155: How Smart Readers Think





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Reading is more than “decoding”
  • Reading goes beyond phonics and beyond knowing what the component words mean
  • Reading involves comprehension and thinking
Reading is an active, constructive process
  • Actively processing unfamiliar texts can involve:
    • rereading to clarify meaning
    • making educated guesses
    • comparing to past experiences
    • learning meanings in context
    • posing questions
  • All of the processes above remind us that meanings don’t come at face value, they are constructed as we read
Good readers have a repertoire of thinking strategies to comprehend texts.
  • Thinking Strategies of Effective Readers include:
    • visualizing – making mental / sensory images of texts
    • connecting – to prior knowledge, other texts, etc
    • questioning – actively wondering, interrogating the text, etc
    • inferring – predicting, hypothesizing, interpreting, drawing conclusions
    • evaluating – making judgements, determining importance
    • analyzing – notice text structures, themes, points of views, etc
    • recalling – retellings, summarizing
    • self-monitoring – recognizing and acting on confusion
  • Good readers (like good drivers) may do the processes above automatically without being fully aware of them
Prior knowledge is a main determinant of comprehension
  • Cognitive researchers have found that humans store info in patterns called schemata
  • Appropriate schemata needs to be activated to make sense of texts
  • Students who lack the prior knowledge to make sense of texts may need pre-reading activities to scaffold their reading – without this scaffolding the texts may be too hard
Reading is a staged and recursive process
  • Before reading
    • set purpose for reading
    • activate prior knowledge
    • develop questions
    • make predictions
  • During reading
    • sample text
    • visualize
    • hypothesize
    • confirm and alter predictions
    • monitor comprehension
  • After reading
    • recall / retell
    • evaluate
    • discuss
    • reread
    • apply
    • read more
Various Kinds of Reading
  • many real world texts involve intricate combinations of reading categories – or draw from features of several genres
  • different professionals ask different questions of themselves while reading texts within their genre:
    • Questions a scientist asks while reading science literature:
      • What prior work informed this paper?
      • What methods did the author use?
      • Was the experimental data convincing?
      • Were the data analyzed and interpreted fairly?
      • What literature did the author cite?
      • What are the major conclusions of the study?
    • Questions a historian asks while reading:
      • What type of document is this?
      • Who was the author?
      • How was the author involved in the subject matter?
      • When was the document produced?
      • Who was the intended audience?
      • Can this info be corroborated?
      • Whose voices are committed from this account?
      • What might author’s biases have been?
    • Answering these questions may come from paying close attention to the text itself and also may relate to research that goes beyond the original texts being questioned
Teaching Implications
  • Instead of just assigning reading – designing subject-specific reading activities that help students make better sense of the texts
  • Pre-reading activities
    • build and activate related prior knowledge
    • making predictions about the text
    • tying new ideas in text with prior knowledge
  • During reading activities
    • teach strategies for questioning, interpreting and harvesting their responses as they read
  • After reading activities
    • clarify ideas with classmates
    • move ideas from one medium to another (reading to writing, drama, dance, etc)


Knowing the processes that smart readers use to make sense of texts can help teachers design scaffolding activities that help their students make meaning of assigned readings.  This involves designing scaffolding activities for pre-reading, during reading and after reading.  Knowing the fundamental questions that experts ask of themselves while reading can help teachers design good content-specific questions that guide students’ analyses of texts.  Discussing these questions can help students learn content-specific reading and thinking strategies.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards and tasks in upcoming projects
  • Decide what types of reading students will need to do effectively in order to learn targeted standards and create project projects
  • Research and analyze texts students will use to acquire knowledge
  • Research and design pre-reading, during reading and post-reading activities that are specific to assigned texts and to the content intended to be learned from those texts.  See Reading and Literacy articles for ideas.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement pre-reading, during reading and post reading scaffolding activities that will help students learn how to effectively read and also effectively learn content at the same time
  • Use formative assessments associated with these scaffolding activities to provide feedback to students and to see what students are learning by applying the strategies
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use formative assessment feedback to determine what reading strategies are most effective and incorporate these into routines
  • Use reading strategies to help students make sense of dense, high lexile texts that are a bit outside of their comfort zones



