Critical Literacy and Co-Constructed Meaning

Since reading is a conversation between the author and audience, critical literacy allows a reader to gain more control over the context of texts. In this Qwantz Dinosaur Comic, "ryoma" is defined wholly through context clues and the reader's critical literacy.

This 25 minute lesson gives students a basic sense of how critical literacy and awareness help a reader gain more control over the meaning of a text by reading and creating Dinosaur Comics.
(Estimated Running Time: 25 Minutes)


Students will be able to demonstrate some or all of the four suggested techniques by constructing and analyzing Dinosaur Comics.
Students will be able to critique each other’s comics by examining how critical literacy techniques affect their reading.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How can a reader’s sense of control help them?

  • Critical literacy can offer readers control
  • Having control is empowering for readers
  • Readers are more likely to engage with a text if they have a sense of control
  • As teachers, we can create a sense of control
  • A text is controlled by different factors including the language, the author, the reader’s background knowledge and the reader’s skill
  • A reader can have control of a text
  • A reader can never fully control a text
  • The more control a reader has, the more engaged they’re likely to be

Inquiry Exercise:

(3 Minutes)
Lay out a series of Dinosaur comics. Pick one. Read it. After reading it, consider whether or not you understood it, whether you found it funny, and what you think someone would need to know in order understand it. If you didn’t understand it, think about what you feel you were missing. Share your comic with a partner. Allow them to read it as you read theirs. Explain how you felt about each one and what you felt you needed to understand it.

Choose another comic, lather, rinse, repeat!

Introduction to New Material:

(5 Minutes)
Chapter 3 of Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives focuses on the types and features of narrative texts. It offers several examples of simple routines to engage with a text. Each routine attempts to fulfill one of the four steps of critical literacy.

TSRD defines Critical Literacy as “the practice of evaluating information, insights and perspectives through an analysis of power culture, class and gender.” TSRD suggests four techniques to do so:

  1. Question the Commonplace in a Text
  2. Consider the Role of the Author
  3. Seek Alternative Perspectives
  4. Read Critically

Since we’re working with these four questions, let’s look at one of these comics and dissect how each technique can be applied to Dinosaur Comics.

Firstly, what’s the “commonplace?” What’s commonplace in a comic? What’s commonplace in these comics? How do you think Dinosaur Comics plays on the commonplace in comics?

Next, the author, Ryan North, chooses what text goes in these comics and how that text relates to the images. What can you tell us about North based on your comic?

Each comic has a topic that’s different. What is your comic about? What in your background allows you to read or not read the comic? How was your partner’s reading the same or different?

Finally, what does it mean to read critically? How does Dinosaur Comics require or encourage you to read critically or not? How are you involved in creating meaning when reading the comic? Do you feel included in the process?

Guided Practice:

(5 Minutes)
Take a copy of a blank Qwantz comic. Today, we’ll be making our own comics. Because we want this to be focused around our control and sense of agency, I would like you to write the four techniques of critical literacy on the comic, one outside each of the four edges. Keep these techniques in mind as you make the comic, since the people reading your comic will need to either experience them or experience the lack of them.

We’re going to choose a common theme. Brainstorm a theme. What elements do you think we need in the text to make the comic about this theme?

(If this hasn’t been established during the intro/inquiry) Because Dinosaur Comics uses the same image over and over, how can we use that repetition, that representation of the commonplace, to our advantage?

Now think about the theme in relation to your life. I want you to brainstorm silently for a minute a few things you think you’ve experienced in relation to the theme that others may not have. Think about how you would include that.

One of my favorite things about puns or jokes is that they often use double meanings for the humor. Find a term or two from our brainstorm list and think about possible alternate meanings and whether you can use them to add depth or make a joke.

Finally, the majority of comics, especially Dinosaur Comics are referential. Do we need to do anything more to bring us to thinking critically?

Individual Practice:

(10 Minutes)
Now that we’ve written up a comic together, we can already see that even variations on a theme come out differently.

