Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sentence Collecting

Several years ago I took a Teachers as Readers Ohio Writing Project class with Sharon Rab.  It was a fabulous experience.  We were able to read some fantastic books and meet some amazing authors.  Some of them included Libba Bray, Shannon Hale, Anne Lamott, and Jodi Picoult.  Rab's assignment for when we were reading the books was to "collect" sentences while reading and mark them with sticky notes.  Reasons to collect a sentence could be because it resonated with us, beautiful language, symbolism, connections, foreshadowing, characterization, predictions, wonderings, etc.  After finishing the book and reviewing the sentences we collected, we compiled them, and then we were to choose one, head our paper with it, and expound upon what the sentence meant in an extended response.  Before we met the author, we would meet at a restaurant or book store, share a couple sentences and read our papers.  I loved the exercise and felt like I made deeper connections to those books than any before, and I remembered them better.  Now I use post-it flags whenever I read books for school or book clubs.  I decided to adapt the activity to my fifth grade classroom to see what happened.

I bought bunches of the one inch post-it notes and modeled the activity using Patricia Polacco's Thank You, Mr. Falker.  I read it straight through one day so as to not interrupt a powerful story, and we briefly discussed it and then the kids wrote a few sentences of response in their notebooks that day.  The next day, I explained that we were going to choose sentences that meant something to us or to the story and mark them.  We were also going to explain why we wanted to look at those sentences more carefully.  We gathered in a circle, and I marked sentences with the post-it notes whenever a student raised his/her hand to suggest we mark one.  We waited for why until after the story was over and could go back one by one.  I tried to limit them to only one or two sentences per page.  It's important to not mark everything - we all teach that concept when highlighting, underlining, or circling key concepts or ideas - relevant and irrelevant details.  Then we picked what we thought was one of the more important sentences about which we could say a lot.  We were done for that day.  That night, for my homework, I wrote a model extended response for that sentence and shared it with them the next day.  At that point, I didn't have other student models to share because it was the first time I did it with students.  The following years I showed them student models.  Then we chose another sentence that was important from the book, and they wrote another one in their notebooks.  These responses were much briefer than the papers we did for the OWP course obviously, but they certainly got the concept.  Then when we met in book groups, the kids were required to mark a certain amount of sentences per chapter or assignment.  I asked them to just stick the post it note on sentences while reading, without stopping to write, so as to not interrupt their flow, and then go back and write on the post-it notes after they were done with the assignment.  These became discussion points for small groups.  They typed or wrote up the best sentences they collected (usually 15-20), along with the pages numbers and explanations why they picked the sentences. Then they chose one sentence about which to write the extended response.  I loved how they interacted with the texts, and the collecting gave them a lot to talk and write about.

Of course, the activity is not without its problems.  Not all the sentences the kids marked seemed to be significant, and not all the reasons why they picked them were sophisticated, but they got better as the year went along and after I showed them many more examples and models.  Some variations on this could include marking only figurative language examples after presenting a mini lesson on similes, metaphors, personification, etc., or marking only characteristics of a character and how an author shows us his/her personality, or marking quesions and then finding answers, etc., depending on what the focus is for that book or unit.

This coming school year, I will introduce this activity and in September focus on marking sentences in which students can make connections since my new school district's reading pacing guide starts with that.   Then we can talk about why those connections help them understand the text better.  Also, since nonfiction is going to be such an integral part of the upcoming Common Core standards, I'd like to do more sentence collecting with informational texts and focus on nonfiction reading skills.  Marking charts, maps, photographs, etc., can also help students make meaning with complex nonfiction text features.

Sentence collecting can be modified for any grade.  Primary students could use sticky notes on illustrations in picture books or wordless books.  If students aren't writing yet, they could interact by drawing pictures.

Let me know how you may be using this type of interaction with text in your classrooms or any other insights/suggestions you have.

Here are some examples of students' work when using this activity:




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