Give Me Twenty!


The students are now prepped with using annotation marks. We’ve worked together using them in the story “Slower Than The Rest” by Cynthia Rylant and independently in the story “Boar Out There” by Cynthia Rylant (both from her short story collection, Every Living Thing, Simon & Schuster, 1985). They are ready to add on.

We worked together to come up with a definition of Close Reading. Because the students have been doing this in their classroom for at least a year (most of them two or three years) at this point, they have some knowledge about what Close Reading is. For us, we read short texts (not as short as probably would be recommended, but it works for us) multiple times with a purpose. Our first go round, we’ll be reading the story “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros (from her book, Woman Hollering Creek, Random House, 1991).

This is my favorite. Story. In. The. World. The whole wide world. I tell all the students this before we begin so that they know I have an emotional connection to the story, that I have read this many times before (which they know in Close Reading), and that it is something I think they will really like. I also don’t want them to say anything mean about the story because kids can be mean and say stuff and I REALLY LOVE THIS STORY.

Our purpose for the first reading is getting the “gist” of the story, or what it’s mainly about. I read the story aloud (so that they can hear words read correctly, understand parts through my inflection, and hearing stories read aloud is important for their growth as readers) and we use our annotation marks to track our thinking. As we’re tracking our thinking, we’re talking about what’s going on in the story so that when we’ve finished reading, we’ve (I hope) cleared up any misconceptions and gotten the details of the story.

Now I challenge them to write a 20 Word Gist Statement. All they have to do is tell me a quick summary/main idea/gist of the story, but they ONLY have 20 words to do it. No more. No less. At first, they are excited because I’m not asking them to write a paragraph and 20 words seems like no big deal, but they start writing and within about ten seconds, someone has raised his head and said, “This is hard!” But they don’t quit! They are generally excited to “solve the puzzle” of how to get the main idea of the story into only 20 words. I write my own with them (shown below) so that they can see how I edit my own thinking, erase words, add words in, and move ideas around. They also have to be thoughtful of the words they include and make sure that they’re using “just right” words (including contractions, good vocabulary, structuring their sentences) so that they fit the criteria.

I even made a mistake (my last sentence doesn't make sense)! I will have to go back and revise mine with them tomorrow to make sure I get it right! :)

For the first time through, they did a pretty good job! Sometimes it’s hard to focus on both the task of writing a gist statement and only including 20 words, so they tend to focus on details as opposed to the bigger picture of the story. I think this is a great starting point, though, and I’m thrilled to see where we go with this!

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