• We have learned from Kelly Gallagher that our students can be good readers and bad readers - it depends on what they are reading#  He reminded us that we need to make time for students to encounter complex texts so that we can help them learn how to work through the confusion#  Learning happens at the moment of confusion#  We need to be there for our students so they can be informed citizens of the world#
    Gallagher also reminds us that, as teachers, we need to ask ourselves the following questions when designing lessons that include text#
    1# Without assistance, what should students take away from this reading?
    2# With assistance,  what should students take away from this reading?
    3# What can I do to bridge the gap? How will I know that they've got it?

    students readign books
  • Text Frames with Gaps

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    Here’s an activity that provides a framework for studentsbut also requires their input.  Studentsare given outlines of the upcoming chapter, but the outline has some gaps init.  For example, a Text Frame for achapter in a social studies textbook on the events leading to America’s involvementin World War II might look like this:

    Chapter 2: The War Begins

    ·       German troops occupy Paris.

    ·       France Surrenders.


    ·       America considers its options.


    The U.S. declares war.
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  • Twenty Questions

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    The first chapter of a book is usually the most confusingfor students, and it’s the place where an immature reader is most likely tolose focus.  To promote the idea thatgood readers consciously work through early confusion, I ask students togenerate Twenty Questions after reading Chapter 1 of any text.  Here are the questions that William, age 17,wrote after reading the first few pages of 1984.

    1.     How can clocks striker thirteen?

    2.     What are “Victory Mansions”?

    3.     What is “Hate Week”?

    4.     Who is Big Brother?

    5.     What is a telescreen?

    6.     Who belongs to the “Party”?

    7.     Why do party members wear uniforms?

    8.     What does “INGSOC” mean?

    9.     What I the Ninth Three-Year Plan?

    10.  Who are the “Thought Police”? Why are theycalled this?

    11.  Which countries are found in Oceania?

    12.  What is Airstrip One?

    13.  What do the following slogans mean?

    a.     War is Peace.

    b.     Freedom is Slavery

    c.     Ignorance is Strength

    14.  What is the Ministry of Truth?

    15.  What is the Ministry of Peace?

    16.  What is the Ministry of Plenty?

    17.  What is the Ministry of Love?

    18.  Why are products like gin and cigarettes called“Victory Gin” and “Victory Cigarettes”?

    19.  How could it be that “nothing is illegal”?

    20.  What is the “Two Minutes Hate”? What functiondoes it serve?

    Twenty Questions nicely reinforces someimportant ideas: that confusion is natural when one reads complex text, thatcompetent readers are not deterred by initial confusion, and that hanging inthere when the early part of the book is tough is what good readers do.

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  • Focus Groups

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    Often when students are reading a major work, I will placethem in groups and provide each group with a specific focus.  For example, I may have each group focus onand chart a specific literary element as they progress through the work.  Here are focus groups I set up for RudolfoAnaya’s Bless Me, Ultima:




    Group 1

    Focus on how setting (time and place) is used to develop emotional effect.

    Group 2

    Chart any evidence of the author’s use of foreshadowing/hints. How does this foreshadowing affect the novel?

    Group 3

    Track how the author uses language (description, imagery, metaphor, irony, humor) make the story richer.


    Each group tracks and keeps notes.  If students are reading fiction, they cantrack specific characters; if reading a history or science book, they can trackactual people or events.


    Adapted from: Gallagher,Kelly. Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4 - 12.Portland: Stenhouse Publishers, 2004.

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  • Color Coding

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    Anothereffective way to teach students to monitor their reading comprehension is tohave them color-code the text. To do this, I give each student twohighlighters, one yellow and one pink. I ask them to read a difficult passagewith the highlighters in hand, and highlight every single word in the text.They use the yellow highlighter for words, phrases, sentences, or entirepassages they understand; they use the pink highlighter for everything they donot understand.

