Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

Comprehension Strategies launching lesson August 28, 2008

Today I taught my first model lesson for three other teachers in fourth grade. I thought it went pretty well. I was nervous the day before when meeting with the teachers to talk about the lesson, but once I was in the classroom with the students, it felt very natural. I did have several things going in my favor: It is a lesson that I had done successfully in my classroom last year; I know many of the students since my daughter is the same age; it was in the classroom of the woman who used to be my co-teacher until this year. I don’t think I could have gotten a more comfortable setting for a first time!

The lesson is one I had read about in book entitled Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor. The lesson is called Reading Salad. I really like the set-up she describes of telling students that you bet they are really good at pretending. You then go onto to explain that they are going to pretend to the be teachers and you are going to pretend to be a student. Remind them teachers are very serious about reading, so they should be very serious because they are going to be grading me as a reader (while pretending to be a student). I selected the book Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen for my role as “student”. The book it is one that I know many of the teachers read last year as we had had several ongoing conversations about it at lunch. I read aloud (with a couple choice words removed) parts of the first two pages of the prologue. I did (accidentally) stumble over a word or two and also have to go back and reread one sentence when my “editing” made the sentence unclear.

When done I asked them to give me honest feedback about me as a reader. They were very complementary, as was last year’s group, despite my couple stumbles. When asked why they thought I was a good reader, they offered things such as “you knew all the words”, “you used expression”, “it seemed like a hard book” and other similar offerings. I then revealed to them that the first time I had read that part of the book, I had been very confused about what was going on, and also shared that I went back to the prologue and reread it many more times as I was reading the book as I figured out new things that I didn’t know when I read it the first time. They were very impressed that I would reread part of a book more than once because I wanted to.

On the fly I remembered a story that my teaching partner had shared with me about her son, who is now a senior in high school. She was very excited that he had learned to read and when she went to parent teacher conferences for the first time, she told the teacher how proud she was of his reading. The teacher (as it so happens, was my mother-which makes the story even funnier to the kids) informed my teaching partner that her son wasn’t reading, but had memorized certain books. She asked her to write some of the words out of context to see if her son could read them. He could not.

This story was a perfect tie-in to the rest of McGregor’s Reading Salad lesson as you ask the students, “Since you are so good at pretending, I bet you’ve been able to pretend you are reading or that you understand something you read, when really you didn’t.” We did a turn and talk with a partner and then shared some instances of when they have “pretended” to read or understand when they really didn’t. It is AMAZING how honest they are about times they knew the words, but didn’t understand, or only looked at the pictures, or flipped pages without reading, etc. The most promising sharing was of a student who shared that sometimes she stops and daydreams about what is happening in the books when she is reading, instead of continuing reading (perfect springboard to come back to for visualizing). 

I went on to explain the Reading Salad part of the lesson. You have a bowl with green pieces of paper marked “text” and another bowl with red pieces of paper marked “thinking” (this is opposite of what is described in her book, but a modification that I found worked better for me after last year’s students).  There is a third bowl marked “salad”. I put two students up on stools/chairs on either side of me and held the salad bowl in my lap. I read aloud Splat Cat (see earlier review) as a think aloud. Each time I read text, green text “lettuce” was added to the salad and when I stopped to do the think-aloud, red thinking “tomatoes” were added until the book was over and there was a salad. 

This year I also added orange carrots to represent unknown/unfamiliar words. The lesson ends with a specialized Venn Diagram of a book (text) intersecting with a head (thinking) for Real Reading (not pretend reading!). I will post a photo of our chart later this week so you can visualize. 

As I stated at first, this is a modified lesson from the McGregor comprehension book. She has many other great, hands-on, visual, or concrete lesson for launching your strategies lessons. 

Later this week I will then like to follow up with a lesson that Franki Sibberson describes in her book Still Learning to Read: Teaching Students in Grades 3-6.

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