This time, I want you to go through the process on your own. Afterward, we’ll trade comics, and as we read each other’s comics, I’d like you to think about how much control you have over what the comic means and how much control you feel your partner allowed you in reading this comic.


(2 Minutes)
Critical Literacy is really a means to create agency and grant control of a text to a reader. The techniques it suggests and the routines TSRD recommend allow students to gain that sense of control. The best authors and books allow the reader at least some control, but by expanding beyond the text and using the four techniques, the reader can effectively take more control and therefore engage more fully.

Flow and Police Brutality

Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson by police while unarmed; it resulted in riots and more. Creating a sense of connection to the world is one way to inspire flow in our lessons.

This 25 minute lesson directly addresses police brutality and creating a sense of connection with students through flow. The material is difficult and may require trigger warnings for sensitive students.
(Estimated Running Time: 21-28 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to define flow.
Teachers will be able to rewrite in their own words the three recommended features of implementing flow.
Teachers will be able to reorganize elements of the lesson to create a sense of flow.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How can we organize lessons to increase engagement and provide a sense of self-worth?

  • By letting lessons build to a crescendo of success, students will feel more accomplished.
  • A lesson that creates a sense of flow is more fulfilling.
  • Learning, like work, is more successful when it’s fulfilling.

Inquiry Exercise:

(1-3 Minutes)
Show a picture of Michael Brown. Who is this? Hopefully students will be able to identify him, but if not, mention of his name will undoubtedly lead to conversation. Why is he important? What issues does conversation about him raise? How does seeing this picture make you feel?

Introduction to New Material:

(2 Minutes)
This week, we’ll be discussing “Flow.” Flow is defined as experiencing something so intensely that nothing else matters. Wilhelm and Smith say there are three things we can do as teachers to encourage and foster flow, making our lessons more effective.

First, they suggest that we structure instruction to directly and explicitly address questions of genuine importance. Second, we need to expand notions of text and curriculum, and what counts as meaningful reading and learning. Third, we need to expand notions of competence, especially student competence, and find more ways to highlight, celebrate, name and extend it.

Tonight, I am going to walk you through a series of alternate texts that I feel can connect and expand a unit on police brutality. Afterward, we’re going to select from these materials certain ones that you feel could create a sense of flow and identify how each will help foster that sense of flow.

Guided Practice:

(10-12 Minutes)
I will place on the table six physical materials: the picture of Michael Brown, Batman Issue #44 (September 9, 2015) which deals with police brutality and gentrification, a print out of the lyrics for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” and a print out of three different Police Brutality infographics, one highlighting police opinion and on focusing on racial discrimination. I will also open my laptop and present them with seven interactivities: “Justice Renegade” video that explores what a video game version of police brutality might look like, the Wikipedia page for the Shooting of Michael Brown, the New York Times Q&A What Happened in Ferguson, the Huffington Post’s Police Brutality page cataloguing recent news about the topic, the Youtube video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” the body cam footage of the shooting of Sam DuBose, and an opportunity to play the small game “Police Brutality,” in which players attempt to intervene against police brutality. After walking them through each of the materials briefly, we’ll have a discussion about what they feel would work best to use to create a sense of flow.

In front of you are a collection of media about police brutality. Additionally, the web browser on my laptop, I have six tabs open to relevant items and an additional program open that can be used. As we look at each one, I want you to point out if it’s genuinely relevant, whether you think it’s a more traditional resource or if it expands beyond traditional texts, and whether you think it would be an effective tool and exploring it will make us feel competent as experts in our field.

As we look at them, we’ll briefly discuss each one in the manner stated above.

  • Where do you think the best part to start is? Why did I start with the photo of Michael Brown?
  • How do you make sure that elements of a difficult topic have trigger warnings addressing student need?
  • How do you know if something is relevant and flows well?
  • Which of these tools provide enough information to show expertise? Which need help from other sources?