                I wouldn’t ask my students to do thecolor-coding assignment without doing it myself; and I invite you to try theexercise by color-coding the Steven Pinker passage found in Figure 4.3. (Thispassage is not one I’d use with adolescents; I chose it to help adults see thevalue of this exercise.) Remember to highlight every word, pinpointing exactlywhere your comprehension breaks down. If you were in a classroom with otheradults, I would then place you in groups and have you discuss your troublespots.

                Color-coding comprehension has manybenefits:

    ·      It provides thereader with a focus.

    ·      It motivates thereader to concentrate in order to come up with as few pink-highlighted passagesas possible.

    ·      It shows thereader where to slow his or her pace.

    ·      It alerts thereader to the importance of context in trying to make meaning.

    ·      It encourages thereader to revise his or her comprehension while reading.


    Because we cannot replace schoolbooks every year, we cannot have studentswrite

     Scores or color code in their books. Usingsticky notes is one way to get the same results without physically marking thebooks. Students can score themselves, note where their comprehension falters,or write questions on the slips as they read. They can remove the notes aftereach chapter; attach them to a sheet of notebook paper, and turn them in asevidence of their having interacted with the text. I often ask students to chooseone of their sticky notes and write a reflection to be turned in with it.

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  • Three Key Questions

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    SheridanBlau says that there are really only three questions we need to ask studentsafter they have read something, and that these three questions we need to askstudents after they have read something, and that these three questionsencompass three different levels of thinking. The three questions are:

    1.    What does it say?

    2.    What does itmean?

    3.    What does itmatter?


    What DoesIt Say? What Does It Mean?

    The firstquestion -   “What does it say?”  -  is asking forliteral-level comprehension. Students must be able to answer this level ofquestion before moving on to the other two. A literal understanding is aprerequisite for uncovering deeper meaning in the text - foundational toanswering the second question, “What does it mean?”

               Take Chapter 1 of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, for example. Thefirst line of the novel reads: “The boy with the fair hair lowered himself downthe last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon.” This isour introduction to Ralph, one of the many boys stranded on an island after aplane crash. At first, Ralph appears to be much like the other boys stranded onthe island. It isn’t until we reread the first two pages that we notice hintsthat Ralph will eventually come to represent fairness. Not only is “fair” usedto describe his hair in the opening line, but Golding also uses “fair” ninetimes in the first two pages to describe Ralph. Not once in my fifteen years ofteaching this book has a student pointed this out after an initial reading.However, when I ask my students to revisit the first two pages and lookcarefully at Golding’s diction, they are always surprised to “discover” theword “fair” nine times – a clue they had initially missed. RecognizingGolding’s overuse of the word “fair” leads to some natural questions: Why doesGolding do this? What is he trying to achieve in the reader’s minds? Whenstudents start asking these kinds of questions, they begin getting down intothe “What does it mean?” level of thinking.

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  • Say/Mean Chart

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    A simplet-chart is an effective tool prompt students to higher- level reading. On theleft side of the chart, students are asked to write what the passage says(literal comprehension); on the right side, they record what they think thepassage means (inferential comprehension).

                A nice way to introduce this chartis by sharing some of the quirky statistics found in “Harper’s Index,” a monthlycompilation of interesting statements found in Harper’s magazine (available online at Harper’s.com). Here, forexample, are some of the statements from the May 2003 index:

    • Last calendar year in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained in value: 1999.
    • Last period in which the Dow declined for four consecutive years: 1929-1932.
    • Percentage change since 1968 in the real value of the U.S. federal minimum wage: -37.
    • Number of words the New York Times has devoted to the shuttle disaster per resulting death: 28,500.
    • Number of words the Times devoted to 1998’s U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa per resulting death: 163.
    • Percentage of employed U.S. mothers who think full-time mothers look down on them: 66.
    • Percentage of full-time mothers who think employed mothers look down on them: 73.
    • Number of U. S. doctors per pharmaceutical sales representative in 1995 and 2002, respectively: 19 and 9.

