I’ve found that one of my favorite things about teaching reading (other than selecting nonfiction texts) is planning anticipatory sets. This is one way I can really let the kids move around a bit and they love it. I try as often as I can to let them go into a new text (or pair of texts) as blindly as possible so they can think a little bit about what we’re going to do.
I’ve been centering our reading for the last two weeks on great American speeches. Last week we worked with the Gettysburg Address and JFK’s inaugural address. Today I set up the kids for work with Reagan’s speech following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. To do so we had a tea party.
I took a fairly meaty article that ran in the New York Times the day after the Challenger explosion and cut it into strategically chosen quotes on strips of paper. I gave the kids a few expectations for our tea party. I told them they’d be figuring out what we were reading about today and I wasn’t telling them anything about it. It was their job; not mine. I made it clear that they’d each have a quote to read. After I dispersed the quotes and they took a few seconds to read theirs they had to stand up quietly and move around the room to read the quotes to each other. First they’d shake hands (that was their signal and pact amongst pairs to read and listen), read their quotes to each other, and then discuss any connections that might exist between their sections or what they think the article might be about. Then they’d move on to another person. The goal was to talk to as many people as they could until I said time was up. They were required to make their way around the entire room.
After around 10 minutes or so I said the party was over and that everyone had to go home. (Home being their small groups where they usually sit.) At home they were to ‘gossip’ with each other about what they heard at the party and discuss what they talked about while they mingled. The groups came up with a ‘we think’ statement. “We think this article is about…” Then we came back together as a group to discuss what event they had determined we were reading about today.
Y’all, it was amazing. To watch them make inferences, connect the dots, and then synthesize the information warmed my heart. They had ownership. And the result was their excitement as I handed out the day’s reading material. Many of them cheered and fist pumped because they’d figured it out. (Or had at least come very close.)
I love days like this one. LOVE.