Individual Practice:

(3-5 Minutes)
Now, I have each of these things listed on small slips of paper and there is a glue stick in front of you. Select from the slips which items you would use in a lesson or unit on Police Brutality and glue them onto our worksheet (see below) in the order you’d present them. Next to each one, write a sentence or two saying why you placed it there and whether it introduces, expands, or creates a sense of competence. If you think of something from your own experience you’d like to include, write it in.

Before you get too far, here’s a print out of an article from Ijeoma Oluo about actions you can take about Police Brutality. Pay attention to the bold headers, though you can read more if you like. Think about how the pieces you select and glue could lead to one or more of these activities as a final class project. Also consider what novel or work a unit like this might be centered around and when in the unit you might want to introduce it so that it’s part of the flow.


(5 Minutes)
Creating Flow is about engaging in something important and relevant, expanding beyond traditional texts, and creating a sense of competency. While this is by no means an all-encompassing lesson, it provide a wide variety of elements, many of which can be found easily online, that can engage the students in a broad and relevant conversation.

10 Essential Elements of Reading Instruction: Dixit

Dixit is a board game in which surrealist art is used to inspire vague stories. In order to play, players must develop a thorough visual literacy that can inform a classroom.

This 30 minute lesson goes over the 10 Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading. It’s based on Chapter 3 of  What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction by Samuels & Farstrup. Students will need to have read through the chapter or be familiar with the ideas.
(Estimated Running Time: 25-33 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to identify some or all of the 10 Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension by stopping the lesson to define them or by noting their absence or need for improvement.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How can we tell if the 10 Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading are present or missing from our lessons?

  • Using the 10 Essential Elements makes sure our lessons are thorough.
  • By learning to recognize the 10 Essential Elements, we can fix holes in our teaching
  • It can be difficult to cover all 10 Essential Elements without missing one.
  • A lesson can succeed for most students but not all students if one of the 10 Essential Elements is missing.

Introduction to New Material:

(5 Minutes)
Since you’ve read through the 10 Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension, I’m going to jump straight in.

In front of you, you should have the list of all 10 Essential Elements. Today, I’m going to teach you a game called Dixit. As I teach you, I want you to consider the 10 Essential Elements, which ones are present in learning this game and which aren’t. Feel free to check them off as you see them and to stop me and point them out. Some elements may be missing. At the end, we’ll discuss which ones are missing, why, and how we might integrate them into a lesson. To begin with, please take one card and look at it privately.

Inquiry Exercise:

(2-3 Minutes)
Who here has played Apples to Apples? How about Cards Against Humanity? Balderdash? Wise or Otherwise? Why am I bringing up these games? Looking at your card and thinking about these other games, what do you think other people’s cards look like? How do you think Dixit is played?

(Pause to identify Element 1: Build Disciplinary and World Knowledge – drawing on similar card games identifies world knowledge of other games and puts people in the correct mode to learn Dixit. Additionally, rules are discipline; by introducing other games with similar rules, it sets up a set of guidelines and strictures that will inform how students learn the game. Finally, though I suspect it’s unlikely that all students might not know at least one of these games, if one does, the conversation allows the class to explain to each other similar rule sets and draw on their knowledge to illuminate their classmates.)

Guided Practice:

(10-15 Minutes)
Now I would like you to lay your card face up on the table. Take a look each of the cards face up. As you can see, every card is different and strange and fascinating. (As the variety of cards is considered, rules are explained and hands are being dealt and observed, students may pause to identify the cards representation of Element 2: Provide Exposure to a Volume and Range of Texts.)

Each round, one person will be the storyteller. The storyteller’s job is play a card from their hand secretly and give a clue to what is in the image of the card. The clue should be accurate enough that some players will be able to figure out which is their card, but not all players. The storyteller will not get a vote. Then, each other player will choose a card from their hand that they feel might match the clue. Once all card are face down on the table, the cards will be shuffled and turned face up and we’ll use the dice to vote on which is the storyteller’s card. If a player guesses which the storyteller’s card is, they get 3 points. Additionally, for every vote a card gets, the person who played it gets a point, so choosing your card well is important even if you’re not the storyteller. If everyone chooses the storyteller’s card, then all players but the storyteller get 3 bonus points. If everyone chooses a card other than the storyteller, then all players but the storyteller get 3 bonus points. If some people choose the storyteller’s card and some people do not, then the storyteller gets 3 bonus points. (Pause at some point during rules to identify Element 3: Provide Motivating Texts and Contexts for Reading. Because this is a game, the game itself could be considered self motivating, but the game also provide the context for reading the different cards. Also, Identify Element 7: Build Vocabulary and Language Knowledge. The terms storyteller, vote, and card are the vocabulary of the game, already defined.)

