Directed Reading-Thinking Activity

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Some things to think about when writing a Directed Reading/Thinking Activity by Laurie Gill
Stopping Points:
 Try to place stopping points at the end of a page, while at the same time placing them at strategic
points of natural anticipation in the story that lend themselves to wondering what will happen next.
Good stories will tend to present likely stopping points to you. Have faith in your own ability to choose
stopping points. The straightforward reason to place stopping points at the end of a page is for
management, so you can better control where kids stop.

Choose stopping points keeping in mind that a good story should and will have some problem to be
resolved, some triggering events that lead up to the problem, some character development associated
with the problem and its resolution, perhaps some attempted resolutions and certainly some sort of
successful resolution. These are important junctures you will want to get at through the places you stop
students to talk and the questions you ask when you stop.
Questions: While, "What do you think will happen now? Why do you think that? What have you read that
supports this idea? Read the part that proves it," are our consistent, tried and true questions, we can
supplement these core questions with more specific ones that call on the students to expand their thinking:

When you write a DR/TA, try to determine what the main issue of the story is at the "plot level", but also
start to think about the story "thematically". What is the author trying to say? How is the author using
the plot to express something more abstract or more important than the plot? As you think up
questions, ask yourself, "Does this question help us get at truly important parts of the story?" Another
way to say this is, "Does my question, or the answer to my question, help to drive the plot forward?"
This will help you to avoid low-level questions that don't really assist comprehension, like asking what
color something was, or even what someone's name was, when the answer doesn't drive the plot
forward.
(Note: I often forget the characters' names-keeping their personalities and actions apart IS usually
important to the plot and their names help us do this. In a conversational tone, I might act like I forgot
a character's name, just so the group can review comfortably who is who and single out which
characters may be important in the story. But I try not to make it look like a test of memory.)

Make your questions story-specific whenever possible. "How do you think Ramos will solve the class
pick-pocketing problem?" is probably better than the more generic, "How do you think the problem will
be solved?" By making specific references, you make your teaching sound more like conversation. I
think this is really desirable. You want the DR-TA to sound like a group of adults discussing a book in a
book club, without yet knowing the outcome. Russell Stauffer, the DR/TAs "Daddy", knew that the
DR/TA, when used often, could develop young scholars.

However, it may be a good idea to develop some generic questions to have on hand when you sit down
to write your own DR/TAs. You can modify these questions to suit a specific story. Here are some
examples which I have tried to break down into types.
Generic questions for adapting to your own DRTAs
Predict
 One probe to keep in mind is after asking a student what s/he thinks will happen next and getting, "I
don't know," you say, "I know you don't know but what do you think?"

Or, "I don't expect you to be right, but based on what we know so far, what do you think might
happen?" "Whom do you think this story will mostly be about?" (This helps hone in on the main
character -- and it typically turns out that the main character is the one with a problem to be solved.)

I also like this question a lot: "What do you think the rest of this story will be about?" I use this to try to
get at a longer-range prediction, when it is appropriate, that considers the story as a whole. See the
figure below which sketches out how there are short and long-range predictions a good story will
support.

Restating the question immediately above: "Do you know enough to say something about how you
think the rest of the story will turn out?" This kind of makes it a challenge to put all the pieces
understood up to that point together into a coherent prediction. Again, refer to the Global…..

Since most good stories have a problem that must somehow be solved, you can ask, "What do you
think the problem in this story is?" You just want to be sure enough evidence has been given by the
author by the time you ask this question. Or, if you just want to check, you can say, "Do we know
enough yet to say what the main problem in this story is?"

"What are some likely ways ____________'s problem could be solved in this story?"

"Which character seems to have a problem in this story?" Remember the main character is almost
always the one with the problem, or the one who will solve it or resolve it.

"Earlier, you said _____________________________ might happen. Now that we've read further,
do you still think that will happen? Why?"

"Usually a main character in a story must change somehow. How do you think ______________ will
change? Or, "Who do you think is going to change in this story? Why?" Or, "Who changed the most in
this story?"
Confirm:
Confirm questions should refer back to the students' predictions so you prove to them you were really
listening to their predictions and you were actually allowing them to set the group's purposes for reading. I
even try to make a practice of jotting down their exact words and refer back to them at subsequent stopping
points. I want my students to know I really am honoring their predictions -- their purpose-setting.

"How does this solution compare with what you said?" (You can make this question more story- and
student-specific by restating what student X said and not sounding as generic as I wrote this.)

"Were you close?"

”How was that problem resolved?"

"What happened?" (I have a soft spot for this question! It's deceptively simple.)

"What's going on right now in the story?" (This should help pull out whatever important happened in
the most recent section read.)

"How is what happened different from what you thought?"

"How did the title fit the story?"

