informational text

Revisiting and Exploring Tone in Nonfiction and Fiction

Last week, we engaged in some targeted mini-lessons and learning activities to grow our understanding of tone.  We had practiced analyzing tone earlier this fall, but since this is sometimes a challenging concept for 8th graders and because I knew they would have a constructed response about tone on their 2nd quarter benchmark, I designed a few strategic and new learning experiences around tone for my students.

Day 1

We first began by reviewing some notes on the differences between tone and mood.   In addition, we reviewed the differences between denotation and connotation and looked at examples of both.  Next, I assigned students picked a partner or trio group to do our table talk activity.  We began this activity by reading and watching this excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Students were asked to work with their partner or trio to:

  1.  Identify the tone of the speech.
  2.  Identify specific word choices and/or phrases that created that tone.  Students also shared how the connotative or denotative meanings (or both) of their selected words impacted the tone of the speech.
  3. Groups shared out to the entire class their findings and reflections.

Day 2

The following day, students were asked to find a passage in their independent reading books OR to choose an alternate text I provided (a selection of poems or informational article).  Students then analyzed the tone, following the same procedure from the previous day.  I provided a thinking/drafting script for those who wanted to jot down their thoughts in writing first.  Students were asked to snap the passage they were analyzing and then post it in their Seesaw account.  Students could type a text book with their analysis, record an audio note of their analysis, or type a text note with their analysis.  They also labeled the word choices with highlights and/or arrows of the word choices they felt created the tone.  I provided a model I completed for them based on my reading of Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.  In addition, I provided a list of positive and negative tone words for students who were struggling to find the right word.

While this task may seem easy to us as adults, it really is challenging for many 8th graders.

Day 3

We did one more analysis activity of tone, but this time, students read an excerpt of an informational text I pulled from NewsELA.  I provided students a drafting template to help them compose a paragraph in which they analyzed the tone of the informational text excerpt.  This task was similar to the one on their benchmark.  Like the previous activity, I provided an optional list of negative and positive tone words for those who needed/wanted it.  For one of my classes, I gave the students of reading the excerpt alone; my 4th period class voted to partner read aloud the excerpt and discuss it before tackling the writing task.

Additional Learning Fun with Gimkit

Depending on the pace of completion, at some points over four days students had an opportunity to play a Gimkit game on tone.  As I shared in my previous blog post, I was able to see strengths and weaknesses in understanding of this concept as my kit included many “application” types of questions.

Overall, I felt these learning activities challenged my students and pushed their critical thinking/analysis skills in a variety of ways.  What are your favorite strategies for teaching tone to middle or high school students?

Powerful Practice: Read Aloud Reading Partners with Informational Text

One of the simplest but most powerful practices this fall has been read aloud reading partners.  I love the learning structure because it’s so versatile and can be used in multiple ways.

On a simple level, I used it last week when I lost my voice and needed students to review instructions for an annotation activity we were going to do in class that day.  I had students choose a partner and review the instructions together.  Then pairs summarized what they were to do with the learning task for that day.  They definitely internalized and understood the instructions much better than if I had just read them aloud and they had been passive receivers of those instructions!

Yesterday we did a learning activity to help students review a simple strategy to read strategically and find their textual evidence for an upcoming timed essay they will do on our second district benchmark assessment next week.  The task asks students to read two paired texts and then compose an expository or informational essay of some sort about those texts.

I pulled a set of paired texts through GALILEO, our state digital library; the paired texts are from the December 2019 issue of Scholastic Scope (citation at the end of this article):

I used a Sharpie to “chunk” and number sections of the articles to read before making a class set  to use.  I find that chunking and numbering sections helps the partner reading flow a little more efficiently since students can clearly see a section at a time.   I also created this hypothetical writing task:

Once students arrived to class, we followed these procedures:

  1.  Students selected a reading partner of his/her choice and sat either knee to knee, face to face OR side by side.  If we had an odd number of student, I did allow trios.
  2. Students took turns reading the passages aloud.  I gave the partners just one copy of the text for this activity to force them to listen a little more closely.
  3. Once students finished reading both articles, they raised their hands for the T-chart planning activity to do a treasure hunt for textual evidence that they would use in the essay prompt.

The last part of the activity was having groups share out their findings of the textual evidence and how we might organize that evidence into our hypothetical writing task.   We talked about how to use a T-chart to quickly note textual evidence/concrete details and then use them in our writing task on the assessment.  We then reviewed how we could use our paragraph writing structures we’ve practiced all fall with “two chunk” paragraphs ( we have practiced with scaffolded writing graphic organizers with sentence frames and sentence starters this fall) and how we might modify it for a timed writing setting of only 45 minutes.