Let’s do a sample round. (Discuss some possible interpretations of and clues for the cards played. Identify Element 4: Teach Strategies for Comprehension. By discussing how we came to certain readings of the imagery of cards and comparing a variety, we prepare to play the game by providing comprehension strategies. Identify Element 5: Teach Text Structures. By looking at the ways different cards are laid out and the elements featured, we can discuss how cards function structurally. Identify Element 7: Build Vocabulary and Language Knowledge again. By dissecting the cards, we provide the opportunity to discuss the visual vocabulary of the cards and what language we would or could use when we’re the storyteller. Dixit is interesting in that it encourages players to look beyond words to songs or actions or dances or whatever their heart desires. Pointing this out can also be used to cite Element 10: Differentiate Instruction. The different types of acceptable response should represent the different learning styles and multiple intelligences)

Now that you’ve got the idea, let’s play a couple rounds. (Identify Element 9: Observe and Assess. The scorecard will show how well people understood the game/rules, and could act as an exit ticket. Additionally, their lists of the elements should be showing check marks and throughout I’ll be checking off which elements they identify, which they can point out as my observe and assess.

(At nearly any point during this exercise, we can pause to identify Element 6: Engage Students in Discussion, from the inquiry exercise to now.)

Individual Practice:

(3-5 Minutes)
Now take your list. Use the space at each bullet point to list the places each element appeared. Make sure to note if you think the element only works for Dixit or if it would work with other games as well. If there are any we didn’t identify, list where they might be identified in this game or in another game. Lastly, answer the question at the bottom of the sheet (Why are games often easily engaging and how might we use them in our efforts to teach reading?) Afterward, we’ll come back together to compare notes.

(Element 8: Integrate Reading and Writing should be glaringly absent unless I’m mistaken. Because the cards/rules represent reading, the only way to perform this one is either to create custom cards, which we have neither the time nor materials for, or to create custom house rules, which will be suggested in the conclusion. Wise or Otherwise and Balderdash are similar games which have the writing element integrated, but don’t have as much comprehension, hence my choice of Dixit. While doing this, I will list the 10 elements on a white board or giant post-it mimicking the sheet with two columns [In Dixit and Other Games] where all can see to prepare for the Assessment/Closing.)


(5 Minutes)
List answers on the white board as we go. Alright, what did you see while learning to play Dixit and where did you see it? What are a few of the other games that you think would be good to show these elements? What was missing? What games do you think would feature the elements we’re missing?

Each and every one of you already knows the difference between a good lesson and a bad lesson. This list of ten elements can seem daunting, but when you stop and think about it, the good lessons we teach already have these elements involved. If a lesson isn’t working, all you need to do is slow down and recognize what elements it’s missing. Your successful lessons already include these elements even if you don’t know it.

LGBTQ Literature: Building a Representative Deck

Using LGBTQ literature in the classroom is important, but not having a representative sampling throughout makes it stand out like a joker in a deck of cards.

This 25 minute lesson is intended to give teachers a sense of what equitable representation for the GLBTQ community might feel like through text selection. It’s based on “Reading LGBT-Themed Literature with Young People: What’s Possible?” by Caroline T. Clarke and Mollie V. Blackburn. (PDF)
(Estimated Running Time: 23-25 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to identify how text selection can represent their classroom by building ideal decks representing their students.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

  • A deck of standard cards for every 4 students. Not all cards will be used. The distribution of cards should be 1/2 spades (16), 1/3 clubs (10) and 1/6 hearts (6). Of the four decks, one will have 3 hearts, one will have 2 hearts, one will have 1 heart, and one will have no hearts. Clubs and spades will be evenly distributed.