154: The Core Purposes of Reading





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Reading Skills in the Common Core Standards:
  1. Key Ideas and Details
    • Recall and Infer
      • citing textual evidence to support analysis of texts
      • attending to precise details of explanations, descriptions
      • draw inferences from text
    • Summarize
      • identify central ideas and conclusions in texts
      • trace explanations of complex processes
      • summarize how ideas (especially central) develop over a text
    • Analyze
      • analyze series of events, sequences of steps, series of arguments, etc.
      • analyze cause and effect
      • attending to special cases, exceptions, defined in texts
      • sequencing and relating arguments in a text
  2. Craft and Structure
    • Acquire Academic Vocabulary
      • determine meanings of vocabulary (key & related words and phrases), symbols,
      • determining meanings of words in context, including their explicit and suggested meanings
      • analyze cumulative effects of word and phrase choices
    • Analyze Text Structure
      • analyze how structure is used to emphasize key points
      • analyze relationships among concepts
      • analyze how idea and claims are developed
    • Purpose and Point of View
      • compare/contrasts points of view of different authors
      • analyzing author’s purpose for selecting a specific research question
      • analyze how author uses rhetoric to promote a point of view
  3. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
    • Examine Text from Multiple Perspectives
      • integrate quantitative or technical analysis with qualitative analysis
      • translate technical texts into multiple representations such as equations, graphs, charts, etc
      • analyze different genres and mediums, noticing what details some mediums include and leave out
    • Evaluate Reasoning and Evidence
      • evaluate to what extent evidence supports author’s claims
      • identify false claims, false evidence, and specious lines of argument
    • Compare and Contrast Texts
      • compare various treatments of topics in primary and secondary sources
      • compare and contrast findings from different research groups
      • analyze seminal texts and how they address key themes and concepts
  4. Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
    • Read Deeply and Widely
      • reading content specific texts that span grade appropriate lexile levels
Characteristics of More Successful Content-Area Reading Activities
    • textbooks are not the sole sources of info
    • subject matter includes relevant issues that affect the world and students’ lives
    • read a variety of sources in order to make sense of what’s true and not
    • read about settled and unsettled (debatable) ideas
    • sample wide variety of genres – magazines, blogs, nonfiction books, other book genres, etc
    • bias towards current information
    • reading passages vary in length – short articles to book length
    • many texts take interdisciplinary approach
    • not just to pass a test; to gather information, make meaning and apply knowledge of ideas to important issues
    • teachers select some readings and students choose others
    • not every student reads the same texts; strategies like jigsawing used to share information
    • teachers scaffold thinking strategies that help students read more effectively
    • learning activities deepen engagement with texts
    • reading is seen as a social (not individual) activity
    • instead of focusing on “right answers”, leave room for debate
    • texts are connected by authentic themes; not isolated pieces of reading
    • reading is linked to real world tasks such as research, documentation, correspondence and advocacy
    • assessment to reading relied more on performance-based strategies, products and exhibitions


Teaching varied reading processes using engaging texts can help students develop better understandings of and more engagement with their courses.  There is an equity gap in students’ reading levels that is correlated to their socioeconomic status.  Using effective content-area reading strategies can help teachers support students in ways that narrow achievement gaps.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze past reading text selections and reading-specific learning activities.  How do they stack up to the characteristics of effective content-area reading lessons?
  • Research texts and strategies to fill in the gaps in your library and scaffolding activities.  See above and Reading articles for ideas.
  • Analyze skills needed to learn targeted standards and develop products in upcoming projects.  Identify which of the reading skills listed above are critical to successfully learning targets standards and developing products.
  • Write learning targets that relate to the reading skills students need to succeed in a project.
  • Develop scaffolding activities that relate to reading learning targets
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement scaffolding activities that relate to academic and reading learning targets
  • Use informal formative assessments to see if reading scaffolding is helping students to better learn
  • Have students reflect on how reading strategies are impacting their learning
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use series of student reflections and formative assessments to determine what reading strategies students are finding the most helpful.  Incorporate most effective strategies into routines.

151: Assessing Analytical & Critical Thinking Skills (Part 2 of 2)


