Genius Teacher Idea
Editor's Note: Teacher Kim Wagner returns to the Scope Ideabook with another WOWZA idea. We are in love with how she uses subheads for summarizing, exploring text structures, and identifying central ideas. So doable! So delightful! Do you have inventive ways that you use subheads in your classroom? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Subheads are often overlooked, but I like to use them to help my struggling readers as well as my on-level readers practice several key skills. I've found that the subheads in Scope's nonfiction articles work especially well for these activities, particularly in longer articles like this one.
Here's how I use subheads to practice summarizing, text structures, and central ideas.
What you'll need:
any Scope nonfiction text with multiple subheads, like this one
a list of the article's subheads in random order
summarizing, text structures, central ideas
15-50 minutes, depending on the text length and skill
Before reading the article, have students read all the subheads and write a summary predicting what the article will be about. Read the article as a class, then have students return to their predictions and see how accurate they were. Have students discuss how and why their predictions were or were not accurate.
2. Text Structures
Before reading the article as a class, create a list of all its subheads in random order. Distribute the list to the class and have students organize the subheads according to different text structures: chronological, problem/solution, cause/effect, etc. After you read the article, have students compare their lists to the article's actual structure. Have a discussion about why the author may have structured the article the way that he or she did.
3. Central Ideas
After reading the article, ask students to rewrite all the subheads in their own words. This is a creative way for students to consider the central idea of each section while giving you, the teacher, immediate feedback about their understanding.
Kim Wagner is a Language Arts teacher at Hendersonville Middle School in Hendersonville, North Carolina. She is also a Scope teacher advisor.
Editor's Note: Sixth-grade ELA teacher and Scope advisor Angel Barnsback recently told us about how she uses "expert groups" in her classroom to give students ownership of their learning. After analyzing a text as a class, Angel breaks the class into groups and assigns each group a close-reading question on which the group members will become experts, first learning and then teaching what they learned to their classmates. We were so excited by her brilliant idea that we simply HAD to share it with you IMMEDIATELY. Enjoy!
What I really love about this activity—and why I do it so often—is that it gives students ownership of the knowledge they acquire, which helps them better retain that knowledge. Making students "experts" also gives them a sense of responsibly—to themselves, their group, and the class—to answer their assigned question thoughtfully and thoroughly. My students take this responsibility seriously! And because the activity is done in small groups, students who may be reticent to participate in whole-class discussions have the chance to be engaged in a less intimidating setting.
I usually do this activity with at least one article in each issue of Scope. For the November issue, I had my students become experts on the play This is What Courage Looks Like. Here's how I did it.
What you'll need:
any Scope text that lends itself to close reading, such as this one
close-reading and critical-thinking questions, such as these
vocabulary definitions, such as these
handheld whiteboard or large easel pad
text evidence, key ideas and details, analyzing, synthesizing, vocabulary in context, presenting information
15 minutes to construct answers
15 minutes for all groups to share their answers (about 3 minutes per group)
NOTE: Before I start this activity, we've already analyzed and discussed the text as a class, so students are very familiar with the text.
Step 1: Stuff envelopes.
I like to place the close-reading questions in envelopes, so students don't see the question they'll be answering before they choose it. I place one close-reading question in each envelope along with the definitions of the vocabulary words that appear in the text, to encourage students to use some of these new words in their presentations.
A great way to scaffold the close-reading questions is to add sentence starters and page numbers to direct students to the parts of the text where they can find the answers.
Step 2: Distribute the envelopes.
Divide the class into groups and have one student from each group choose an envelope.
Step 3: Students construct their answers.
Working in groups, students brainstorm the answer to the close-reading question from their envelope. They should use evidence from the text as well as some of their new vocabulary words. They should also make connections to other texts they’ve read, events in the world, or events in their own lives. Students then write their answers on a whiteboard or large notepad. (Students are very familiar with the text at this point, so they'll be flipping right to the evidence that supports their answers.)
Step 4: Students present their answers.
Each group chooses one person to present the group's answer. This student presents the answer to the class, providing text evidence to support the answer as well as explaining how and why the group formed that answer. I encourage students to talk to the class when presenting rather than look at notes. After all, they are experts now!
Step 5: Discuss as a class.
