A typical problem I see with my ninth graders is differentiating between a specific detail and a general statement. I would imagine a couple grades above and below show similar problems, so this lesson should work for multiple grade levels.
This lesson takes some initial prep time, but once you set it up, you’re ready to go for all your classes this year and probably several years to come. In class, the students take the lead. Aside from a little guidance, they work together to figure it out themselves.
I use this activity to help teach the theme paragraph. It has a definite point to prove, but it is short enough that we can focus mostly on details. For an example here, I used a chapter from Robert McCammon’s BOY’S LIFE, “Old Moses Comes to Call.” However, you can easily adapt it to suit your assignment. Time frame:
One to two class periods. The basic activity: Step 1 (Prep)
Pick out ten or so specific detail sentences from a story or text you are studying. Then make up another ten not-specific detail sentences. Type them, print them out, and copy them so you have enough for everyone in your class. Click here to download a sample.
Next, cut the sentences into strips, so each sentence is on a strip. I use card stock, so the strips last longer. NOTE: You may want to number the strips before copying them to make your life easier in Step Three, or in case the papers get mixed together. Step 2 (Group Time)
Put students in pairs. Give each pair a complete set of strips and tell them that their first mission is to sort the strips into details and non-details. I recommend pairs not only because it’s more engaging than solo, but also because if this skill is a weakness, the students will need the help. Step 3 (Back to Full Class)
Bring them back together and go over their answers to explain why the specific ones are specific and the not-specific ones are not so. This is where the numbers on the strips are useful. I like to throw in overgeneralized examples with words like “always” and “everyone” in order to discuss that pitfall. Step 4 (Back to Groups)
Students return to their groups. Each has a simple graphic organizer
with the topic they must prove and two boxes. In one box, each student will copy three specific details he/she will use to support the topic. In the second box, each student will rewrite one of the non-specific details to make it specific.
My example has three boxes because they could also choose which theme they wanted to prove. Here, students have to sift through the examples and select ones that best support their topics. Step 5 (Individual Time)
From this point, students construct their rough draft in whatever manner suits your needs. Tech it up:
If you have access to a computer lab, you can put these words in a program like SMART Notebook
, which is free, and you do not need a SMART Board to use it. This way the kids can treat this activity more like a computer game where they drag the details to the appropriate column. And for you, you will not have to run to the copy room or cut out hundreds of strips. Click here
to download the one I use; feel free to change some wording and steal my format. NOTE: You’ll need to download the SMART Notebook Interactive Viewer
to be able to open the sample file if you do not already have this program.
If you click split screen (the icon at the top that looks like a windshield wiper), the kids will be able to drag the specific details into the graphic organizer. (Again, my example has an extra box so the kids could choose their topic.) Cross that curriculum:
Certainly science and social studies assignments can utilize this same information, whether it’s for classifying types of rocks or contributing factors of the bubonic plague or the Civil War. So, adapt away! Tony Varrato teaches English at Sussex Technical High School, in Georgetown, Delaware. He serves as Membership Chair on the Sussex Council Board for the Diamond State Reading Association and helps plan local literacy events. In addition, Tony is the author of several novels for teens, including FAKIE and OUTRAGE, both of which were selected for YALSA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers lists.
© 2013 Tony Varrato. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.