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  1. Content, Form, and Functions Outline
    • Purpose:
      • Assess students’ ability to determine the informational content, form, and communicative function of a piece of writing
      • All of these skills are important because we are buried in messages of all kinds
    • What It Is: 
      • Students read a message and analyze the what (content), the how (form), and the why (function) of the message.
      • Students can analyze a piece of reading creating a what, how, and why outline
    • Suggestions for Use:
      • Good for writing and communication courses
      • Good for courses that require students to digest dense texts
    • Step-by-Step Procedure:
      1. Choose a sample text that represents a focus genre of a unit.
      2. Divide sample text into sub-sections.
      3. Find a model text that can be used to write a model Content, Form and Functions Outline.
      4. Model process of creating Content, Form and Functions Outline using model text and model outline.  Give clear examples that differentiate form and function.
      5. Provide students with a blank Content, Form and Functions Outline graphic organizer.
      6. Assign text for students to outline and provide sufficient time for students to complete the graphic organizer.
    • Analysis Tips:
      • .Analyze outlines through 3 lenses
        • How well did they paraphrase content?
        • How well did they identify and describe the forms of the text passages?
        • How well did they analyze the functions of the text passages?
      • Keep a running tally of problem spots that students have trouble analyzing
    • Extension Tips:
      • Use this outline to compare different types of writing or media and evaluate their effectiveness
      • Cut a completed outline into pieces for a given text and have students use the text to reorder the pieces
    • Pros:
      • Prompt students to analyze messages carefully
      • Stimulates thinking about patterns and common structures in texts.  Can help students see why and how different genres encode the same information.
      • Allows teachers to focus in on specific sticky points in the text.
    • Cons:
      • Time intensive technique for teachers and students
      • Many texts and messages can’t be easily categorized in neat ways.
      • Many texts and messages perform several functions for each component, making analysis more tricky.
    • Caveats:
      • Start small.  Introduce technique with a short, simple text passage.
      • Don’t feel constrained to model and practice technique over one day – ok and maybe more effective to spread over several days.
      • Recognize that students may come to different valid conclusions about the function of a message.
  2. Analytic Memos
    • Purpose:
      • Assesses ability to analyze assigned problems by using discipline-specific problem solving and communication methods.
      • Assesses ability to communicate concisely and clearly.
      • Provide students with feedback on analytical and writing skills.
    • What It Is: 
      • Students write a 1-2 page analysis of an issue / topic for a specific audience (employer, client, stakeholder)
    • Suggestions for Use:
      • Good for courses that teach specific problem solving / argumentation skills
      • Good as practice for larger writing assignments
      • Best suited for small classes because they take long to prepare and assess
    • Step-by-Step Procedure:
      1. Determine which analytical / critical thinking / problem solving methods you want to assess.
      2. Invent a well-focused issue or problem for the students to analyze.  Gather background information on the issue.
      3. Specify the role of the writer, the audience, the subject and purpose of the memo.
      4. Write your own Analytic Method on the issue.  Note any difficulties.  Assess whether it emphasizes the right types of problem solving and analytical methods.
      5. Decide whether students will work alone, in pairs or in small groups.
      6. Provide written expectations for assignment that includes: students’ role, their audience, specific subject, analytical approach to be taken, length limit (usually 1-2 pages) and deadline.
      7. Explain to students how this assessment will prepare them for subsequent tasks in the course and in their careers.
    • Analysis Tips:
      • Read memo quickly, only once before assessing it.
      • Use short checklist as an aid with 3-5 major points to look for in each memo and limit yourself to these points.
      • Make a simple grid for checklist for places to check off: well done, acceptable, needs work.
      • Limit comments to 2-3 specific comments.
      • Can tally number of well done, acceptable, etc. and identify what are you students’ strengths and areas in need of improvement.
    • Extension Tips:
      • Facilitate peer feedback and revision sessions.
      • Use Analytic Memo as first draft to a graded memo-writing assignment.
      • Divide class into policy analysts and policy makers; have makers respond in memo format to the analysts.
    • Pros:
      • Authentic tasks that sharpen and assess job-related skills
      • Provides rich data related to students’ skills
    • Cons:
      • Preparing memo is time consuming.
      • Providing feedback on memos is time consuming.
    • Caveats:
      • Choose problems that are real enough to warrant thoughtful analysis.
      • Choose problems that are familiar to students.
      • Find ways to give grading credit to these drafts without penalizing students because this is an early draft.


Content, Form & Function Outlines can develop students’ awareness of the methods used to promote specific messages in texts.  Repeating this strategy may help students identify patterns that help them compare / contrast different texts and help them learn how to communicate messages in different writing genres.
The Analytic Memo can help students develop and gather feedback on their use of discipline specific problem solving and writing strategies.  It can serve as a first draft for a larger analytical writing assignment.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards related to upcoming products – analyze the verb (thinking levels) and noun (concepts, topics) in the standards
  • Analyze the reading, writing and thinking skills needed to successfully complete products aligned to the standards
  • If the reading is dense, consider breaking the key texts using the Content, Form and Function outline – this is especially true if the key texts are serving as sources of information and as models for written products
  • If the project requires high levels of analytical thinking, consider using the analytical memo as a pre-assessment of students’ writing and problem solving skills and as a first draft for a written product
Early Implementation Steps
  • Use a version of the procedures above (see WHAT?) to implement the assessment of your choice.
  • Analyze the assessment and provide timely individual and class-wide feedback on the assessments.
  • Describe how the assessment feedback will affect future teaching and learning.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Implement assessment strategy multiple times so students can use the feedback and practice to develop related skills over time
  • After students have experienced the assessment several times, try implementing one of the assessment extensions ideas (see WHAT? above).



