Summarizing Sleuths

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.2.4.C

Objective: Summarize the major elements of fictional text by playing detective

What You Need: Short fiction or leveled reader, such as a story from the Henry and Mudge or Flat Stanley series; card stock; construction paper; chart paper; marker; Fictional Story Maps and other materials

What to Do: Deana Kahlenberg, an elementary-school speech-language pathologist and former classroom teacher from Hope Mills, North Carolina, devised an activity called Summarizing Sleuths that helped kids better understand the elements of a story while playing detective.

To begin, explain that summarizing involves looking for clues in the story to figure out what happened and why. Then, read aloud a story like Henry and Mudge and the Tall Tree House, and ask questions like What went wrong in the story? and How was the problem solved?

Divide students into five groups, each with a summarizing task: character, setting, plot, problem, and solution. Tell them they will be asking questions and investigating leads to find out what happened in the story. Set up tented placards made of construction paper or card stock on each table labeled in the following way:

Character Detective: Who was in the story?
Setting Detective: When and where did the story take place?
Plot Detective: What happened in the story?
Problem Detective: What went wrong in the story?
Solution Detective: How was the problem solved?

Hand out copies of the Fictional Story Map (one per student), with labeled sections for each category to fill in, so that students can record their findings.

Then, work with students to make sets of magnifying glasses and/or bookmarks out of construction paper or card stock that feature questions to guide their search (or make on your own beforehand). For example, a magnifying glass might have the prompts What was the problem in the story? What was the setting? Was there more than one? or What was the solution? Bookmarks give prompting questions for all five categories.

Give each student a book to read on his or her own. Then, have groups get to work, discussing the story and answering prompts to summarize characters, setting, plot, problems, and solutions. They should jot down notes on their Fictional Story Maps and discuss their findings.

When students feel confident summarizing in all five categories, challenge them to read a story independently during centers and complete the entire story map on their own. “By learning the concept in whole group, practicing in small group, and working independently and at home, my students became great detectives at finding the key elements to summarizing any short fictional text while also having a little fun!” says Kahlenberg, who blogs at Primary Punch.

Context Clues

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.2.4.C

Objective: Determine the meaning of difficult words using context clues

What You Need: Con-TEXT Clues game (find it here), writing paper, dictionaries (optional)

What to Do: Rachael Parlett, a former third- and fourth-grade teacher from Rochester, New York, who blogs at The Classroom Nook, finds that context clues are essential for improving student vocabulary. But, she says, it “can be a pretty dry skill to teach.” This led her to create games like this one, which uses a texting template to help kids learn new vocabulary by reading the words in context. (Modify vocabulary for lower grade levels.)

Prepare by copying a class set of the game. Unless you’re working with struggling readers, you will want to cut off the definition cards on the right side of the pages and set them aside.

Explain that today’s activity will help students practice figuring out words they’re not sure of by using a format they are quite familiar with—text messages! Review a few examples, such as the following exchange, with the new word in context underlined: Student 1: “I’m so excited! I was given the part of the sleuth in the school play this year.”
Student 2: “Awesome! You’ll be perfect for that! You’re always so great at solving mysteries in real life!”

Partner students and explain that they will read each set of texts and study the underlined word. They will next write the word on the recording sheet and discuss its possible meanings. Ask them to identify and record clues from the texts that helped them understand the words. Then, have them review the actual definitions of words, either with the definition cards you’ve set aside or with a dictionary.

Extend the activity by having students create their own text conversations. Partners can use difficult words from their reading, read-alouds, or a list you provide, and work together to write a conversation. Have them share their conversations with other groups.

Take a Picture

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.7

Objective: Visualize aspects of a story based on the text to develop a deeper understanding of the story

What You Need: Picture book with vivid text and illustrations (try Natsumi!, by Susan Lendroth); passages from the book; drawing paper; markers or crayons; scissors; glue sticks

What to Do: Visualizing can make the difference between not having a clear grasp of what’s going on and understanding a story and its setting. Picture books are a good way to highlight the importance of vividly written descriptions in stories.

Prepare for this lesson by choosing a picture book that contains vivid descriptions, such as Natsumi! Type up several passages from the book and provide enough copies for each pair or group of three students. Highlight a different vivid description on each group’s copy.

Begin the lesson by giving a brief explanation of what visualizing is (to form an image of something in your mind), and why it is useful for readers to have an image in their mind as they read. As a quick example, ask kids to share the first word they think of to describe pizza. Then, give them more time to think about the look, taste, and texture of pizza and share a longer description with a partner. Point out how much more detail they can share when they visualize the pizza.

Next, begin a read-aloud of the picture book you have chosen, without showing the illustrations to students. Stop at particularly vivid descriptions to have them talk to a partner about what they see. For example, in Natsumi!, Lendroth describes the main character, a rambunctious little girl, in this way: “She jumped high, played hard, and slurped noodles like a sumo wrestler” and “With each beat, Natsumi’s sticks flew faster. With each BOOM, she pounded harder.” Students may comment on how they visualize her from these descriptions.

Then, explain that students will be turning what they envisioned into an actual drawing. Give each pair or small group a copy of the text passages and explain that they will be drawing what they see when they visualize their portion of the text.

Once they have completed this, have them cut out their portions of the text and glue them onto the drawings. Have students present their work to the class, pointing out what they read in the text and how it relates to their drawing. Hang the finished pieces up for students to comment on while doing a gallery walk.

Finally, share the images from the picture book with students as you read through the story and ask them how visualizing helped them imagine what the author was describing.


Images: Courtesy of Deana Kahlenberg

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