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With Common Core standards on the rise, many ELA teachers are concerned about teaching students how to analyze text closely. Text analysis constitutes referring back to a text to find evidence to support a conclusion. Evidence can be direct or implied, with implied evidence being the more challenging. Students new to this concept, especially younger or “less advanced” students, will struggle with this skill unless the teacher successfully scaffolds.
This year, I have experimented with the Common Core standards in my classroom. (In Tennessee, the Common Core is not required until the 2013-2014 school year.) This is the method I have used to teach text analysis.
Students are already used to making personal connections with text. Although the Common Core standards de-emphasize opinionated responses, a teacher could guide students into text analysis by starting with the familiar. I like the collaborative annotation activity. Follow these steps:
1.Group students heterogeneously. The preferred group size is 3-5 students.
2.Explain what a collaborative annotation is. It is a process in which a group of students write their thoughts about a text on a copy. Students are encouraged to interact with each other via writing during this process. The text itself should be something interesting to your particular class. The copy should be attached to a larger sheet of paper, such as a poster-sized piece of butcher paper. Each student gets a different color of pen and must record his or her name on the document in the chosen color. This color-codes the responses so you know who wrote what.
3.Show students what a successful annotation looks like; you should use a different document from what you are giving to the class. Read sample comments to the class.
4.Give each group the materials (article + pens/markers). Each group receives only one copy of the article, so it is necessary for you or a volunteer to read it aloud. Afterward, assert that students are to remain silent throughout the activity. If they have something to say, they must write it. (As you can see, this is a decent activity to support written communication and thought articulation.)
5.During this activity, you should rotate with your own colored pen and make comments for groups that seem stuck. Ask students question (on paper) about their thoughts related to an issue in the article.
6.For closing, ask students to share their group responses. Require students to write some type of response to the article. You could also give each student an exit ticket to ask them how they felt about the activity. Most students give positive feedback about the activity.
At some point, instruct students about the definition of annotation; this could be prior to or after the collaborative activity. Explain how students related personally to the text (aka: text-to-self) and how they will need to begin making broader connects with the text, which include analyzing the text itself for the author’s unique writing style and devices (text-to-itself), linking the text to other non-fiction or fiction items they have read (text-to-text), and associating the text to past or current events or situations (text-to-world). You must provide examples of these types of text analysis. Depending on the level of your students, you may want to work your way slowly from one type of analysis to the next. If you have to choose only one other type of text analysis to make in addition to text-to-self, you should consider text-to-itself. Now, you can jigsaw the collaborative annotation activity.
Jigsaw with Collaborative Annotation
Prior to this activity, you should define the different areas of text analysis. This includes but is not limited to rhetorical devices, author’s attempt to relate to the audience, author’s purpose, diction, and overall critique of the piece. Once students understand how to analyze the text, preferably after you share examples of text analysis, divide them into groups once again.
1.Assign each group a different area to analyze.
2.Give each group one copy of the text to analyze. The text should be simple yet high interest. As students get better at analyzing text, you can use more complicated pieces.
3.Read aloud the text and remind students that they are to silently analyze the text for the area you wish them to focus on.
4.Rotate around the room and help students who are stuck with prompting questions.
5.Have groups to share their findings while the rest of the class takes notes.
6.Assign students to write a text analysis (aka: rhetorical analysis) of the piece. (You should probably show them how to organize their information or provide them with a graphic organizer.)
7.An alternative to this method is assign each individual member a different area to analyze, then have group members talk amongst themselves about their findings once the silent portion is completed. You should still have each group share their findings, too, so that they can give and take ideas from one another. You could also try this version of the method after they have tried the original jigsaw.
As students develop their analysis skills, you can provide more complicated tasks and longer writing assignments. You also need to wean them from the group and have them analyze and write independently. For certain classes, you could start slowly by placing students in pairs before you place students on their own. Even when students are independently working, you should still consider peer revising. (I also wrote an article about a more interesting way to implement peer revision. Check it out!)
Text analysis is difficult. As with any difficult assignment, do not expect students to enter into the process alone. Most importantly, do not sell your students short. I know of some teachers who have no faith in their students’ abilities to analyze text whatsoever. They may attempt a different strategy to jump start the process, but their lack of faith taints their attitude which in turn affects the students.
Even if you do not teach Common Core, many of us ELA teachers are still required to teach our students how to analyze text. May this strategy support your endeavors!