84: I-Search Papers





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I-Search Paper 
  • Similar to research paper except
    • Student chooses topic
    • Written in 1st person
  • Uses:
    • Build personal curiosity and tools to pursue it
    • Students can learn how to
      • narrow and deep dive into a topic
      • use research skills (identify valid sources, annotate sources, identify biases)
  • Play by play
    • Topic Search:
      • Brainstorming
        • start creating brainstorm lists individually
        • then share in pairs and teams and revises lists
      • Narrow brainstorm list to 4 topics
      • Conduct preliminary research and have student interview team mates about potential topics:
        • Why do you care?
        • Who do you already know?
        • How do you plan to learn more?
      • Narrow topics to 2 choices – Top Pick and Plan B in case Top Pick hits a dead end
      • Variations:
        • Could brainstorm content item lists
        • Try to build bridges between top personal & content item choices
    • Identifying the Audience:
      • Other students and teacher
      • Could try to guide students to recruit audience from a group that ties to to their topic – if you do this prepare recruiting email and recruiting phone call templates
    • Prewriting Part I
      • Use a lot of pre-writing activities (WTLs) to process research such as:
        • Use double entry journal strategey- columns: what I think I know, questions I have (brainstorm list based on prior knowledge and for planning research next steps)
    • Gathering Information
      • Student create anothe double entry journal – columns = questions organized under major questions, possible sources
      • Books:  secure help from media specialist
      • Interviews: helps students design questionnaires, model interview process
      • Internet:
        • teach search query commands for search engines, how to use databases, and how to identify valid sources
        • provide internet source sheets that guide students in assessing and annotating websites
    • Prewriting Part II
      • Underline key information in references and write note as to why it’s underlined
      • Start with 4 questions on 4 Sheets of papers – color-code highlight sources to match up information that addresses top 4 questions
      • Jot down notes summarize info related to each question
    • Drafting
      • Main parts of paper:
        • Introduction
        • Description of search (optional, omit if it leads to repetitive description)
        • What was found
        • How to use information and related questions
    • Revisions
      • Facilitate revision meetings with writing teams who discuss
        • Introduction
          • How does writing grab attention?
          • How does intro hint a prior knowledge and interest?
          • How does writer help unfamiliar audience?
          • How does writer make topic appealing?
        • Question answers
          • Best evidence?
          • Missing evidence?
          • Off topic evidence?
        • Conclusion
          • Connections to intro ideas?
          • Follow-up questions and next steps?
          • Lingering lessons
    • Editing
      • X out common errors such as 2nd person
      • Replace 2nd person with real nouns
    •  Sharing the Writing
      • Convert paper to shorter feature articles for school newspaper
      • Read aloud papers at presentations
    • Troubleshooting
      • Plagiarism
        • Use WTL assignments to process research
        • Teach students parenthetical citaions


Letting students choose their own I-search paper topics can help them be more invested in their processes and products.  Guiding the research and prewriting processes with Writing-to Learn tasks can helps students process information, create drafts, and avoid plagiarism.  See WTL 1 and  2 articles.


Preparation Steps
  • Find time of year when I-seatch paper would be appropriate
    • Time of year dedicated to process standards
    • After students have already practiced several writing stages
  • Prepare resources related to the stages describe above
  • Prepare a project calendar that includes:
    • research time
    • prewriting time
    • in class writing time
    • critique and feedback lessons
    • conference times
    • milestone deadlines assigned to writing artifacts in writing stages
    • rehearsal and presentation time
    • student self reflection times
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project plan prepped above
  • Use formative feedback to fine time in progress project plan
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Recruit real panelists (or guide student to recruit real audiences) to read their work
  • Have student polish and summarize work for school blog or school magazine
  • Feature work in Learning Fairs



83: Learning Fairs





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Learning Fairs:
  • Students present work to community in poster session like environment (think science fair)
  • Uses:
    • Students study topics in depth
    • Students present to wide audience
    • Student learn field research techniques
    • Opportunity to integrate subjects – ELA, Science, Math, etc
  • Play by play:
    • Topic Search
      • Identity primary sources
        • Students brainstorm people they can interview
        • Students brainstorm scientific questions they can investigate
      • Communicate expectations – product formats & criteria
    • Identify the audience
      • Recruit varied panel consisting of teachers of different courses, students, family members, other community members
    • Gathering information
      • Provide thinking sheets to guide research
        • Help students design interviews
        • Help students design investigations
      • Provide in-class research time so that parents don’t help too much
      • Expose students to models and discuss common features and identify strategies
      • Allow time for multiple investigations or interviews – can learn from first iteration and apply lessons to later iterations
    • Drafting, revising, & editing:
    • Sharing the writing:
      • Create speeches and visual aides based on papers
      • Allow rehearsal time prior to Learning Fair
    • Possible Grading Criteria:
      • Engaging beginning
      • Clear controlling theme
      • Thorough, clear supporting evidence
      • Good organization of anecdotes and arguments
      • Free of grammar and spelling errors
      • Creative, school appropriate
    • Troubleshooting
      • Students make early errors that affect end products
        • Give feedback throughout the duration of project – don’t wait till the end
    • Grading tips:
      • Recruit external panel – alumni, teachers from other courses, community members, experts
      • Design easy-to-use assessment tools for panels – rubrics or checklists or criteria with room to assign Likert scale scores


