As I began implementing CCSS it was clear that I would have to get my students to analyze books with more rigor and guide them towards a deeper understanding of text than in previous years. I would also have to get them used to making connections between more than one text and to referencing evidence from the text.
The week I taught this lesson, my students had read the story "The Kite" from Frog and Toad and a non-fiction selection on the Wright Brothers. Frog and Toad stories are always charming and a hit with first graders, and this class was also thrilled with the Wright brothers and their first attempts at flight. I had a very hard time resisting spending a lot of time with extension activities, such as making decorating and experimenting with kites and planes. This lesson can be adapted to any two selections, but I recommend using a narrative and an expository piece because they will stretch students' critical thinking skills.
Today, my students had to determine the main idea and central theme of both selections (RL.1.2 and RI.1.2) and to compare and contrast their characters and events.
To begin, I shared the objective with students. Then I had some students read (and re-read) the stories independently, others read them with a partner, and my lowest group met with me to read them with support (RL.1.10 and RI.1.10).
I told my class that we were going to examine both stories and look for similarities and differences. I reminded them that they could re-read, look at the pictures and captions to remind themselves of the events, or have a whispered conversation about them with their neighbor.
I circulated asking pointed questions such as:
This part of the lesson was only possible because I started laying the foundation for such an activity from the beginning of the year. From day one I have modeled and we have practiced how to review what a selection was about by skim reading, thinking about the pictures and having quiet conversations about them with a neighbor. At the beginning it was slow going, but now (2/3rds into the year) the scaffolding has paid off and we can spend some minutes reviewing a selection or a chapter in a textbook before doing an activity that will require critical thinking.
I told my students that they needed to decide if Frog and Toad were similar to the Wright brothers. First, to help them organize their thoughts, they had to compare and contrast them in a Venn Diagram (the clip shows you how they can make their own).
Then they had to answer the prompt: Frog and Toad are like the Wright brothers because ...
I confess I was skeptical when I first though up this lesson. As I circulated checking on my students' work I was proud of the confident way in which all ability levels began working on the Venn Diagram. As they began completing the prompt, I quickly became very excited by the ability of many of them to go beyond superficial differences and really focus on the selections' themes. An added benefit of this lesson was that it gave me a window into the level each child was working on. Some were stull stuck at a lower level of thinking. For example, students at the lower end compared physical attributes; this was the case of one who wrote the characters were similar because they had two legs (we hadn't gotten to our animal unit :). Another student (who's work appears in the one in the resource section) was unable to show understanding of the central theme. This child knew how to use the Venn Diagram and referenced the text, but had no true understanding of the relevant features of the characters and was not yet ready to compare events. These answers were important information to plan discussions with reading groups.
I had a few students from different levels share their response to the prompt for the whole class. I gave students the opportunity to offer compliments and (constructive) critiques.