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March 31, 2016

Responding to Text: How to Get Great Written Answers

By Meghan Everette
Grades 1–2

    One of the toughest things for students to learn is how to respond in writing to text. The advent of text-dependent questions, Depth of Knowledge (DOK) questions, and the desire for students to think deeper have all combined for some pretty tough skills for young students to master. A coworker was scouring the Internet for a way to “do it better” and came across a simple acronym that has transformed our student responses.

     

    RACE

    RACE is the acronym we’ve adopted school-wide to help unify our teaching language and help students develop good answers. The thought is that even kindergarteners can start restating questions verbally and teachers in the youngest grades can use the vocabulary when they are modeling.

    RACE poster

     

    R

    R stands for "restate the question." We want students to practice “flipping” the question into part of their answer. This avoids students starting with “because” or “yes” and sets them up to actually answer the question given. Often students who don’t or can’t restate the question are going to provide an incomplete or off-base answer.

    A

    A stands for "answer the question." Here is where students give the simple or direct answer.  R and A are usually contained in the same sentence.

    C

    C stands for "cite the source." This is where students find the supporting evidence in the text for their answer.

    E

    E stands for "explain" or "examples." Often, the evidence cited needs further explanation to tie back to the answer. Other times, just giving another example or extending the answer will suffice.

     

    Getting Started

    As with anything, this method requires modeling. Very young students can begin restating and answering verbally. Even as older students respond verbally, the teacher can touch the different letters on a poster to tie the RACE acronym into what they are saying. In our class, we started with “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” because the story was well understood by my students, but on a recent test, the open-ended answers were lacking. Here was our model.

    Question: What is the lesson the reader should learn from this story?

    R

    The lesson the reader should learn is

    A

    never tell a lie.

    C

    In the story, the boy cries wolf three times. The first two times, the villagers come, but then they don’t believe him when the wolf actually shows up.

    E

    The boy lied so he wasn’t believable. That is why you shouldn’t tell lies.

    Most students were able to identify the main lesson, but few understood that they needed to cite tWriting in classhe text and explain it further. After modeling, students understood.

     

    Lessons

    Having all teachers across all subjects use the RACE model is helpful for student understanding and development of good answers. Recently our science unit asked students to relate the life cycle of a cactus to the animals that rely on the cactus for life. Students were able to use the RACE model to help ensure they had responded fully. The E became an area for further examples instead of explaining. Students easily adapt to this idea that E can be a further explanation or more examples depending on the question.

     

    R

    The animals that rely on the cactus life cycle to survive include

    A

    bats, birds, and insects.

    C

    In the text it says the bats eat the fruit of the cactus in the mature stage.

    E

    The birds use a mature cactus as a home. Both birds and bats use the seed stage for food. When the cactus dies, insects use the body for nutrients.

    Modeling is essential for this writing process to stick. We recently used contrasting essays to create questions. Our reading was for or against video games for children. Together, we used the article supporting video games to answer the question, “What is the author’s point of view about video games? Do you agree or disagree with the author? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.” After working on a response together, students used the article against video games to answer the same question. I use models with fiction writing, such as Two Bad Ants responses, as well. Providing supported writing opportunities such as this is important for students to be able to write on their own.

    Two Bad Ants RACE example

    RACE posters are now in most classrooms in the school. A quick Internet search will tell you this is not a new idea we’ve stumbled upon, but it is changing our instruction and generating positive response. Teachers and students both are at various levels of use, but in just a few weeks with minimal professional development support, teachers are feeling equipped to help students write complete and complex answers to text dependent questions. Students in my class alone have transformed their writing from simplistic answers, to fully developed and supported answers. Even my struggling students can restate and answer a question, usually providing some related text evidence.

    Smiling writer RACE example

    What ways do you teach open-ended responses that work? Do you have a different acronym that works for you?

    One of the toughest things for students to learn is how to respond in writing to text. The advent of text-dependent questions, Depth of Knowledge (DOK) questions, and the desire for students to think deeper have all combined for some pretty tough skills for young students to master. A coworker was scouring the Internet for a way to “do it better” and came across a simple acronym that has transformed our student responses.

     

    RACE

    RACE is the acronym we’ve adopted school-wide to help unify our teaching language and help students develop good answers. The thought is that even kindergarteners can start restating questions verbally and teachers in the youngest grades can use the vocabulary when they are modeling.

    RACE poster

     

    R

    R stands for "restate the question." We want students to practice “flipping” the question into part of their answer. This avoids students starting with “because” or “yes” and sets them up to actually answer the question given. Often students who don’t or can’t restate the question are going to provide an incomplete or off-base answer.

    A

    A stands for "answer the question." Here is where students give the simple or direct answer.  R and A are usually contained in the same sentence.

    C

    C stands for "cite the source." This is where students find the supporting evidence in the text for their answer.

    E

    E stands for "explain" or "examples." Often, the evidence cited needs further explanation to tie back to the answer. Other times, just giving another example or extending the answer will suffice.

     

    Getting Started

    As with anything, this method requires modeling. Very young students can begin restating and answering verbally. Even as older students respond verbally, the teacher can touch the different letters on a poster to tie the RACE acronym into what they are saying. In our class, we started with “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” because the story was well understood by my students, but on a recent test, the open-ended answers were lacking. Here was our model.

    Question: What is the lesson the reader should learn from this story?

    R

    The lesson the reader should learn is

    A

    never tell a lie.

    C

    In the story, the boy cries wolf three times. The first two times, the villagers come, but then they don’t believe him when the wolf actually shows up.

    E

    The boy lied so he wasn’t believable. That is why you shouldn’t tell lies.

    Most students were able to identify the main lesson, but few understood that they needed to cite tWriting in classhe text and explain it further. After modeling, students understood.

     

    Lessons

    Having all teachers across all subjects use the RACE model is helpful for student understanding and development of good answers. Recently our science unit asked students to relate the life cycle of a cactus to the animals that rely on the cactus for life. Students were able to use the RACE model to help ensure they had responded fully. The E became an area for further examples instead of explaining. Students easily adapt to this idea that E can be a further explanation or more examples depending on the question.

     

    R

    The animals that rely on the cactus life cycle to survive include

    A

    bats, birds, and insects.

    C

    In the text it says the bats eat the fruit of the cactus in the mature stage.

    E

    The birds use a mature cactus as a home. Both birds and bats use the seed stage for food. When the cactus dies, insects use the body for nutrients.

    Modeling is essential for this writing process to stick. We recently used contrasting essays to create questions. Our reading was for or against video games for children. Together, we used the article supporting video games to answer the question, “What is the author’s point of view about video games? Do you agree or disagree with the author? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.” After working on a response together, students used the article against video games to answer the same question. I use models with fiction writing, such as Two Bad Ants responses, as well. Providing supported writing opportunities such as this is important for students to be able to write on their own.

    Two Bad Ants RACE example

    RACE posters are now in most classrooms in the school. A quick Internet search will tell you this is not a new idea we’ve stumbled upon, but it is changing our instruction and generating positive response. Teachers and students both are at various levels of use, but in just a few weeks with minimal professional development support, teachers are feeling equipped to help students write complete and complex answers to text dependent questions. Students in my class alone have transformed their writing from simplistic answers, to fully developed and supported answers. Even my struggling students can restate and answer a question, usually providing some related text evidence.

    Smiling writer RACE example

    What ways do you teach open-ended responses that work? Do you have a different acronym that works for you?

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