Learning fairs provide opportunities for the school and local communities to gather and celebrate student work.  Grade level teams can coordinate to create complementary learning fair products.  Real broad audiences can inspire students to product their best work.  To prevent student learning fairs from become parent fairs, provide a lot of in class feedback and work time.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide if you want to coordinate with grade-level teachers (or cross grade-level teams) and meet regularly to plan logistics (common themes, fair dates, variety of complimentary products, etc)
  • Recruit panelists
  • Set a learning fair date, secure space and publicize fair date, location, and theme to the community
  • Decide on target content and target genres and prepare scaffolding and assessment – see above for ideas
  • Design a project calendar that includes:
    • ample time for writing phases above
    • ample time for in class work time and feedback from various sources and revision time
    • rehearsal time
    • milestone deadlines for different stages of products
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project plan – see activities planned in preparation phase.
  • Use formative feedback to fine tune scaffolding and assessment as needed.
  • Use formative feedback to teach students how to revise work during in class work time
  • Facilitate lessons during all writing stages
  • Facilitate time for rehearsals and final round of feedback
  • Organize panel and panel resources (evaluation materials, assignments to teams, etc)
  • Facilitate Learning Fair and Enjoy (takes lots of pictures)
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Could tie Learning Fair to real contests – if so, be sure to scaffold and assess content criteria
  • Make Learning Fairs a regular event (2x per year per grade level?) at school in order to build community moral and relationships



82: Social Action Papers


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Social Action Papers
  • Any writing assignment that connects learning targets with real issues in the community
  • Uses:
    • Develop research and persuasive writing skills
    • Develop citizenship values and skills
    • Student learn how to use textbooks as reference tools
  • Play by play
  • Caveats:
    • Students may choose a topic / project whose scope is too big or too small
      • can resolve with feedback on proposals
    • Students can procrastinate
      • can resolve with milestone deadlines, in-class supported work time


Social action papers can tie content to real issues.  The real relevance can make project more engaging to students.  Incorporating a real audience into the project can also raise the stakes and interest level of the project.


Preparation Steps
  • Find real audiences
    • Recruit a local partner as a resource or client for the project – they could be clients and/or sources of expertise
    • Identify connections to potential topics that can make students’ friends and families viable audiences
  • Research and gather resources that relate to genre of social action paper
  • Design resources / activities to help students select topics:
  • Research and prepare resources for scaffolding writing.  Related articles
  • Design a project calendar that includes:
    • Time to brainstorm, select, vet, and refine topic / product choices
    • Research time
    • Time to scaffold writing and related content
    • Milestone deadlines for writing stages
    • (if possible) Time to interact with real audience
    • Multiple reflection times
    • Critique & feedback lessons
    • Time to present to real audience
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement resources prepped above.
  • Be flexible with students who are working with real clients / experts because their time lines may not match school time lines
  • Provide a lot of formative feedback and in class work time throughout the project
  • Schedule time to meet with and present to real clients
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Build sustaining relationships with local organizations so that multiple cohorts of students can work for real local organizations
  • Use tools like Nepris or Ignite by DiscoverSTEAM to connect students with real clients / experts.
  • Scaffold students through a design process to create products that client really needs.  See Design Process articles.



81: Multigenre Projects





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Multigenre Project

  • Instead of one long research paper, students compose several shorter pieces focused on a single topic
  • Recommended related reading:
  • Uses:
  • Play by play
    • Getting started
      • Use preliminary research to help students pick a topic that genuinely interests them
      • Inspire and inform students by showing them models
      • Scaffold research processes
        • how to select valid sources
        • how to gather notes on researched information
    • Working the room
      • Have students choose from a LARGE menu of writing genres,  Putz has them pick 7.
      • Possible genres
        • Check out the book , too many to list here.  Plus the book has some pretty compelling examples of student work.
        • Would be neat if someone would take a large genre list and classify it by the 6 facets of understanding .  Then you could require students to pick 1 genre form each facet.  If such a chart exists or if you create one, please share.
      • Facilitate mini-lessons and distribute thinking sheets and show models that go with each genre
      • Allow students to select appropriate tools (apps, paper, fonts, etc) to represent their chosen genres
      • Require students to connect all 7 pieces into a coherent whole – logically sequence them and create transitions between them.
      • Students select a package to hold writing pieces that goes with topic.  (Note: These remind me of items from a McSweeney’s subscription)
    • Leverage the work
      • Individual students form teams and create a piece of reader’s theater than incorporates excerpts from all their pieces.
      • Self – assessments on the work –
        • How did you choose your genres?
        • What did you learn?
        • How did you connect your pieces into a cohesive whole?
        • Are you happy with your topic choice? why?
    • Challenges
      • Complicated project calendar
      • Need to prep resources for many writing genres
        • Could have students gather 3 examples from a new genre and find common features and use those for criteria to create writing piece
        • Could limit menu of genres to ones you already have prepped resources for


Multi-genre products actively engage students to explore multiple types of understanding by having them write in multiple genres.  Each genre has different thinking and writing demands.  This type of project could be good for advanced PBL teachers and advanced students who need a different type of project to break up the monotony of commonly assigned products.  This can be used to explore and appreciate BIG IDEAS that have lots of layers.