After each group has presented, I invite the rest of the class to comment and add to the answer. The presenting student responds to each comment. This is a great way to assess if the group really thought through its answer.
My students really get into this activity. In fact, one student suggested that every group should get a copy of the other groups' questions to discuss among themselves when they finish their expert group work. He followed up by saying, "That way, we can come to the whole-class discussion fully prepared to contribute." Love these kids!
Angel Barnsback is a 6th-grade ELA teacher at Liberty Middle School in Morganton, North Carolina. She is also a Scope teacher advisor.
Editor's note: Scope teacher advisor Kim Wagner recently shared a WOWSA classroom success story with us. Her students were struggling with how to use text evidence in their writing. Kim knew she needed to try something different—something that would provide them with lots of practice without becoming tedious. And she found just the thing: a writing strategy called R.A.C.E. (restate the question, answer the question, cite the evidence, explain the evidence). Check out her story below!
Scope texts work really well with the R.A.C.E. strategy because they are organized into perfect bite-sized chunks that don’t overwhelm or bore students as they practice the strategy multiple times. For this lesson, I used R.A.C.E. with Scope’s informational text “This Railroad Changed America" from the November issue.
What you'll need:
Any Scope text, such as this one
text evidence, key ideas and details, analyzing, synthesizing
One or two 50-minute class periods, depending on the length of the text
Step 1: Prepare questions
Before class, I prepare one question for each section (or every couple of sections) of the article. The questions are the kind of writing prompts that students will encounter on state assessments. They require students to go into the text and find explicit and implicit textual evidence to support their answer. For example:
- What challenges did the workers on the Transcontinental Railroad have to contend with? (for sections "Convenience and Safety" and "Difficult Conditions")
- How did the Transcontinental Railroad serve as a unifying symbol to a country torn apart by the Civil War? (for section “A New Day")
Step 2: Read as a class
We read and discuss the entire article as a class once. (You can also break students into groups to read the text.) This way students become familiar with the content and will be able to concentrate on the writing strategy later.
Step 3: Introduce the R.A.C.E. strategy
I refer to an anchor chart to introduce the R.A.C.E. strategy:
R—Restate the question.
A—Answer the question.
C—Cite evidence to support your answer.
E—Explain how the evidence supports your answer, if needed.
I also show this short video to further reinforce the idea. Then I explain to students that they will practice the strategy after reading each section of the article.
Step 4: Model the strategy
I model the R.A.C.E. strategy step-by-step using one of the questions that I prepared. First, I put the question under a document camera (or display it on the board). Next, we re-read the pertinent section of the article and choose evidence (relevant, sufficient, strong) to support our answer. I then show them how to weave that evidence into a smooth, clear sentence. (I’ve found this is the hardest part.) Once we are satisfied with our answer, we double check that we’ve completed each step of the R.A.C.E. strategy.
Step 5: Work in groups
Once students are comfortable with the strategy and I have watched them using it, I direct students to another section of the article, give them a question, and have them practice R.A.C.E. in groups or pairs. While they are working, I circulate the room and provide feedback.
Step 6: Share the work
Students share their responses under the document camera. (They love this!) As a class, we examine each response and give each group or pair a "star" for something they did well and a "wish" for something they could do next time to make their response even better. Again, we check to make sure each step of the strategy is completed. After teaching this lesson several times, I’ve noticed that this step produces the greatest growth in students’ writing.
Step 7: Work independently
Students read the rest of the article and practice R.A.C.E. on their own. Again, I circulate and provide immediate feedback and encouragement. By this point, students are comfortable with the strategy and are usually eager to show their work under the document camera. This is a vital step—students get to see many different well-structured responses as well as how they can improve their own answers with a little work.
Differentiation Tip: Sentence Starters!
If students are struggling with incorporating the evidence they are citing in their answers, provide them with sentence starters. For example:
According to the author Kristin Lewis, . . .
In the article “This Railroad Changed America,” the author states . . .
For example, the text states . . .
The first time I tried this strategy I was surprised by how quickly my students’ constructed responses improved and how much more sophisticated their responses were. And, after lots of practice, sharing, and discussion, most of my students were able to apply the R.A.C.E. strategy to new texts. R.A.C.E. can be used not only for constructed responses (such as on Scope quizzes) but also any time a student is asked to answer a question, even orally. And that, of course, is a teacher’s ultimate goal—teaching for transfer!
