyone is going to make the same choice. The most challenging part is getting them to understand the need for a transition or bridge between the example and the quote. You cannot just plop the quote into the response without setting the scene. One way to do this is to display to writing samples – one with transitions and one without. Even though they both have the same content (examples, quotes and explanations), one is much more appealing to the reader than the other.
The next step is to revise and edit the writing. Using a checklist and engaging with a peer guide the process.
After filling in the graphic organizer and writing a response, students color code their responses to make sure all the elements required by the rubric are present. In this way it is quickly apparent if something is missing. The students love this activity! Actually, just saying the words ‘colored pencils’ or ‘highlight’ always receives a positive response. A sample appears here.