I wanted to have students to read the paired texts aloud for a variety of reasons:

  1.  Students were forced to be more active readers and listeners and engage more closely with the text.
  2.  Students got an opportunity to practice their reading skills and speaking in a low-stakes setting.
  3.  Most students discussed each section as they read and took turns reading the “chunks” in both articles; they discussed with no prompting from me!  These short but important discussions are part of the meaning making process.

It was a jam packed class session but one I think that was successful and enjoyable for students, especially the Friday before our holiday break and on the eve of our district benchmark.   How do you incorporate read alouds or reading partners into your instruction with students?

Bartolomeo, Joey, and Jennifer Dignan. “Paired Texts.” Scholastic Scope, vol. 68, no. 4, Dec. 2019, pp. 16–21. EBSCOhost,


Supporting Young Readers: Developing Reading Club Conversation Skills

In my last blog post, I outlined the prep work we did leading up to our “birds of feather” topics reading club meetings to help students dig more deeply into their readings and to come prepared for the reading club discussion.

Prior to our club meetings, students brainstormed meeting etiquette and expectations:

We also incorporated these qualities into a self-assessment tool students completed the day after the reading clubs met.

I learned last spring with my juniors and seniors that some structure to meetings is helpful for students, especially those with little to no reading or book club experience.  I planned for four rounds of discussion even though I expected we would probably only have time for three; I like to overplan just in case!

You can flip through the slideshow below to see how I helped “step” students through bursts of conversation that lasted about 10-12 minutes each.  I would review the discussion frame for each round and then keep time with my phone while walking around and making notes on ideas I heard in conversation while noting with a check each time I heard or saw a student participating (or not) in the club meeting.  I use a a blank roster spreadsheet from my gradebook in Infinite Campus and then use the columns to make notes and checks or minuses to help me remember what I’m seeing or hearing.  Last but not least, I recorded videos as I walked around so I could go back and watch/listen when evaluating students participation, listening, and interaction in the reading club meetings.

One other recommendation I have, especially for middle school or inexperienced reading club learners, is to appoint a “conversation round” leader.  This simply means you appoint someone from each club or group to lead each round of conversation; doing this prevents awkward pauses or lapses in getting a new round of discussion started.

One other new tool I used with the reading club was the conversation emoji talk stems from Ashley Bible.  These were super helpful for students in finding wording to enter the conversation or to interact in a meaningful way if they were struggling to find words.

I was incredibly impressed by how well my students did in their meetings!  Most groups had terrific energy and engagement in their meeting, and even those that may have struggled in the first round came on strong in the second and third rounds of conversation.   The reading club work and conversations in their club meeting are definitely two of the highlights of this academic year—the caliber of work and the soft skills as well as reading/listening/speaking skills inherent in the club conversations are huge steps forward for my students as learners and individuals.

When we finished three rounds of discussions, we then worked on our post-club reflections to capture our thinking while it was fresh.  The following two days, we did some self assessment and reflection using this tool I created based on student agreements on etiquette and expectations.   In addition, we used these awesome standards-based self-assessment forms for four standards that were embedded in our reading club conversation work.  The reflections and thinking students shared through these tools was quite revealing, and my fellow teachers and admin were quite impressed with the depth of student reflection as well.

Though I wish our instructional calendar would have permitted time for an additional club meeting, I am incredibly pleased with the quality of work my students completed and the quality of their reading club conversations.   I am excited to see how we can grow these skills when we shift to nonfiction book clubs later this spring!

Scaffolding Student Prep Work for Birds of Feather Reading Club Meetings

In my last post, I outlined how I organized a topic tasting, how birds of feather interest groups were formed, and the planning that student groups did collaboratively to divide and assign readings within their topic area from the text set.  In today’s post, I’ll share the prep work we did over four days to get ready for our reading club meetings we held today.

Prep Work by The Teacher

I began by crafting a reflection/noticing handout for each article.  The first two reflection/noticings handouts for Articles 1 and 2 were similar though there were some differences in the final reflection pieces.  You can view the handouts in this folder in Google Drive.  It took me awhile to get my groove, but I wound up organizing the prep packets with these materials:  the three article prep sheets, the roster of reading assignments I copied from the groups (green sheet 1), and a copy of the original planning work by each group.   You can also watch this short video explaining how I organized their work (my ultimate goal was to have a neat and consistent order to the packet  because it will eventually go in the students’ literacy portfolios (note:  I thought I had the phone in landscape view when I filmed, so I apologize for the vertical format).