Kim Wagner is a Language Arts teacher at Hendersonville Middle School in Hendersonville, North Carolina. She is also a Scope teacher advisor.
Editor’s note: Sixth-grade teacher and Scope advisor Fran Squires explores literary elements, mood, author's craft, and research skills with students with her creative Edgar Allan Poe project.
What you’ll need:
- Poe story, poem, or play. I used Scope's play adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart
- The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe
- Norman George's audio recording of "The Black Cat"
author's craft, character, figurative language, finding text evidence, summarizing, mood, presenting information, listening
4-5 class periods and three weeks of independent work
Each year in the fall, I do a big unit on Edgar Allan Poe. The highlight is the culminating project which requires students to create a Poe-themed work of art. Students research a Poe story or poem and make a tie or a fascinator (decorative headpiece) representing the work. We kick off the unit by reading "The Raven" and Scope's play The Tell-Tale Heart as a class. The play is a fun and engaging way to delve into Poe's unique style and explore literary elements. I then give students three weeks to work independently on their Poe projects. The unit culminates on Halloween when students present their projects to the class and vote on the most creative one. We also listen to an audio recording of "The Black Cat" while eating Halloween treats.
Step 1: Choose the work
Have students choose a Poe work that has not been covered in class. I have copies of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe available in my classroom, but I also encourage students to go to the library to do further reading before they choose a work for their project.
Step 2: Research
Over the next three weeks, students read and do independent research on the Poe work of their choice. I check in with students periodically to see that they are making progress and answer any questions they have. This research component is not only an opportunity to learn about Poe's writing, it's also a chance for students to develop their research skills. Here's what I look for in a successful research project:
- the ability to plan and conduct in-depth research
- the use of a variety of reputable sources
- the identification of literary themes and elements, author's craft, and figurative language
In addition to finding their own sources for research, I direct students to these sites:
Differentiation: You can modify the activity for students who need more support. Have them create their projects based on one of the works covered in class and incorporate information from classwork and discussions. You can also have them work in groups rather than independently.
Step 3: Create the art
Students must submit a sketch or a written proposal for three tie or fascinator ideas based on their reading and research. I then work with each student to choose which idea to develop. Their final art should:
- include at least one quotation from the work
- include at least two symbols that reflect elements of the work
- reveal important insights of the work, such as themes, literary elements, and author's craft
- portray those insights in an original and creative way
- demonstrate an intellectual curiosity
To demonstrate what I'm looking for, I show the class a piece of artwork that a student made from a prior year.
This fascinator is inspired by “The Raven” and includes the quote “Nevermore, Nevermore.” Behind the double doors is a silhouette of the narrator's lost love, Lenore. The artwork is affixed to a brain symbolizing the fact that the protagonist cannot get the loss of Lenore off his mind.
One of Fran's students models a fascinator inspired by Poe's short story, "The Black Cat."
Step 4: Present
- I pass out a rubric of the project components for students to refer to as they listen to the presentations.
- Students present their work to the class by providing a summary, discussing why they chose the work, and explaining the significance of the work as well as the quotes and symbols that they included.
- After each presentation, we have a brief question and answer session.
This tie represents the acrostic poem “A Valentine.” Poe wrote the poem for a woman who was already married, so he kept his admiration a secret by cleverly disguising her name within the poem. The hearts and eyes on the tie symbolize the reader's search for the name of Poe's secret love: Frances Sargent Osgood.
Step 5: Peer assessment
- After the presentations are over, the pieces are displayed on tables for students to study further.
- Students evaluate each other's work according to the rubric.
- On the back of the rubric, they write down which project was the most successful and why.
- I tally up the votes and give the student who made the winning project a certificate of creativity and a prize, such as a Poe T-shirt, Poe-themed necklace, or magnetic poetry. The runners-up also get prizes.
A student models a Poe T-shirt prize
Step 6: Listen to "The Black Cat"
For a final bit of fun, I turn down the lights and we listen to Norman George's fantastic reading of “The Black Cat.” I pass out Halloween-themed goody bags with creepy candies such as "eye of newt" treats.