Essential Question(s):

How can we engage students in GLBTQ literature without actively or tacitly supporting a homophobic, heterosexist environment?

  • Using GLBTQ literature in a classroom only once or twice makes it stand out as different from the norm.
  • Deliberately citing the GLBTQ nature as a purpose for reading makes it stand out as different from the norm.
  • By making it regular and representative and queering other texts, GLBTQ lit can be normalized.
  • Some GLBTQ literature presents a heterosexist view of the GLBTQ community.
  • Older GLBTQ lit is often not representative of the current GLBTQ culture.

Inquiry Exercise:

(3 Minutes)
I’m assuming you’re all card players, that all of you have played a type of card game or has friends who do. What card games do you play at home, with your family, with friends? What makes a card game fun and engaging?

Lead students toward recognizing participation, cooperation, equal competition, and possibly the ability to play it their way.

Introduction to New Material:

(5 Minutes)
Before we begin, I want you to know two terms: heteronormative and heterosexist. Heteronormative means relating to a world that promotes heterosexuality or straightness. Heterosexist refers to active bias against same-sex relationships.

Blackburn and Clark’s article states that because LGBTQ literature and issues are so new to the classroom, teachers do not have adequate means of introducing them that doesn’t tacitly support the homophobic social norms currently in place. There are however, four things you can do to make it easier. The first of which, I’ve already done by assuming you’re card players. Blackburn and Clark state that if you enter a classroom assuming kids are LGBTQ allies already rather than treating them as homophobic, it sets a precedent where the class can engage in the conversation from a positive standpoint. The rest will be shown in our activity for the night and I’ll explain them after.

The decks of cards you have represent the books we might teach over the course of the year. Don’t think about this too hard. For right now, they’re just cards. In these decks are hearts, spades and clubs, no diamonds. The cards go from five to ace. Each deck is a unique set of eight cards taken from this distribution.

Choose one suit, number or face card (King, Jack, Queen, etc) to represent yourself. Don’t show or tell anyone right now. Take a minute to write down what represents you, why you chose it, and three adjectives you would use to describe yourself/what represents you. For example, I’m represented by 8s because it’s my favorite number, it becomes the infinity sign when turned on its side, and it can symbolize glasses and wisdom; my three adjectives would be wise, infinite, and observant.

Look through your deck of eight cards and analyze its makeup. Take a minute and write down what you think sets your deck apart. What sort of cards comprise it? What stands out?

Guided Practice:

(5 Minutes)
Group up (groups of 3 or 4). Compare your decks. Do not reveal what represents you. Discuss what’s different. Compare what stood out to each of you.

Now, without revealing what represents you, let’s build a communal deck. Your job is to make sure you’re represented in the deck. The communal deck will also be exactly eight cards. Decide together how to build this deck drawing from each of your decks.

Individual Practice:

(5-7 Minutes)
Sorry to burst your bubble, but we’re not actually going to play a card game. Instead, I want you to write about your experience today. How did you feel you were represented in your original deck? How about in the communal deck? What problems did you have making sure you were represented in the final deck? How do you think the others felt?

If spades represented the traditional heteronormative canon, clubs represented minority focused heteronormative texts, and hearts represented LGBTQ literature, how does that affect the way your look at your communal deck?


(5 Minutes)
Collect writings as the exit ticket.

Blackburn and Clark’s essay points out that treating LGBTQ literature as special rather than normal already sets a classroom up for failure. If you only read one LGBTQ book or article, it will stand out, much like a single heart will stand out in a sea of black suited cards. By making LGBTQ-friendly literature and concepts a regularity normalizes the students to its existence.

