Monday, March 28, 2016

text-dependent questions: craft and structure

I've been working with a lot of teachers lately that are really gifted at asking text-dependent questions that focus on Key Ideas and Details in the Common Core Standards for ELA in reading. But when it comes to thinking about the Craft and Structure set of standards, they feel less confident about developing those questions. The Craft and Structure standards are as follows:

    • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
    • Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
    • Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
For standard 4, the focus should be on the meanings of words and/or phrases and how those words/phrases impact the meaning and/or tone of the text. So, some of what teachers need to consider, then, is to determine the most powerful academic words / phrases in the text and explore the role of those words and phrases in the key ideas of the text. Examples might include:
  • What is the meaning of the word [ ____ ] in this text?
  • Which word means [ __________ ]?
  • Why did the author use the word [______ ] to describe [ _______ ]?
  • Which sentence helps you understand [ _________ ]?
  • How does the language in this section help set a tone for the text?
  • What types of figurative language is being used?
Standard 5 focuses on the structure of larger portions of text (sentences, paragraphs, stanzas, etc). So, for this standard, questions revolve around analyzing how those structures relate to the entire text. Examples of questions might include:
  • What type of text is this [story, poem, drama, etc.]?
  • What is the purpose of the first paragraph in this text?
  • Which best describes the structure of the fourth paragraph of this text?
  • How do the text features help me understand this text?
  • Which [paragraph/stanza/section/sentence] contributes the most to the development of ideas in this text?
  • How does the organizational structure help readers explain ideas presented in the text?

Standard 6 is designed to help students determine point of view and its impact on the text. Questions that help encourage this thinking include:
  • How do I know when a character is talking?
  • Who is telling the [story, poem, play] and why?
  • How does the point of view impact the [story/poem/play]?
  • Who is the subject of this text?
  • What is the author's point of view?
  • What techniques does the author use to develop/distinguish between the different characters'/ narrators' points of view?
These are just a sample to get you started. If you're looking for help unpacking the standards to get to the heart of what they mean for you and your students, among my favorite resources are the texts written or co-written by Jim Burke, for Grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8


Blauman, L., & Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades 3-5. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades 6-8. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Taberski, S., & Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Monday, March 14, 2016

interaction strategies

One of the best things teachers can do to support student learning is get them interacting with new content. We do this often by having students engage in the "think-pair-share" strategy. But sometimes this feels old and tired. Is there something else to try?


There are 10 great alternatives to "think-pair-share" found here at We Are Teachers. The "think-pair-share-square" gets kids talking to even more students. The "mingle-pair-share" is the same idea, but gets kids moving. "Sticky-note-storm" is a great way to get individual students to commit to paper their ideas in a low-stress way. "Sage-and-Scribe" also gets kids writing. And the "Tea Party" or the Circle Chat is a strategy that gets students up and moving while maintaining a structure for partner talk. Students form two circles, one inside and one outside, facing each other. Students have a set amount of time to discuss with the student they are across from, and then the outside circle moves one person to the left. Now they have a new partner to discuss with. Check out all the strategies described at the link.

Kagan Structures are also another way to think about cooperative learning. In particular, the "rally coach" strategy, where one partner works on solving a problem while the other partner coaches and then partners switch roles, can provide a different structure to the "pair-share" time.

We can still use "think-pair-share," but it can help to mix it up. And even better than "think-pair-share," try to be more specific than telling students to think. As this blogger wrote, ask students to summarize-pair-share, generate an opinion-pair-share, or estimate-pair-share. Instead of asking students to simply think, give them a clue about the strategy they should be using.

What are your most effective ways to get kids interacting with content in your class?