Handing the Keys to the Students:  Steps to Success

We began by reviewing our reading assignments (in the packet) and our timeline:

This timeline was ambitious, but with only 10 “pure” instructional days from the time we returned from Thanksgiving break to our next holiday break, I had to push students a little to make these deadlines.  Thankfully, most students met the work plan for each day; some students came to the “War Time” academic makeup time last Thursday to catch up.  I collected student work–finished or not–each day so that students would not lose their work.  In addition, collecting their work made it easier to have their materials laid out at the beginning of class the following day and maximize class time.


I also incorporated some warm-ups into the activities for Days 2 and 3, including a think and write as well as a sharing of HOTS (higher order thinking skills) questions to create a gallery inquiry.

Yesterday students had the first half of the period to finish any incomplete work.  We then used the last half of the class to:

  • Highlight three questions/statements from each prep sheet (total of nine highlights) that we wanted to bring up for conversation today.
  • 1st and 4th periods used tiny sticky notes to mark a passage in each article that we might want to bring up for discussion.
  • 5th and 6th periods used tiny sticky notes to mark three passages in the third article only (the common read) for discussion.
  • Reviewed our reading club manners and etiquette as well as expectations for interacting and participating.  The list students brainstormed became the basis of their self-assessment they will complete tomorrow.
  • Reviewed their “emoji discussion cards” they could use if they got stuck on what to say or sentence starters for responding to peers.  As I will share in my next post, these worked like a charm!
  • We also reviewed the discussion structure to expect for the meeting.



At the end of the period, I collected all their work so that I could easily distribute it today for our reading club meetings.  In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about how I structured the reading club discussions and tips for helping students new to book or article discussions be confident and successful as well as our self-assessments we’ll complete and final products we’ll create.

Forming Birds of Feather Reading Clubs with Informational Texts and Topic Tasting

Our district pacing guide calls for a focus on informational reading and writing during the second nine weeks of the academic year.  Originally, 8th grade had planned to do nonfiction book clubs, but after realizing the books would not arrive in time to do that in the fall, I suggested to my fellow 8th grade Language Arts teachers we step back and do reading clubs with nonfiction articles.   Not only was this adjustment a solution to our dilemma of books that had not arrived, but it was a sound instructional decision to help scaffold students informational reading skills with shorter texts.  In addition, we know these are the kinds of texts students will see on our end of year Georgia Milestones assessment.

Nearly three years ago I had the privilege of attending a multi-day literacy workshop led by Smokey Daniels in Santa Fe, New Mexico.   One of the activities from this workshop that I recently adapted from for my 8th graders is a reading frenzy, a learning experience that allows students to sample different articles and rank their interest level in the topic.  This activity can be a springboard to different kinds of collaborative work, including inquiry or “birds of feather” interest circles.   Because my students are not speedy readers like adults and our class periods are less than 60 minutes, I modified the activity to be a “topic tasting” over two class days.  The primary purpose of this activity was to form “birds of feather” reading clubs to help students hone their group discussion skills as well as their skills in reading and thinking about informational text.

Prep Work:  Curating the Text Sets

The prep work is by far the most time-consuming aspect of this activity.  First, I had to decide what topics would be the basis of the text sets for the topic tasting and how many topic/text sets to design.  I wanted to try to have something for everyone—something with a current event focus, something with a social studies focus, something with a science focus, and some additional topics that might be fun or timely for students.  I settled on the following topics:

  • Smartphones/screentime/teens and tweens
  • GMOs (genetically modified organisms and foods)
  • Concussion and youth/youth sports
  • Japanese Internment Camps
  • Food deserts in Georgia
  • Fortnite

I decided on six topics because that number gave me a range of topics without having too many , and six happened to match the number of tables I have in my room!  From there, I set to work on developing text sets that would include different sources, perspectives, reading levels, and information.  Because I have developed text sets for other teachers and their students as a librarian, I have experience in developing rich text sets.  While the task is not hard, it does take time to research and format the articles in a printer friendly manner.  Overall, I estimate I probably spent at least 12 hours of time putting together the text sets for all six topics.  You can see my final list of articles for each set here or below:

My go to resources for finding articles include:

  • Galileo:  this is our state digital library that provides us access to thousands of databases and publications, including student friendly publications like those from Scholastic through EBSCO’s Middle Search Plus.
  • NewsELA (our district provides us a subscription)
  • Science News for Students
  • Smithsonian Tween Tribune
  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution
  • The Gainesville Times (local paper)

I organized my text sets in Google Drive from home with the work I did outside of school though I did some last-minute additions to the text sets at school, so I do need to do a little final clean-up of my text set folders over our next holiday break.  Here is an example of how the sets look in the cloud so that I have an archive of each set; in addition, I have a folder for each text set with the hard copy and the markings (text set and article numbers) I used to make the hard copies.