I love this project because it not only allows students to stretch their creative muscles and build important skills, but it also lets them direct their own learning. Exposure to literature and poetry is always a plus, and this project helps students discover that there’s more to Poe than “The Raven.”
Fran Squires is a Scope teacher advisor and an Advanced Level Language Arts Teacher for 6th grade at Pine View School in Osprey, Florida. She was the NCTE National Language Arts Teacher of the Year for 2014-2015.
Editor's note: We LOVE this idea from Lisa King, a middle-school teacher in North Richland Hills, Texas. Students gain a deep understanding of the text while practicing six key reading skills and building reading stamina.
My students struggle with maintaining focus while they are reading and with key reading skills. (Inference is always a particularly tough one.) The following close-reading strategy helps students with comprehension and stamina, and it can be used with any nonfiction text. The basic approach is for students to read each section of the article on their own, then discuss the section as a class. Focusing on one section at a time helps break down the text and makes a long article seem manageable. It also keeps students engaged so they don't lose focus.
What you'll need:
- any Scope nonfiction, like this one
- a poster or handout with a list of the reading skills you will cover
inference, summarizing, synthesizing, comprehension, reading for information, context clues
40-minute class period or longer, depending on the size of the class
1. Make a graphic organizer.
Before students start reading, they create a graphic organizer in their notebooks: a grid with one cell for each section of the article. The grid should include:
- the title of the article at the top of the page
- the section titles at the tops of the cells
2. Preview the skills.
In my classroom, I have a poster that lists the skills students will be practicing as they read, along with hints and sentence starters. I direct students to the poster and let them know that they will be practicing the following skills:
3. Read the article and apply the skills.
- Students read a section of the article independently. Then they pick a skill to focus on and apply it to the section, writing their response in the grid.
- They should choose a different skill for each section. If the article has more than six sections, students can double up.
By the time students have finished reading the entire article, they have covered all six skills for every section of the article either on their own or as a class. Students can transfer these skills to use in other classes as well. I love this strategy because not only does it keep students focused, it also allows you to observe their work and thinking process and guide them along as they read.
Lisa King is a secondary reading interventionist and dyslexia teacher who works with 6-8th grade students at Smithfield Middle School in North Richland Hills, Texas.
Editor’s note: Do your students struggle with selected-response questions? Try out this fantastic idea from Scope teacher advisor Mary Blow, who teaches sixth grade in Lowville, New York.
When my students were struggling with multiple-choice questions on quizzes, I decided to try something new: hold a text evidence debate.
What You’ll Need:
- Any Scope article that comes with a quiz, like this one
- A quiz (available in two levels), like this one
finding text evidence, key ideas and details, evaluating an argument and claims
1. Complete the selected-response questions by using text evidence.
After reading a Scope article as a class, I assign the selected-response questions on the quiz as homework. Students must complete the questions by providing text evidence to support their answers. (They write the evidence on the back or off to the side of the paper.) Thinking through their choices in this way instantly improves the quality of their work.
2. Debate the answers.
I take things a step further by holding quiz “debates.” The following day students come to class with the completed selected-response questions on their quizzes. I then divide them into groups of three or four and have them complete the same questions together and discuss their answers. If they disagree on an answer, they must debate the question by providing verbal reasoning until they convince the other members of the group. The entire group must agree on the answers before turning in their quiz for grading.
3. Use a lifeline.
There are always a couple questions that provoke heated debate. To resolve this, we use “lifelines.” Before each group hands in their quiz, we meet as a whole class. This is an opportunity for groups to ask other groups for help on these tough questions, which are agreed upon beforehand. The team leader poses these questions to the class and calls on students for help. Then we break back into groups. The groups must now decide if they want to take their peers’ advice or not. Finally, each group hands in their completed questions.
4. Complete the constructed-response questions.
We save the constructed-response questions for homework.
My students really love this activity. The class discussion helps students have a better understanding of the article and to answer these quiz questions much more thoroughly. Grades are soaring!
Mary Blow teaches sixth grade English at Lowville Academy Middle School in Lowville, New York. Follow Mary's fantastic blog!
Editor’s Note: Kim O’Bray’s colorful text marking activity is a key part of her close-reading process. Students engage deeply with the text by using colored pencils to mark everything from figurative language and unfamiliar vocabulary to central ideas and text structures.