When you want other, less talkative, students to join in the discussion, you can start by asking the
quiet student, "Do you find you can agree with X's or Y's prediction? Why?" Then, "What in the story
helps you agree with X?" This indirect approach helps less-confident students commit to the
discussion.
Explore Questions
A reading educator, James Mosenthal, deserves credit for making me think about this question type in the
DR/TA. He felt it was often but not always enough to ask just predict and confirm or disprove the prediction
questions. He described Explore Questions as ones that extended the basic questions by getting the
students to explain their thinking aloud. Or, if you found yourself with your students at a stopping point and
no predictions were forthcoming, he suggested you explore backwards in the story and kind of construct a
shared understanding -- making sure everyone in the group was on board with what events had taken place
-- and out of this might come reasonable predictions.
Some of these questions tap author's craft, and you may want to wait until after the whole story is read so
that their inclusion does not interrupt the flow of comprehension. These exploratory questions/discussions
are fun. BEWARE that they not take too much time way from actual reading. The reading-to-discussion
ratio should be about 3 to 1, and the ratio of teacher talk to student talk during that discussion should be 1
to 3.
 "How has ______________ and's _________________relationship changed in this section?"
 "Sometimes a story has more than one problem. Is there more than one in this one? Explain."
 "Why?" (Always good)
 "What makes you say that?"
 "What made change his/her mind?"
 "What has learned that s/he probably didn't know before?"
 "What new information does learn from what happened in this section?"
 "Why was important in this section?"
 "What important happened in this section?"
 "What did you learn in this section?"
 "What new was added to the story in this section?”
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"Did anything important happen in this part of the story?"
"Sometimes an author is trying to teach a lesson or get across a message. Could there be a message
in this story?"
"What does this tell you about character X?"
"How does react to (event or action)?"
"Can people change?"
“Who had changed? How do you know? Is ________________ the only one who changed?"
"What is the author trying to say here?"
"How does what just happened relate to (what we discussed earlier)?"
"Do you agree with (student X in the class)?"
"Are these character traits you would like to have? Explain. "
"How does the author emphasize... show... reveal...________________?"
"What does the title of the story have to do with the section we just read? What do you mean?"
"Well, what if...____________________________?" (Good for narrative and expository).
"Compare and contrast (X character) with (Y character)."
"Where in the story does the author establish that?"
"Why did the author put (Character or Event) in the story?"
"What is ______________'s motive?"
"What do you think the author was trying to do when s/he …………….?"
"Why did the character ___________________________________?"
"Why did the author have the character ___________________________________? (I bring the
author's motives into the discussion to try to reveal the author's craft -- especially with an eye towards
developing my students' writing ability.)"
"What did the author mean by _____________?"
"What's this story mostly about right now?"
This is fun: Ask a question in which you try to get the students to come up with some logical connection
between two seemingly (at that point in the story) unrelated sections of the text. Only certain well-written
stories will permit this kind of interrogation. But if your story does, you could say something like, "How can
we connect what's happening in this section with what's happening in that section?" Or, "How does what
happened in this part of the story relate to what we were talking about earlier?"
More forcefully, if you want to force the point and lead your students a bit: "What has this got to do with
what happened earlier in the story?"
Or, more playfully: "I can't see why the author put this whole section in the story." This play at my own
confusion is irresistible to students as they try to explain why the section does fit. I'm not above feigning
ignorance or a lack of understanding, especially to get a discussion going, or to bring a shy student out of
his or her shell.
When a group or some students seem to bring up issues that just aren't that important, I will gingerly try to
help them develop a filter for what's important in the story and what isn't -- I'll toss it (gently) back to them
by asking them to evaluate, "Is that really important?" and then try to wait for them to decide. This must be
done in an atmosphere of trust so the student isn't humiliated in any way. But part of becoming a critical
reader and a better comprehender is to be able to distinguish the important from the unimportant detail. If
the student can connect his or her point to the discussion logically, that's our criteria for acceptance.
Title __________________________________________________________________________
Source ___________________________ Level________________________
Pages____________
Potential themes the teacher may want to bring out through discussion during the reading:
(Example: man against nature, friendship, dealing with aging, alienation, cruelty, jealousy)
Suggestions for getting started:
(This could be something like reading the first paragraph or page to your students; or, picking out a juicy
section from further into the story to read to them to pique their interest without giving too much away, or,
letting them see an illustration from somewhere in the story that might generate a decent prediction or two
without giving too much away. Sometimes the title alone will generate a prediction, but 1 usually find I
must read a page or so before trying to really take predictions or all I really get are [wild) guesses. Oh, a
most appropriate way to get started is simply to have the STUDENTS read to your first stopping point and
then starting your DRTA.
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
First stopping point: ________________________
Predict/Support (Read parts of text that support predictions)
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Explore/Support (Read parts of text that support explorations)
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Read to: ________________________________
Confirm (Read parts that prove fulfillment or not of prior prediction. This is OPTIONAL as confirmations of
past predictions may come out more naturally as students give their support for their new predictions.)
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Predict/Support
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Explore/Support
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Read to: __________________________________
Confirm (OPTIONAL):
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Predict/Support
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Explore/Support
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Read to: _________________________________
Confirm (OPTIONAL):
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Predict/Support
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Explore/Support
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
Final points to discuss:
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
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