Are your students glossing over important details in texts? With fiction, it’s like they get the gist of what’s going on but they don’t catch the finer details that move a story forward or that reveal critical moments.
In a conference I had recently, a student was reading a Scholastic short, an excerpt from the novel The Orphan of Ellis Island: A Time-Travel Adventure by Elvira Wolf. The main character Dominic hides from his classmates while on a field trip to Ellis Island and suddenly he’s in a different place and time. Then he meets three boys his age. Towards the end of the excerpt, Dominic realizes one of the boys is someone he knows back in the future (as an adult) only now he is ten-years-old. The last paragraph of the excerpt reads:
Dominic felt another shiver run down his spine as he heard the boy say, “And I’m Francesco, Francesco Candiano.”
After a student read the last few paragraphs in the excerpt, I asked, “What just happened in this part?” In a matter-of-factly way, the student responded, “The older brother introduced his younger brothers.” There was no mention of Dominic having an aha moment, of the shiver that runs down his spine. Now, honestly, the Scholastic shorts make me a little bit crazy. This excerpt is from chapter 8 in the novel so the reader (who has not read the first seven chapters) has to draw heavily from sparse clues to conclude that Dominic may know this boy. Nonetheless, this student was not picking up on the “shiver down the spine” or even wondering what this language might indicate.
When I noticed the student wasn’t thinking about what the character did in that moment, I moved into thinking aloud and said, “I noticed in the last paragraph that THE CHARACTER, Dominic, DID SOMETHING that might be IMPORTANT. He felt a shiver run down his spine. That means he got a kind of chill. I know that authors use this phrase to reveal that a character realizes something important so I’m asking myself what’s important here, what did Dominic notice.” I continued by drawing the student into noticing how earlier Dominic had realized he was in Italy and asked about someone specifically as though he might know someone there already. We made connections between these details and the moment the shiver runs down Dominic’s spine.
Include a clear teaching point
I closed with a teaching point: “When you are reading, noticing what characters are doing can help us stop and think about what’s important or what’s being revealed in the story. Our understanding of the story became stronger when we stopped and thought about ‘a shiver ran down his spine,’ right?”
During a follow-up lesson, I made this teaching point even clearer with the anchor chart below.
Hope this helps.