The other day, Maddy came home with not necessarily a homework assignment but a challenge from her fourth grade teacher: find the story of Prometheus and explain the connection between ‘Flame’ (an interactive pen in her classroom) and the story.
What was to be nothing more than a five or ten minute reading and jotting down of ideas turned into a quick refresher on how to summarize a passage.
Summarizing is a difficult task when it comes to reading, and it’s made more difficult when the text is challenging. Myths are hard! All those names! The crazy things that those gods and goddesses do!
But with some modeled help of close reading, it was a little easier.
Here’s the skinny. . .
- Summarizing– At-Home Practice of a Super-Important Reading Skill: In order to adequately summarize a text, the reader has to totally understand what he or she read.
‘Close Reading’ is actually a specific, deliberate reading strategy used to aid readers in comprehension.
I chose to use it because of the difficulty of the myth.
Close Reading passages helps aid students with comprehension, and often Close Reading is used with nonfiction texts. However, it can be used for just about any passage if need be.
Essentially, Close Reading is just what it sounds like–looking very closely at a text or passage. ‘During a close reading, students explore the deep structures of a text. . . identifying the ‘bones’ of the passage’ (
Close Reading involves several prescribed steps that are really pretty simple:
1. First reading: teacher shares purpose and students annotate (highlight or mark) text
2. Chatting and charting: talk about what was read and chart on sheet or on graphic organizer
3. Second reading: return to text to answer several specific text-dependent questions
4. Chatting and charting: talk about what was read and what new information was gleaned
5. Independence: students somehow demonstrate their new understanding, making connections, inferences, independently and with confidence
At home, after my kids have spent an entire day at school, it’s hard to push them to do something that sounds as involved as this. But really? Because we did this together, it wasn’t all that hard.
In order to complete Maddy’s homework challenge, we first searched for “Prometheus Story” and found How Prometheus Gave Fire to Man, which I printed and stapled together.
I handed it to her and thought we were finished. But when I asked her to tell me what happened in the story, she had a really hard time.
Zeus, this god, like was angry with Prometheus and his brother. They were all fighting. Wait. I’m not sure. Prometheus . . . he’s this . . . I don’t know.
Okay, well let’s look at it together, then.
Grab a pen or a highlighter. Let’s read it. We’re going to highlight all of the important information. We want the information–not the teeny details, okay? Let’s focus on finding out who exactly Prometheus was.
We read the first few paragraphs together–it was only a 2 1/2 page print out–and I took the lead and thought aloud as I identified all of the important information on the first page. She took over for the second page.
For any first reading, it’s helpful for kids to have a reason to read. Maddy’s reason was to find out who Prometheus was.
After we finished the first reading, we went back and I said, Okay, let’s look back at the highlighted words and phrases and read them.
So we did. Any questions she had, I answered with ‘Let’s go back to the text to find out.‘ After she was clear on the basics, we were ready for a second quick look at the text.
We should have a better idea of who Prometheus is after this reading, but I want you to read through it one last time thinking specifically about what your teacher asked you: ‘How does the story of Prometheus compare to Flame?’ (Again, Flame is this interactive pen they have in their classroom.)
She read through it a second time, with this specific focus.
I said, Your teacher wants you to bring in an index card with a few pieces of information about the Prometheus story on it. What might be the first thing you write down? A summary of this short text can be written in 2-3 sentences and should cover only what is essential: what happened and why, who was involved and what was the outcome.
We talked through her quick summary, making sure it was specific and concise. If I thought she added something that wasn’t necessary, I asked, ‘Is that a detail or essential information?’
Then I asked again: How does the story of Prometheus compare to Flame in your classroom?
She thought for a minute, looked down at her index card, and looked at me. I think the story connects to Flame in our classroom because when Prometheus gave humans fire, he gave them a lot of power. Maybe Flame gives us power to do things in our school? (Yaaaaay! Hip, hip hooray! She got it!)
I think you have a really good idea there. Take it to school tomorrow and see what your teacher says.
Summaries are super-important. And Close Readings are important, too.
But what’s most important for kids is to have them recognize the connection between what they’re reading and their own little lives.
In a recent article in The Reading Teacher, the authors explained that this was the key in their research with Close Reading in a fifth grade classroom: ‘Connecting close reading to real-world applications and writing tasks motivated students to review the text with attention to detail, language, and back-ground knowledge’ (p 118 Students’ Close Reading of Science Texts)
For Maddy, her connection was understanding what she read so that she could go back to school and share her findings with the class.
And that’s it. Quick summary talk during homework time. I’ll definitely be doing what I can from home on summarizing; it’s a super-important skill and big for all English Language Arts Common Core grade levels.
Three cheers to the following resources for help with this piece:
Grant, Maria C , Lapp, Diane , Moss, Barbara & , Johnson, Kelly. (2013). Students’ Close Reading of Science Texts: What’s Now? What’s Next?. The Reading Teacher, 67(2), 109–119.
Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement (2007), Harvey & Goudvis.
Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy (2000), Fountas & Pinnell.
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