In addition, you want to make sure that the books you read reflect your class and allow them to explore their own experiences. Just as you were represented in the decks, your students are represented in the books you read. Blackburn and Clark divide LGBTQ literature into three categories: “homosexual visibility,” in which the story revolves around the LGBTQ characters’ sexuality and the response to it, often battling homophobia; “gay assimilation,” in which LGBTQ characters appear, but their sexuality isn’t key to the plot; and “Queer consciousness or community,” where LGBTQ characters are shown to be in supportive communities and families regardless of the plot. Just because a book has a LGBTQ character doesn’t mean it’s representative of the LGBTQ members of your classroom, so presenting multiple and positive LGBTQ experiences is important for varied representation.

Lastly, books, like card games, are supposed to be pleasurable. Choosing a book simply because it deals with a difficult topic is like playing solitaire: it’ll take up some time, and you might feel accomplished at the end, but who’s going to call it fun? Really. If you choose LGBTQ books that are enjoyable, your students will be more engaged and more willing to explore other books that are queer-friendly.

Addressing the Cultural Needs of Students

Addressing the cultural needs of students requires an awareness and willingness to adjust to the student's needs. Fly fishing techniques might not work for an ice fisherman.

This 30 minute lesson is intended to inform teachers about the ways in which recognizing and addressing student’s cultural needs can require a lot of specific information and active awareness. This is inspired by and based off the essay by Lisa D. Delpit entitled “Skills and Other Dilemmas of a Progressive Black Educator” (PDF).
(Estimated Running Time: 27-33 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to explain the need for active assessment to properly tailor the learning experience to the cultural needs of students by examining, researching and writing about an object and the cultural knowledge needed to identify and understand its use.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

  • Lobster forks or another culturally relevant object
  • Objects/Photos of objects that are culturally relevant/unique/obscure

Essential Question(s):

What factors might keep a student from being successful in a proven methodology?

  • Students are less successful when they feel marginalized or underrepresented.
  • Students may have factors in their home life that make learning difficult.
  • If a teacher isn’t aware of a students needs, the student will be less successful.
  • Not all factors affecting student success can be controlled or addressed in the classroom.

Inquiry Exercise:

(3-5 Minutes)
Have you heard the saying, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime”?
How many of you have heard the terms skill-based learning or fluency-based learning?
Without defining them, how do you think they might be connected to the adage about fishing?
Which do you think is skills-based and which is fluency-based?

Introduction to New Material:

(5-8 Minutes)
Delpit explains that skills-based learning is intended to take provide students the means to translate their knowledge into commonly accepted forms. She implies that fluency-based learning grants students the opportunity to explore and create self-motivated opportunities for learning.

I’m going to tell you the story of the greatest fisherman in the world. While I tell it, I want you to consider our discussion of skills-based learning and fluency-based learning and the fishing adage.

Once there was a man who claimed to be the world’s best fisherman. Every day, he’d wade into the river in his waders, stick bait on his hook, and cast his line into the river. Every day, he’d bring back bigger, better and more fish than any fisherman around.The fisherman won every contest, rose to every challenge, and simply couldn’t be matched at his skill.

“I bet people could learn a lot from watching you fish,” said one of the other fisherman. This gave the world’s greatest fisherman an idea. He could travel the world and spread his knowledge of fishing to every corner of the globe, and then everyone would be able to eat like kings.

Knowing that fishermen listen best to other fisherman they respected, he decided he would go out and challenge the best fisherman in each place and, once he had earned his respect and shown how great a fisherman he was, they would listen and tell others, teaching them everything they needed to know.

First, the fisherman traveled to the ocean. He found a commercial fisherman on a renowned boat. He challenged the fisherman, showing him his rod and his reel, his tackle-box and waders, his bait and his bucket. He showed him how to cast his line and patiently wait. But the commercial fisherman just laughed. “That won’t work here,” he explained. “The sea is too rough. We use large nets that we drag behind the boat and collect enough fish in two days for the week.” The fisherman was disappointed that the commercial fisherman didn’t like what he had shown him. Clearly he knew other ways to fish.