Organizing the Text Sets for Students and the Topic Tasting Activity

Once I collected all my articles in PDF format, I printed a clean copy of each and then decided which would make the final cut for the text set students would see.  Once I did this, I labeled each article with the text set number and assigned it an article number; consequently, I then typed a final checklist for each text set (the one you saw earlier in this post).  I made 5 copies of text set; I also  made copies of each checklist for students to use to note their favorite readings, and I did these on different colors of neon paper to help them stand out visually to students.  Yes, I used quite a bit of paper, but I went with paper copies of text sets for these reasons:

  1.  I wanted to students to move through each text set in 10-12 minute timed rotations to keep them focused and  on task.
  2.  Students don’t read very closely and tend to “drift” when they are asked to work with digital text sets (I have   learned this from first-hand experience in prior years trying to save paper).
  3.  We are not a 1:1 tech school, so rounding up enough computers is always extra work if you want each student   to have a Chromebook in your classroom or to book lab time if you really want to go to paperless.

Making copies was a challenge since we are under copying limits in my school, but my fellow 8th grade teachers collaborated and pooled together our copy codes to make this happen for our students.  I purchased and provided the neon paper to make the color coded checklists for my students and those of my neighboring 8th Language Arts teacher.

Topic Tasting:  Nuts and Bolts of Making It Happen

For my students, I scheduled two consecutive days for the activity.   On Day 1, I assigned students to different tables to facilitate the flow of the activity.  Once everyone arrived and put their belongings away, we reviewed the guidelines for the topic tasting:

In addition, I stressed the following points to students:

  • You can sample the articles in any order in the text set packet.
  • You do not have to read the entire article if it is longer, but read enough to get a sense of what it is about.
  • SKIM AND SCAN–this activity is not about close reading.
  • Stay focused because each reading round is like a sprint and there is no time to waste!

I served as timekeeper and walked about the room during each round to monitor students’ reading.  In addition, I played soft music in the background as “white noise” for students.  After 10 minutes, students paused as I provided them the checklists for their current text set/table (I did not give these out ahead of time because I felt they would be a distraction for my students, but this may not be true for yours!).  Once students received their checklist, they used the columns to mark all the articles they had sampled and to indicate articles they found most interesting or would want to continue reading if they had more time.  This task took about 2 minutes; once finished, we rotated in a clockwise motion around the room as a group and started a new round.  Completed checklists were the only things that traveled with students as they moved to the next table.

The first day we had just enough time to complete three rounds; student helpers assisted me in stacking the text sets in order (which I numbered 1-5 with a purple marker to be sure none walked out of the room); students also stapled together their checklists and left with me for safekeeping until the next day.

On Day 2, we finished the remaining three rounds of topic tasting and then students received a handout for ranking their interest in each topic area; they were also asked to explain their top two choices.  They stapled this “ranking” handout to all their neon colored checklists and turned those in to me at the end of class.

Post Topic Tasting:  Using the Results to Form Birds of Feather Interest Reading Clubs

After school and during my planning, I went through each student response sheet and typed a list of each person’s top interest by class period.  I worked hard to make sure each student got his/her 1st or 2nd choice; for students who were absent both days, I assigned them to a topic group since there was not a way for an 8th grader to make up two hours of instruction.

Before Thanksgiving break, the “birds of feather” reading clubs met and decided which student would be responsible for reading 2 unique articles.  Each reading club then decided a third and common reading.  Each club also collaborated to decide what they already knew as a group about their topic, what they wanted to find out, and questions they hoped to answer through their reading club work.

This activity took an entire class period, and once I collected their work, I made copies of their notetaking sheets for each member and also created a master reading roster for each club to post in the room just in case anyone loses their materials and to make sure everyone is on the same page about the readings.  Clubs also receive a master copy of this reading list that I typed up based on their notes.

We’ll begin our club work in earnest next week (Wednesday, November 28); in my next post, I’ll share more about what students are doing are in their reading clubs and learning structures I’ll provide to help them prepare for their reading club discussions.  I’ll also share how we’ll fold in our Notice and Note nonfiction annotation strategies into our reading club prep work.

We’re navigating our reading club work around two days of benchmark testing, a day of Lexile testing, a day for classroom spelling bees, and probably at least one other day for something I’m forgetting right now; consequently, I am anxious about the kids having sufficient time to have a high quality learning experience with basically 10 days of instruction left in the 15 we have between now and our holiday break in December.  I’ve already had to cut lots of learning activities I felt were important, so I am hoping the ones that are left will be meaningful and impactful for my 8th graders.