Kylene Beers

Introducing Nonfiction Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies to 8th Grade Readers

Blog Post Header Introducing Signposts and Big Questions (1)

This past week we began our study of informational text and writing for Quarter 2.  I am so excited that our pacing guide pairs informational text with informational writing and then allows a second round of study in Quarter 3 to build student stamina with informational text and argumentative writing (we’ll be engaging in nonfiction book clubs! come January!).   Both units give me an opportunity to integrate a range of reading, writing, and research strategies from Smokey Daniels and Nancy Steineke, Bob Probst and Kylene Beers, Stephanie Harvey, Cris Tovani, Gretchen Bernabei, Kelly Gallagher, Lucy Calkins, and Jane Schaffer.

I began our unit this week by introducing Probst and Beers’ Three Big Questions and the Signposts Strategies for Nonfiction.  Using Reading Nonfiction Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Bob Probst and Kylene Beers as my guide, I crafted materials and activities to introduce these concepts and to give students opportunities to practice the strategies with partners and independently with shorter texts.

After introducing the Three Big Questions and sentence starters to help students articulate their thinking, my students and I read “Meet Your Competition”, an article about the impact of automation and robots on various career fields ( shout out to GALILEO for providing us access to this wonderful Junior Scholastic article).

After our read-aloud and discussion about the article, students could work with a partner or alone to come up with three statements for each big question.    Requiring students to use the sentence starters that came from the Probst/Beers text was especially helpful in nudging students to be a little more specific and focused with their thinking about each big question:

Toward the last 20 minutes of class on Tuesday, students had opportunities to share their two most important statements and their summary statement of the main idea of the article.  Students also got to share which “big question” was most helpful in pushing their thinking about the text.

On Wednesday, we began our work with the nonfiction signpost strategies by reviewing and discussing examples of each signpost.  Students received a mini-copy of the notes below to cut and paste into their class notebooks.

Students then worked with a partner to go back into our article we had worked with Monday and Tuesday and began our “treasure” hunt for an example of each signpost; we then shared our findings with the class.  On Thursday, we did a quick review together and discussed possible answers for each chunk of informational text in the slideshow below:

Students could use their notes and copy of the warm-up examples on a quick assessment I gave them to see if they could identify more examples independently and to determine if there were any particular signposts that might need more instruction and practice.  After the assessment, students were given one of three articles on youth football and concussions (differentiated by reading level) and a graphic organizer to help them record their big questions and thinking about the signposts they found in their articles.


In my next post, I’ll share how I adapted an activity from Julie Swinehart to help our students apply their skills to nonfiction texts.  How are you introducing big questions and nonfiction signposts strategies to your students in Language Arts or content area classes?

Source of Common Reading Article:

SHERMAN, ERIK, and REBECCA ZISSOU. “Meet Your Competition.” Junior Scholastic, vol. 118, no. 11, Apr. 2016, p. 16. EBSCOhost,

Days 2 and 3 of Inquiring Into Theme: Introducing Purposeful Annotations + The Note and Notice Contrasts and Contradictions Signpost

In my previous post, I outlined how we dipped our toe into deconstructing a piece of literature to take apart the “puzzle pieces” with a short text and then put them back together to see a big picture of theme.  On Day 2, we did a quick recap of the previous day’s activities and concepts about theme, thematic concepts, and thematic statements. I then gave students a copy of the short story “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes (I got my version from CommonLit) to mark up as we began our read aloud.   I had two goals in my mind:

  1.  To show students how we might highlight AND annotate with purpose to better notice the “puzzle pieces” of our text (i.e. literary elements).  Students copies these shortcut codes and notes into their notes as part of their warm-up.
  2.  To introduce the first Note and Notice signpost of Contrasts and Contradictions for close reading of fiction by doing a read aloud and interactive think aloud with “Thank You Ma’am” using the mini-lesson outlined in Lesson 1 of Note and Notice.  I was inspired to incorporate the fiction signposts into my work with students this past spring thanks to a blog post from the amazing Julie Swinehart.  I wish now I had incorporated these signposts into instruction from the very beginning of the year, but at the time, I was initially trying to follow the Calkins lessons closely, a mistake since there are virtually no real meaningful annotation strategies in the unit.

I did a brief overview of the signposts and their purpose to help us as readers and then a quick introduction to Contrasts and Contradictions (see notes below).  I told students to think about anything they noticed that was surprising or unexpected as we read the first part of the story together.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading aloud the first chunk of the story and getting into librarian mode as I read with gestures and expression for my kids!

After we read the first chunk together (I followed part of the lesson outlined in the Contrasts and Contradictions chapter), I gave students a copy of a page I had copied from the Note and Notice Literature Log, and I asked students to jot down:

  1.  A passage where a character acted in a way that was surprising or unexpected.  They were to identify the surprising moment and include the paragraph numbers.
  2. Explain why the moment was surprising or unexpected.
  3. What might have possibly motivated the character to act in this way?

