Genius Teacher Idea

Fall in Love with This Teacher’s Text-Marking Activity

Kim O'Bray

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

Key skills:
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!


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Kim O’Bray teaches reading to 6th, 7th, and 8th-graders at Pittsburg Community Middle School in Pittsburg, Kansas.



Incorporating Research into Writing Using Scope Nonfiction

Kim Wagner all photos


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:

Key skills:
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


Day 1

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:

  1. the parts of the paragraph that include research
  2. from where they think the author might have gotten that research
  3. 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.



Day 2
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.


A Creative Twist on Text Evidence 

Jim Meininger all photos

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 Scopes nonfiction article “Teens Against Hitler” from the April 2016 issue. But you can use this idea with any Scope text.


What youll need:

Key skills:
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.

A group of students collaborates on an answer using a claim, a transitional phrase, and text evidence.


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 groups 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 dont 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 groups 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. 

A student participates in the “gallery walk,” assessing the use of text evidence to support a claim.


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.

A student puts his new text-evidence skills to work.


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.