I really like this text-marking approach because it gets everyone on the same page and encourages students to ask questions and make their own connections. It works wonderfully with any nonfiction text. At the beginning of the year, I model each step for my students, especially for my 6th graders who are new to text-marking. By the time my students are in 8th grade, the process has become second nature.
What you’ll need:
- Any Scope nonfiction article. I used "Crisis at Chipotle" from the May 2016 issue.
- List of vocabulary words and definitions, like this one
- Red, yellow, green, and regular pencils
- Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions, like these
finding text evidence, central ideas, text structure, figurative language, vocabulary, synthesizing, summarizing
Three, 45-minute class periods
Day 1: Preview and summarize
Preview the vocabulary that appears in the article by distributing the vocabulary words and definitions handout.
Set a purpose for reading. This can be anything from exploring author's craft to plot structure, or learning about a certain topic. For "Crisis at Chipotle," I wanted students to compare and contrast how different companies handle crises.
Have students read the text for the first time, either as a class or independently.
Have students summarize the text and share it with a partner verbally.
Day 2: Text mark and discuss
Set out red, yellow, green, and regular pencils for text-marking.
Distribute a handout with the text-marking rules for students to refer to. As students read the text for the second time, have them mark the text with their pencils in the following way:
- Red pencil: Circle words or phrases you don't understand or don’t know how to pronounce.
- Yellow pencil: Underline figurative language, such as similes, metaphors, and hyperbole; or underline examples of text structure such as cause and effect, compare and contrast, and problem and solution.
- Green pencil: Underline the central ideas.
- Regular pencil: Write questions and observations in the margins.
As the students mark up the text, walk around the class looking for trends in what students are noticing.
Divide students into groups of 4-6 to discuss what they marked and why. To get students started, you can bring up some of the patterns that you noticed as you observed students working.
Day 3: Summative assessment
Students demonstrate what they've learned by completing the Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions activity. If there's time, students can then present their answers to the class or discuss them in small groups.
By the end of the activity, the article is almost completely covered in beautiful colors!
Have a genius teacher idea? Email us firstname.lastname@example.org and we might choose your idea to feature here next!
Kim O’Bray teaches reading to 6th, 7th, and 8th-graders at Pittsburg Community Middle School in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Editor’s Note: Scope stories and articles serve as great mentor texts for a variety of skills. We love this idea from Kim Wagner, a Scope advisor and middle school teacher, for modeling the integration of research into writing.
When my students did research projects in the past, they often had a difficult time integrating their research into their writing. While reading “The Snake That’s Eating Florida” from the March 2016 issue of Scope, it occurred to me that the article would make a perfect mentor text for practicing this important skill.
What you’ll need:
evaluating sources, author’s purpose/craft, developing a central idea, supporting details, finding text evidence, close reading, integrating research into writing
Time: two class periods
Step 1: Model research skills
- Choose any Scope nonfiction article. I used “The Snake That’s Eating Florida.”
- Do a think-aloud with the whole class, reading through the first paragraph of the article and identifying where the author used research.
- Model how to do a simple online search by searching for one of the statistics or facts included in the article and evaluating the sources that come up. By the spring, my class has learned what makes a source credible, but I reiterate some of those points again and again.
- Pose the following questions to the class to get students thinking about whether the information in question works to support a central idea or whether it serves some other purpose:
- Where might the author have gotten this information?
- Why might she have used this information at this point in the article?
(This is a great author’s craft and purpose question!)
One student guessed that the author could have gotten this information from Encyclopedia Britannica.
Step 2: Identify how the author incorporated research
Pair up students and assign one paragraph of the article to each pair. Ask students to identify the following:
- the parts of the paragraph that include research
- from where they think the author might have gotten that research
- the words and phrases used to incorporate the research into the writing
Note: Because I don’t have access to enough computers for all students, I gather reference books (for example, Encyclopedia Britannica, The World Factbook, and books about snakes and the Everglades) and have students select from these as possible sources for the author's research. I post a brief description of each book to help students draw conclusions about which books could have been used for each piece of research.
Students noticed the way author Lauren Tarshis seamlessly integrated this attribution into her writing.
Step 3: Identify how the research develops the central idea
- Have students work individually and pick a new paragraph from the article.