Next, the fisherman headed north to the frozen tundra where food was scarce. He found a renowned ice fisherman in the village ice house. He challenged the fisherman, showing him his rod and his reel, his tackle-box and waders, his bait and his bucket. He showed him how to cast his line and patiently wait. But the ice fisherman just laughed. “That won’t work here,” he explained. “The ice stays frozen all winter and weather is too cold to stand outside cutting and fishing in big holes. We stay in huts with small holes cut deep into the lakes and catch all the fish we need with patience.” The fisherman was disappointed that the ice fisherman didn’t like what he had shown him. Clearly he knew other ways to fish.

Finally, the fisherman headed back home. As he got closer, the towns that he stopped in grew more receptive to his teaching.

In one small town he found an orphan boy and decided he would teach him to fish like a king. He called the boy over, showing him his rod and his reel, his tackle-box and waders, his bait and his bucket. He showed him how to cast his line and patiently wait. But the just looked at him like he was crazy. “I’m sorry, mister, but I don’t have the money for all your fancy tools. Besides, why would I waste my money on that when I already know how to tickle a trout and catch it with my bare hands?” The fisherman was dumbfounded. He was shocked the boy could catch a fish like that.

When he returned home, the fisherman told all his friends what he had seen. There were dozens of ways to fish, and not everything he knew would work in every case. Moreover, the fisherman found himself changing how he fished, using some of the things he had learned to be an even better fisherman.

In this story, the fisherman was a master of his modality, fishing with a rod and reel in rivers. Why wasn’t he successful in bringing his technique into other realms? What sort of reasons did the other fisherman and the orphan boy give for his techniques not working?

Guided Practice:

(4-5 Minutes)
I have here an object (in this case, a lobster cracker and lobster fork, though any culturally specific object would work). Get out a piece of paper and write a paragraph telling me what it is and how you know. Afterward, we’ll come back together and share our object and how you know.

Allow students to share their explanations, then explain what it the object really is. Follow up with some or all of the following questions:

  • How would someone know what this is?
  • What specific cultural knowledge do you have or would you need to understand the object?
  • How does trying to recognize this object mimic recognizing the needs of your students?
  • What sort of questions would you need to ask in order to understand this object with no prior knowledge?
  • What do you think the ramifications of making assumptions and getting it wrong would be?

Individual Practice:

(10 Minutes)
Select a number of other objects or photos of objects that are culturally relevant, obscure, and unique. You cn duplicate items or photos, but definitely have a variety.

Choose one of these objects/photos that you don’t recognize. Take a minute to do the same thing we just did, telling me what you think it is and how you know. Then hop on google, figure out what it is and write that as well. If you’re having trouble, I’ll help you find the object. Finally, add a third paragraph explaining three ways in which someone could’ve learned this and why it is or is not be obvious to people who don’t have this background.


(5 Minutes)
Collect assignments and grade based on whether they recognized valid cultural/economic deficiencies for their chosen object.

Delpit’s argument is essentially that not everyone has the same resources at their disposal and will react differently to different techniques based on their needs. All of our techniques are meant to “teach a man to fish,” so to speak, but different students will need different techniques based on their circumstances. Experimenting with fluency-based learning, in this case exploration of the object, can be fun and might even be partially successful, as some of you could infer your objects based on other factors. Skills-based learning, in this case represented by looking up the objects, can provide us the tools effectively deal with an area with which we’re unfamiliar. Either way, it’s most important to recognize the deficiencies in our model and adjust to the needs of the students.

Expository Texts, GIST, and No Irish Need Apply

By understanding expository texts, students can overcome misinformation such as the campaign to rewrite the anti-Irish history of the US and their No Irish Need Apply signs.

This 30 minute lesson is intended to introduce students to expository texts, the GIST model, and the fact that understanding expository texts can equip them to make a difference in the world.
(Estimated Running Time: 30 Minutes)


Students will be able to use the GIST model to summarize an expository text.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How does understanding expository texts equip us to think critically?

  • Understanding how to read an expository text allows us to critique the information imparted.
  • Expository texts provide factual information.
  • Expository texts sometimes pick and choose the information they offer for a reason.
  • Being able to compare multiple sources gives us a better understanding of the information.