    Students choose one of thesestatements and together we put together our t-chart. Figure 5.3 presents theresults of a recent class brainstorm.

    This t-chart activity can be usedwith any type of challenging text, including magazine articles, poems, shortstories, novels, and plays. I use it to help students deepen theircomprehension of political cartoons, a type of reading with which they oftenstruggle. When reading a political, “What does it say?” takes on a new lightbecause what is “said” is often done so pictorially. I ask students to listevery image and all the words they see in the cartoon.
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  • Flip Side Chart

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    Someone oncesaid that everything is a problem. If you win the lottery, you pay higher taxesand become saddled with long-lost relatives looking for gifts. If you areawarded first prize in a poetry contest, some of your colleagues will envy you.If you drive a beautiful car, you will pay higher insurance. Every positive hasa negative. Everything has a flip side.

                Though this may be a ratherpessimistic way of looking at the world, it can help students become criticalreaders, particularly when they are reading nonfiction. In this morning’snewspaper, for example, there are a number of stories that have a flip side:


     The Flip Side

    The President declares that the majorfighting in Iraq             Americansoldiers continue to be ambushed.

    is over and the Iraqis have beenliberated.                                 Anarchyreigns in the cities.


    Mortgagerates for homebuyers are at a thirty-year-low.        Housingprices are at an all-time high.

    You can buy a new camcorder with nopayments and             An interest rateof 19.6% is calculated from the

    no interest for one year.                                                               Beginningof the loan if you do not pay in full

    within the first twelve months.

    The mighty Ducks hockey team made itto the

    Stanley Cup finals for the first timein franchise history.         They lostthe series in seven games to the

    New Jersey Devils.


    The U.S. congress passes the PatriotAct, enabling law            Some innocentpeople are held indefinitely against

    enforcement to more effectively fightterrorism.                      theirwill.



                Unfortunately,many of my students read at face value only. Teaching them to consider the flipside of what they read allows them to sharpen their ability to dig under the surfaceof text.


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  • Mystery Envelopes

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    Hand eachgroup a “mystery envelope.” Inside is an index card with a question for thegroup to answer. Here are some examples of mystery questions:

    ·      What is thesingle most important word in this chapter? Why?

    ·      Which characterhas changed the most so far? Is the change good or bad? What caused thischange?

    ·      What lesson(s)have we learned from a specific character?

    ·      This chapterdoesn’t have a title. What should the title be? Why?

    ·      Which minorcharacter played the most important role in this book? Why?

    ·      Why did we readthis book? Why spend four weeks reading it? What value does it hold for themodern reader?

    ·      What techniquesdid the author use in this chapter to hold the readers’ interest?

    ·      What is thecentral theme of this passage/chapter/book?

    ·      Why did theauthor write this passage/chapter/book?

    ·      Which characteris most (least) believable? Why?

    ·      Revisit thechapter and search for the foreshadowing. Was the foreshadowing obvious or wasit well hidden?

    ·      How does theauthor use setting to advance the story?



    The groups may be given the samequestion or different ones. Each group shares their answers, with all studentstaking notes as a group shares.

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  • Word Scramble Prediction

    Posted by CORINNE SIKORA on 3/3/2014

    Before we read text, I want students to predict what mighthappen.  To help them a bit (and to piquetheir curiosity), I give them a list of words they will find in the chapterthey will read. For example, prior to reading Chapter 28 of To Kill a Mockingbird, I’ll provide thefollowing list of words to the students:



    kitchen knife







    jerk backwards







    Students read the word scramble and are given five minutesto write a prediction of what will happen in the chapter.  Students then volunteer to read theirpredictions out loud, and after we have heard a number of them, I say, “Let’ssee whose prediction is the closest. Open to Chapter 28 and let’s read.” Thisactivity never fails to make students focus intensely as they read.
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