- Direct students to write down, in a notebook, the parts of the paragraph where they think research was used, the sources the author could have used, and how the research does or does not develop a central idea of the article.
- Reconvene as a class to discuss and address any questions that came up.
Higher-level activity: Have students come up with search terms they could use, such as “Burmese python” and “Everglades,” and create a list of criteria to evaluate the credibility of a source.
Lower-level activity: Distribute the graphic organizer (a blank version can be found here), which will give students further practice in identifying sources, integrating research, and identifying whether the research supports the central idea.
Step 4: Apply skills to a new text
For a summative assessment, use a new text and have students work individually and apply what they learned from Day 1. I used “Sheepdogs to the Rescue," the nonfiction article that was paired with the python article.
I like to do this activity 4-5 times a year with my classes, going a little deeper each time. It works incredibly well. Analyzing and discussing how an accomplished, professional writer incorporates research—facts, details, quotes—into her writing demystifies the process for my students. They really get it! It’s made a big difference in their ability to integrate their research into their own writing. I found that this activity also works well for students’ reading comprehension because it involves close reading. What started out as a research and writing activity ended up being a whole reading strategy!
Kim Wagner is Language Arts teacher at Hendersonville Middle School in Hendersonville, NC. She is also a Scope advisor.
Editor’s Note: We love 6th-grade teacher Jim Meininger’s creative gallery-walk idea. Not only is it a great critical-thinking and text-evidence activity, it also gets kids up, moving, and working together.
I recently experienced a “teaching success” that was very exciting. I wanted to bolster my students’ ability to support their claims with text evidence when answering constructed-response questions. I decided to reinforce this crucial reading and writing skill by using Scope’s nonfiction article “Teens Against Hitler” from the April 2016 issue. But you can use this idea with any Scope text.
What you’ll need:
- Any Scope narrative nonfiction article. I used “Teens Against Hitler.”
- Audio version of the article (all audio articles can be found here)
- List of vocabulary definitions
- Critical-thinking questions from the quiz and lesson plan as well as the writing prompt in the magazine
- A dry-erase board or large sheets of paper
finding text evidence, key ideas and details, evaluating a claim
Time: three 55-minute class periods
Day 1: Article preview and group work
- Choose any narrative nonfiction article from Scope. Review the vocabulary as a class.
- Play the audio version of the article while projecting the text on a whiteboard. Listening to audio articles helps struggling readers and also gives you a chance to walk around the class and monitor the students.
- Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 and give each student a page with six critical-thinking questions. I took the constructed-response questions from the quizzes, the writing prompt, and a few questions from the lesson plan. Each group was assigned one question out of the six with instructions to collaboratively compose an answer containing a claim, transitional phrase, and a quote that provides evidence. (As students brainstorm, they should write their ideas on one half of the dry-erase board.) Once all group-members agree, they write their final answer on the other half of the dry-erase board.
Day 2: Gallery walk
- The groups reconvene and look over their answer one more time with fresh eyes. This is an opportunity to edit and put the final touches on their work.
All the boards are then displayed on a wall in my classroom. Then we go on a gallery walk.
Students walk around the room reading the other groups’ answers. Just as in an art gallery, talking is not allowed. Each student carries the sheet with all the critical-thinking questions. As they walk around the room, they decide if they think each group’s answer is right and whether the text evidence is used correctly. If students agree with the answer, they copy it onto their own sheets. If they don’t think the answer is correct, they leave a blank on their sheets. By the time the gallery walk is over, all students should have read every group’s answer.
- Come back together as a class and discuss which answers were successful and why, and provide feedback on how the other answers could be strengthened.
Day 3: Summative assessment: transferring skills to a new text
For the summative assessment, I used the Scope play The Fire-Breather. I wanted to make sure students could transfer their skills to a new text.
- Read the article (or play, in this case) as a class.
- Have students individually answer the two constructed-response questions from the quiz. Their answer should include their claim, a transitional phrase, and text evidence.
This activity was beyond effective as a formative assessment and the conversations were very constructive and productive. My dean of students happened to stop by while we were doing the activity, and she commented on how impressed she was to see all students actively engaged and working together!
Jim Meininger is a 6th-grade English and Social Studies teacher at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto, California. He is also a Scope teacher advisor.