As part of my series on my new and improved reading block, today I’m exploring the inferencing warm-up that I introduced this past year and can’t wait to continue into this coming year. While students will read the text and explore the question in advance of class time, the actual discussion portion of this will only last for 5-10 minutes.
For morning work, I’m going to give my students short (paragraph at most), low-level reading passages with an open-ended question. The idea is to get them to use details in the text to support a conclusion that they draw from those details. Then we begin class with students sharing and supporting their answers. This is a time for students to learn from and critique each other’s thinking. It’s also a time for me to really understand what’s going on in those precious little brains. Because I use low level passages (think 1-2 years below my grade level), nearly all students (I’ll assign buddies to read aloud for my extremely low-level readers) can read the text, so it’s really just stretching them in comprehension.
When we start class, I project the text and read it aloud. Then I read the question. Then students volunteer answers. ALL answers (unless they’re deemed duplicates) are written on the board next to a projection of the text, because all answers that can be supported by the text and valid and valuable. If student hears another student give the same answer they had, they use a “me too” hand signal. I’ve noticed this really gives confidence to students who are less sure of their answers. I watch carefully for this hand signal so that I have an idea of what my students are thinking, whether it’s very mixed or students all agree.
Once all answers are written down, I ask the students if any of them are unreasonable. When we first start doing this, I find that many students (even the “bright” ones) will notice just a few details in the text, ignoring others. This time allows students to help each other notice ALL the details because each student focuses on different parts. For example, I would call on Jaquan who might say, “Cooking is an unreasonable answer because it says that the girl pulled out her wallet. You probably don’t pull out your wallet when you’re cooking.”
When we have only reasonable answers left, I prompt students with the question, “What is the best answer?” Here’s where we look at which answer has the most details supporting it.
What I love most about this structure is how much I learn from my students by listening. This activity is primarily student-led so I have a little more time to sit back and listen. Open-ended questions are an excellent time to see what answers students come up with on their own. I learn about my students’ prior knowledge (or lack thereof) and I begin to understand common misconceptions. Most often, I don’t correct students in the moment (unless it’s just a really egregious misunderstanding) because I want to make sure we maintain that safe space. I focus instead on questioning students to guide them to correct thinking. If necessary, I’ll pick up the misconception during my close read, quick write, or task.