Genius Teaching Strategies: A 5-Day Plan for Close-Reading Nonfiction

Erin Burns


Editors’ Note: The primary goal of our nonfiction features is to take students on a thrilling journey—whether into the lives of important people or to a fascinating time in history. Here’s a fantastic close-reading plan that works with any of our nonfiction stories, shared by Erin Burns, an amazing 4th grade teacher in upstate New York. Using “Attack at Sea,” from the February/March 2016 issue of Storyworks, she focuses on different goals over five days. Give it a try in your classroom, and let us know what you think. Or if you’ve got your own approach, we’d love to hear about it!


What you’ll need for the lesson:

  • “Word Nerd Journal” (spiral index cards; see photo)
  • Highlighters
  • Several dictionaries (print or digital)
  • Pencils
  • Microphone (optional)
  • “Think About It”: Close Reading & Critical Thinking activity sheet
  • Video: “Behind the Scenes: ‘Attack at Sea’”
  • “Find the Evidence”: Text Evidence activity sheet (higher level)
  • “Attack at Sea” Quiz (higher level)


Day 1: VOCABULARY (30 minutes)

The first thing we do is whip out our “Word Nerd Journals,” which are notebooks or bound note cards. They look like this:



As you can see, we enter the article’s title and author. Then we search for the bold-faced words in the story and highlight them within the text. I randomly pair students off to do "dictionary races" to find out the definitions. They zip around to the dictionaries around the room. When a student finds a definition she shoots her hand up and says “Got it!” The person she was competing against will put his dictionary away, and then the kids discuss with partners how to put the definition into their own words.



Then they head back to their seats, where I display my Word Nerd list so students can copy off the board as we share our findings. Students then highlight all of the Word Nerd words, and write the definition. Pretty Nerdy, huh?



Days 2 and 3: EXAMINING THE TEXT (30 minutes each day)

Today’s focus is on the text. Before we start reading, we do a quick text walk. We look at all the pictures and captions, and students make predictions about what might happen. The first reader in the room gets the microphone and starts reading.



He reads the first section, then picks another student in the room to describe the main ideas of what we just read. As we discuss this we use highlighters to point out key concepts.



I also use Storyworks“Think About It!” close reading and critical thinking resource during this group read. I choose questions that’ll spark great conversations, which helps the kiddos practice close-reading skills. Meanwhile, we also keep an eye out for descriptive words that will help us picture the setting, time period, and characters.

As they come across bold-faced words, students pause and reference their Word Nerd Journals. We continue to change readers, point out the main ideas, and highlight key concepts. Students may also pause to ask questions or discuss something we read. For example, students were interested to see what the Great Britain flag and allies looked like, so we turned to the Internet to search it out!



Day 4: TEXT EVIDENCE (30 minutes)

We watch the Behinds The Scenes: Attack at Sea video, and discuss the author’s choices as well as facts that had to be left out during the writing and editing process. Next, they work in their “communities” to fill in the Find the Evidence Text Evidence resource. They look back in the article and find page numbers and key words that will help them analyze and answer questions. After 15 minutes, we come back together to discuss as a group. If students disagree with one another we look at the evidence in the text to help us choose the best answer. This promotes student thinking, analyzing, and debating!




Day 5: COMPREHENSION (30 minutes)

Today students complete the higher-level comprehension quiz. They write the two extended responses on a separate sheet of paper. They may refer to the magazine, Word Nerd Journal, or any activity sheets we’ve completed to help them.

And this concludes our five-day activity!

Erin Burns is a fourth-grade teacher in Forestport, New York.



Tell us how this worked for you or share your genius idea in the comments below!

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