Day 1 (part 2) ‘Circle unknowns’ Deconstructing Close Reading – Part 10

The second thing that happens on the first day of the ‘Deconstructing Close Reading’ cycle is that the students go paragraph-by-paragraph identifying and circling unknowns. These are things that they don’t know or understand, they are also questions directly related to the ‘story’ within the text. For example, if we reading a portion of Patrick Henry’s famous ‘Give me Liberty or Death’ speech, students may take the first paragraph and circle the word ‘patriotism’ because they are simply unsure of the definition in this context. They also may circle the phrase ‘a character very opposite to theirs,’ because they are wondering ‘what Henry’s opinion is and why is his character opposite to theirs?’

With upper grades, I traditionally model the first paragraph for the students, scaffold the second paragraph by working with the students, and then for the additional paragraphs allow them to work in small groups. For lower grades, I tend to go paragraph by paragraph with them acting helping them to literally ‘read’ the text, while they identify their vocabulary concerns and textual unknowns. Granted, even in first grade, the students are still handling their copy of the text, circling their and recording both their unknowns and the unknowns of others.


The ultimate key regardless of grade level is that after each paragraph we regroup as a whole for discussion and discourse. We share our questions, delve into the context for possible clues and answers and then discuss additional inferences we can make in direct relation to their questions. Students are not only allowed, but also encouraged to record one another’s questions and relating inferences. Their text becomes a living document that changes throughout not only each day of the cycle but also each conversation held throughout the process. You will notice that students ask questions that are appropriate to their developmental level and are interesting to them.

From this first instance with the text students begin to own their learning. They are in charge of the questions they ask and the answers that may follow.

My high students ask much more abstract and indirect questions while my lower students tend to stick to the literal. That is okay, it is a big mesh pot of what they each need to know and discover in order to make sense of the text. By sharing our questions with one another and discussing possible answers we are scaffolding learning for all in the classroom and allowing students to completely guide this aspect of the deconstructed formula cycle.

This aspect of the cycle can easily take anywhere from 1-3 hours. If it is an extremely rich text the students may not get all way through each paragraph and that is okay. We do what we can do within our time constraints.

By the time we are done on the first day we have identified and covered most if not all of the vocabulary that may pose issues, we have discussed the text in depth while trying to infer and discover answers to our text-based questions, and have allowed all students an entry point into the reading of the text, and furthermore the content found within the text. (i.e., the American Revolution)

Check out my next post – 

Day 2 ‘Underline Important . . . What is the author trying to tell us?’ – Part 11



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