Preparation Steps
  • Conduct more research than is in this article – see related reading above and the source book
  • Gather resources (mini-lessons, models, thinking sheets) for all the genres in the menu students will be allowed to pick from
  • Design resources to help students choose their topics:
    • Design an essential question that aligns to targeted standards and that students can unpack to choose a topic that interests them
    • If course standards permit, design a preliminary research / topic selection activity that will allow students to choose topic that interests them
  • Design project calendar that has:
    • Adequate research time (near start of project)
    • Milestone deadlines for genre types (middle of project)
    • Milestone deadlines for coherent whole (end of project)
    • Milestone deadlines for team product – reading theater piece (end of project)
Early Implementation Steps
  • Facilitate project using resources designed above
  • Provide A LOT of in class work time and in class feedback – see these articles for ideas – Critique / Feedback lessons and Writing Workshops
  • Facilitate self reflections and self assessments that help students become aware of how their writing and understanding are developing throughout the project and to help students set and achieve academic goals
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use  6 facets of understanding to create a genre menu that enables students to select one genre per facet of understanding.



80: Shorter Writing Projects (3 of 3)



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Newspaper Front Page:
  • Team creates short list of interesting articles that leave audience wanting more
  • Uses:
    • summarize material
    • practice different formats – news article, editorial, feature, advice column
    • show how subjectivity plays into non-fiction pieces
  • Play by play
    • Topic search:
      • teacher-assigned
      • assign major role players and students brainstorm lesser characters
      • choose from menus of topics and formats
    • Identifying the audience:
      • How will I need to title and write the article to catch the interest of _______?
      • Brainstorm audience types that go with topics
      • Select audience of let the WheelDecide
      • Brainstorm newspaper title that will appeal to audience
    • Gathering information:
      • Use information in students notes and textbook
      • Research information from valid internet sources
    • Prewriting:
      • Use templates to set word counts, image quantities and sizes per article
      • Restrict to 1st page to make every word count
      • Brainstorm content of specialty boxes – example: “Inside this issue”
    • Drafting:
      • Since articles are short, draft in class and provide students with in-progress feedback
    • Revision:
      • Meet in writer’s group and look for: (Also, see RAFT notes)
        • Inclusion of descriptive helpful information
        • Audience appeal
        • Wording
      • Writers take turns slowly reading aloud team members’ papers to listen for elements to polish and taking notes on feedback from team members
    • Editting:
      • Type up and use spell and grammar check
      • Check article word count to ensure they match templates
      • Write in word processing software (simple) and then copy/paste into template software
    • Sharing the Writing:
      • Share in gallery style presentations
      • Post high quality work on class bulletin board
    • Other tips:
      • Tech tip:  Use same template software to create entry document to familiarize yourself with software
    • Grading criteria:
      • Catchy titles
      • Accurate header information
      • Consistent fonts (and other newspaper formatting details)
      • Evidence of use of notes and research
      • Cover who, what, when, where, why
      • Lead sentences grab audience attention
      • Information aligns to intended to topics
      • Free of grammar and spelling errors
Web Page
  • Writing piece(s) published on the internet
  • Uses:
    • Uses of sub-pages and hyperlinks can add layers to information
    • Develops understanding by having student impose structure on information
    • Breaks up writing into small, connected chunks
    • Practice 21st century literacy skills
    • Motivate students with real, wide audiences
  • Play by play:
    • Getting started
      • Internet research from valid sources
      • Teach norm: If information is already in website, link it – don’t include it in writing to avoid plagiarism
      • Select easy to use or familiar web-creation tool – poll students to say what they’ve already used, can place a few students in expert role to assist students with using website tool
    • Working the room
      • If possible, divide up class time between workshops (and other learning activities) and website work time
      • Set milestone deadlines for key elements/decision  – choosing a focus, completing research, creating graphic, drafting scripts, and publishing
      • Provide feedback at all milestones
    • Variations:
      • Use thinking sheets to guide research and writing processes
      • Can combine web question with website creation


Knowing a wide variety of possible writing projects can prevent writing products from feeling stale and repetitive.


The Newspaper front page can teach students how to represent a lot of essential information using a concise style that appeals to a specific audience.  This exercise can show students how subjectivity affects non-fiction writing.