I gave students about 8-10 minutes to think and write before we gathered to share aloud our noticings.  Students identified moments of contrast and contradiction both for Mrs. Jones and Roger, and we made sure to include our “what makes you say that” for each question about the moments they picked.

Based on the student responses, I felt they were ready to move forward into the story on their own and continue their work of noticing moments of contrast and contradiction as well as purposefully annotate with highlights and shortcut codes.  Our tasks included:

  1. Try to find at least one example of each of the literary elements in our list of possible elements we could notice and annotate.  Students were required to highlight and put the shortcut code; they had the option of making additional notes.

2.  Students were to find at least ONE more additional contrast and contradiction moment; they were to find more if possible.  I provided students sentence starters to help them get at the question of “what is causing the character to act this way?”

3.  The final step was for students were to choose from their highlighted and coded annotations and transfer one of each to the chart pictured below.  I incorporated this chart and the purposeful annotating to set up the “discovering theme” station rotation activity that students would begin on Friday, September 21.

My learners had half the class on Wednesday and all of Thursday to complete their work; they could also work on the assignment at home if they chose to do so.

On both days, I circulated around the room to answer questions and to serve as a sounding board when students got stuck with their thinking.  On Thursday, we warmed up with a quick “ticket in the door” review; students who finished the work from Wednesday early could work ahead to finding their own contrast and contradiction moments in their independent reading books.

All of the work for Days 1, 2, and 3 were designed to scaffold students for the “discovering theme” station rotation work that we started this past Friday, September 21, and that we are continuing into next week.  I will blog that learning experience later next week, but so far, my 8th graders are off to an amazing start with that work!

If you haven’t used the Note and Notice signposts, I highly recommend them based on my experience this past spring.  There is a super helpful Facebook group for the fiction signposts; you can also join the conversation with the nonfiction signposts here.

Tonight Kylene Beers and Bob Probst will be part of a Twitter chat about the signposts strategies as well as the Book, Head, and Heart strategy from Disrupting Thinking.   The chat begins at 7PM EST, and you can follow along at the Reading Recovery hashtag.

Annotation Conferences as Formative Assessment

We are racing toward the end of the year, and my juniors have been working hard between their prep work for our first American lit book club meeting tomorrow (for A day classes) and Friday (for B day classes) and our state End of Course testing.  About 10 days ago, we revisited two sets of annotation strategies we have used all year:

I also introduced fiction signposts from Bob Probst and Kylene Beers; I am using this beautiful interpretation/version crafted by the amazing Julie Swinehart.  We came up with shortcut codes of CC, Aha!, TQ, WW, AA, and MM.  I also modeled sample annotations for students in all classes.

For our American Lit book club project (blog post way overdue and coming soon!), my juniors participated in a book tasting of five texts:  Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Raisin in the Sun, and Our Town.  I’ll write more about the book selection process, but in a nutshell, nearly everyone got his/her first choice, and I developed reading schedules for each text around our testing calendar to balance testing days with in-class time for reading and prep work for the first book club meetings.

One of the requirements for the first round of reading is for students to craft at least 10 high quality annotations; students can do more for bonus points, but 10 is the minimum for this first reading round.  Students must do the following with their annotations:

  1.  Include a shortcut code or text symbol
  2. Write at least one complete sentence
  3. Use any combination of the three strategy sets (and students could also craft their own additional codes if needed).
  4. Craft meaningful annotations to help them be reflective and active readers.

I provided a multitude of Post-It notes in a diverse range of colors, sizes, and styles to meet everyone’s needs (yes, I bought these with my own money, but monitor Amazon for great sales on Post-It notes!).  With our mini-lesson and supplies at hand, students jumped right into their work:

This week I have been conferencing with students 1:1 about their annotation work.  The procedure is very simple:  I have a chair next to my desk, students come over for a conference when ready (and sign up on the board if we get busy with a waiting list), we sit side by side, and we spend 7-10 minutes chatting about their annotations.  These conferences are reveal much about students’ thinking and questions about the text, and the annotations provide us some quick talking points for me to get an idea about the student and how he/she is progressing with engagement and understanding of the book.  The concept sounds so simple, but I have learned so much about my juniors as readers, thinkers, and individuals this week in a short time; these conferences, though brief, are incredibly insightful much like a writing conference.

Though the conferences do take up time, I highly encourage you to try them with your students!  Here is a sampler of work from all levels of 11th English–I have been impressed by the intellectual and emotional investment my students have put into their work.  The effort and quality of work is even more impressive considering the high stakes testing that is happening on any given day right now!  I know this work is helping them with their book club meeting prep graphic organizer (I’ll share in my next blog post) and will be the fuel for rich book club discussions tomorrow and Friday.