Creating websites can teach students how to represent information in short pieces connected by hyperlinks.  The act of creating these layered, connected writing pieces can help students develop understanding by imposing structure on information.  These products can motivate students to produce high quality work because of their access to wide audiences.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what writing assignments best align to current and future learning targets.
  • Research and develop scaffolding and assessment activities and resources that go with selected writing assignment.  See above and Writing articles for ideas.
  • Research how to use tech tools that go with written products
  • If possible, model use of software by creating launch materials using selected software
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project that features selected writing activity.
  • Have students reflect on how the steps in the writing process are affecting their content understandings and their writing skills.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Re-use some of the positively tested strategies in previous projects to reinforce skills in current and future projects.
  • Maintain a class blog or class magazine that features high quality student work.
  • Have students gather feedback from audience members outside school to revise and refine work



79: Shorter Writing Projects (2 of 3)



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RAFT Papers
  • What is RAFT?
    • Role of writer
    • Audience of writer
    • Format of writing piece
    • Topic
  • Uses:
    • See content from different perspectives.
    • Creative representation of researched facts
  • Play by Play:
    • Topic search:
      • Give a menu of topics to choose from
      • Start with broad topic that has many possible subtopics that students can choose
    • Identifying Audience, Role, & Format
      • Possible roles: professions, historical figures, real related roles, etc
      • Possible audiences: related orgs/interest groups, historical figures/orgs, friend/foe of role, etc
        • Try to select audiences far removed from classroom that emotionally or logically relate to role
      • Possible formats: speech, letter, conversation, essay, argument, editorial, pamphlet, etc
      • Trinilicious twist:
        • Each team gets to pick topic (same for all team members)
        • Use WheelDecide to select Role and Audience for each individual on team
        • Select Format that goes with plausible interactions between writer role and audience
      • after RAF selections, brainstorm implications in groups of 3 or 4
    • Gathering information:
      • Gather information from valid internet sources
      • Take factual notes from research
      • Make notes that describe how role and audience and format affect factual information
    • Pre-writing:
      • Give out tip sheets, checklists, or thinking sheets that scaffold different writing formats
      • Use mini-lessons, models, and thinking sheets (or similar) to scaffold writing formats
    • Drafting:
    • Revision:
      • Work in writing teams to identify:
        • What lines fit role (and not)?
        • What details reflect time period, audience, actor, setting, etc.?
        • Is intended effect on audience obvious?  How to enhance this?
      • Silent rereads after team discussions
      • Underline hard facts in writing piece
      • Conduct more research to fill in parts with missing factual details
      • Use new research and team feedback to revise draft
      • Print new copy
    • Revising:
      • Pick a couple of watch-fors to focus feedback
      • Try to select watch-fors that are common elements to writing formats – example: use of quotes in letters
    • Sharing the writing:
      • Read aloud in presentations
      • Publish high quality works in school blog or magazine
    • Possible grading criteria:
      • Role is clear – fits audience and format
      • Follows format conventions
      • Extensive use of research notes
      • Original, interesting, school appropriate
  • Students convey information with interesting graphics and concise writing that conveys essential and interesting facts
  • Uses:
    • Review material
    • Connect writing and learning with visuals
    • Summarize researched information
  • Play by play:
    • Topic search:
      • For review: assign topics
      • For research:
        • Provide menu of topics to choose from, or
        • General topic that inspire sub-topics – facilitate brainstorming activity to generate possibilities
    • Identifying the Audience:
      • Select audience that will inspire students to write in clear and interesting ways – example: middle school students for high school students prepping a review brochure
    •  Drafting: 
      • Hand write or type drafts
      • Use brochure templates in word processing software or create brochures by hand (collage-style)
    • Revision & Editting:
      • Work with a feedback partner:
      • Revision Look-Fors:
        • Is all essential information present?
        • Writing style?  Dry? Plagiarized? Enthusiastic?
        • Does writing style fit audience?
      • Partner slowly reads aloud brochure text –  Listen for errors in wording, spelling, and grammar that can be fixed to polish the brochure.
      • Read piece backwards slowly to check for correct spellings and wording
      • Assemble final brochure after revising and editing are done
    • Sharing the Writing
      • Students share brochures and note how same information is represented among brochures
      • Use brochures to study for assessments
      • Could share with real intended audiences
    • Other tips:
      • Require original graphics to avoid plagiarism
Knowing a wide variety of possible writing projects can prevent writing products from feeling stale and repetitive.


The RAFT paper shows students how different perspectives and intentions modify how information is written. This paper could be good for courses or good for projects that aim to teach students how perspectives affect understandings.  Completing different RAFT papers within teams that address the same topic with different RAF selections could teach students how to collaborate to represent the same information in different ways.


Brochures can engage visual learners and artistic students to engage in writing assignments.  They teach students how to present essential information using concise writing and interesting graphics.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what writing assignments best align to current and future learning targets.
  • Research and develop scaffolding and assessment activities and resources that go with selected writing assignment.  See above and Writing articles for ideas.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project that features selected writing activity.
  • Have students reflect on how the steps in the writing process are affecting their content understandings and their writing skills.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Re-use some of the positively tested strategies in previous projects to reinforce skills in current and future projects.
  • Maintain a class blog or class magazine that features high quality student work.



78: Shorter Writing Projects (1 of 3)





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People Research:
  • Uses / purposes:
    • Easier than research abstract topics
    • Stepping stone for building research and writing skills that build up to attract topics
  • Questionnaires & Surveys
    • Play-by-play:
      • Investigate sample surveys and extract examples and key features.  For modeling lessons, go here.
      • Learn about different survey questions and different scoring systems.
      • Design and implement own surveys.
      • Workshop how to cluster and summarize data using various graphs
      • Students write about conclusions that are backed by evidence in the summary graphs
  • Interviews
    • Play-by-play:
      • Help students select and contact people they can interview
      • Help students design interview questions
      • Students interview subjects using questionnaire and use writing and recording devices to record interview
      • Flesh out interview information with information researched from valid internet sources
      • Develop writing pieces using researched information aimed at a specific audience
      • Use teacher conferences and peer response sessions for
        • revisions – substantial changes in writing structure
        • revising – after revisions, polish word choice, spelling, and grammar
        • proofreading – correct tiny errors that spell check and grammar check miss
        • For critique lesson formats, go here.
        • Use checklists to help with giving descriptive feedback.
  • writing genre that marries factual research with imagination (facts + fiction)
  • students research facts and write stories involving these
  • Uses:
    • students can personalize learning – connect to their lives, prior knowledge, experiences
    • serve as additional alternative summative assessment in addition to traditional test
    • short guided research project
  • Example:
    • write a journal entry for character using researched historical details
  • Play-by-play:
    • Topic search: Depends on goals
      • Develop research skills – start with assigned set of resources
      • Independent research:
        • start with set of teacher generated list topics
        • guide students to find interesting topics:
          • scan textbook and pay attention to bold text and picture captions
          • assign 3 general website, study these, and list intriguing topics
    • Identifying the Audiences:
      • 3 audiences: teacher, writer, and someone else
      • identify other audience that connects to writing topic and writing genre
    • Gathering Information:
      • 2-3 valid sources
      • use a checklist for identifying valid internet sources
      • give students starter list of 5-10 sources
      • teach students how to search databases and how to frame data queries into Google and similar tools
      • collaborate with media specialist / librarian if your school has one or more
    • Prewriting:
      • record key research information
      • react to researched information in character
      • develop character details – age, social status, occupation, education, gender, background, goals, hopes, dreams
    • Drafting:
      • Work the room – scan writing as it evolves
      • After 30 min of drafting, students read aloud to a partner – listen for revision opportunities
      • Double-spaced drafts create room for written comments
    • Revisions:
      • Revise for 2 reasons;
        • increase evidence of sufficient research
          • underline key facts in piece
          • model use of parenthetical citations
          • students add citations to their papers
          • identify areas that have little factual content and research more info to fill these gaps
        • enhance characterization with examples, details
          • read papers aloud in writing groups and discuss:
            • words that created action and imagery
            • favorite parts
            • parts missing details and information
            • when did you care most about character
      • Split revisions into 2 phases (see 2 above) with space in between each to let work rest
    • Editting:
      • Chart common student errors and use chart to identify top 3 errors in individual’s work
      • Teach students how to find and correct common errors
      • Check in with ELA class to see if you can emphasize key grammar elements being featured in that course
      • Have writing partners only provide editing feedback on 1st page of writing and have individual students find similar errors in remaining pages
      • Create individual responsibilities sheets that list writing goals and individual’s top 3 errors – use these lists to improve writing
      • Have writing partner read the paper aloud – more likely to read mistakes as written so they are easier to hear
      • Check for spelling errors by reading slowly with finger tracing each word
      • Ask students to get 2 other adults (besides teacher) to proofread paper
    • Sharing the writing:
      • Read papers aloud at presentations
      • Seek out audiences beyond the classroom
      • Hold unto to writing samples and polish and
      • submit best sample within a semester to a class magazine
    • Other Tips
      • Facilitate each stage and explain its purpose so that students learn to appreciate writing as a process
      • Provide feedback at each phase so students can gradually improve over time
    • Possible grading criteria:
      • Realization of character through details
      • Replicates genre fully
      • Use of research and notes is evident
      • Uses citations and reference page correctly
      • Original, creative, but school appropriate


3-sowhatThe two writing projects described above are research projects that build up to  more difficult genres that involve research of abstract topics.  The people research project helps students write about topics that are very personal and tangible and teaches them how to design and research questions.  The faction paper teaches students how to blend fact and fiction.  It helps them to connect factual research with their own lives and experiences.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what writing assignments develop skills that are good pre-cursors to more formal genres that are key to the course.
  • Early in the year scaffold and assess writing projects that feature genres that develop skills related to more complex genres.
  • Research and develop strategies and tools that relate to these writing genres.  Think about how the skills taught in these projects can be leveraged later in the year.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project that features writing product from a preparing genre.  See above for examples and here and here.
  • Have students reflect on how they are developing skills that you know will be used later in the year.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Re-use some of the strategies in preparation projects in order to reinforce skills that will be used in later writing projects.
  • Maintain a class blog or class magazine that features high quality student work.