Inquiry Exercise:

(3 Minutes)
What is an expository text? How does it work? What things do you usually see in expository texts? Why?

Introduction to New Material:

(3 Minutes)
As we’ve discussed, expository texts come in multiple forms and have specific features that help us know how to read them. Because of our limited time, I’m going to walk you through one of them: Summarizing, using the GIST methodology.

GIST stands for “generating interactions through schemata with text.” Being an acronym is really just a way to keep all the letters capitalized. By breaking the text into parts, perhaps a paragraph at a time or a few paragraphs at a time, we can summarize the text part by part to create a better sense of the whole. Students who attempt to summarize after reading a full text, especially a dense one, will often forget parts, facts, or become confused before they get to summing up. By breaking it up and summarizing as we move along the text, we will lose less information and build a better understanding of the text. The important things to remember with the GIST model is to limit each summary sentence to no more than 20 words, and to keep the chunks of text roughly even.

Guided Practice:

(5-8 Minutes)
Hand out the GIST bookmarks or guide. If you have a dot projector, it’s a good idea to annotate and work along with the class on that so everyone can see and/or copy. Make sure if you do so that you check for understanding on the annotations and that your students can reproduce or explain the annotations you make together. I highly recommend doing the first paragraph together and then letting students take the reigns for the remainder.

Let’s look at this article from the Smithsonian about Rebecca Fried, an eighth grader who published a scholarly paper and made a fool out of a renowned history professor. It’s seven paragraphs long. We’ll read through it together breaking it up into two paragraph chunks for each summary sentence. Every chunk, we’ll pause and formulate a summary sentence in the worksheet. When we finish, we’ll combine the sentences into a summary paragraph and see how we feel about it as a summation.

Individual Practice:

(10-12 Minutes)

This article is a longer, more involved piece from the Daily Beast, a more entertainment-angled online publication. I want you to try doing this on your own for this article. This article is 6 pages long. Do a summary sentence for several paragraphs instead of every two paragraphs. Get as far as you can in the next 10 minutes; it’s ok if you don’t finish.

Try to have no less than five summary sentences and no more than eight. Remember to limit sentences to no more than 20 words. In addition, as you’re reading through, I want you to consider the differences in tone, information, depth, and purpose in this article from the last.

Give students time to work. Remind them of their time constraints. Check in with individuals on their progress and offer help if needed.

Partner up with someone else and compare your summaries.

While they’re comparing their summaries, here are some questions you can ask the students as they chat, especially if their comparison stalls.

  • What did you miss that they got? What did they miss that you got?
  • How successful do you think the GIST model was?
  • What were the biggest differences between the two articles?
  • When you read on your own, especially non-fiction, do you find yourself pausing, contemplating and summarizing in your head if not on paper?
  • When you run into expository texts from non-scholarly publications, how do they differ?
  • How do you think a variety of texts on the same or similar subject can help teach critical thinking about the nature of sources and the accuracy of information imparted by authority figures?


(5 Minutes)
Kindly hand in your summaries. As we move forward, consider how you might need to adjust the GIST model for fictional texts. How could you compare an expository text to a fictional one? Remember that Rebecca Fried was able to take down a professor who was pushing a racist agenda simply because she knew how to read and analyze expository texts. As the X-Files says, the truth is out there. If you keep at it, you can find the truth and expose it.

If you can I assign readings, you might ask them to do the same task for a variety of different texts and share their summaries the following day. This encourages learning new information rather than remaining stagnant. In partners, they could also analyze how well they thought their classmate summarized their text by reading the summary, then the article and discussing it.

Given that this is a routine to be used over and over, it would be something we’d need to come back to regularly in a classroom. Ideally, I’d want to present this strategy over a week or two, and then several others in their own segments, and finally allow them to choose their strategy individually on a more independent project after they’ve tried a variety (the dartboard method of teaching technique, as I like to call it).

Protherough’s Stages & Progression Building

High Fives are awesome, and can be used to teach Protherough's stages of learning.

This 25 minute lesson is intended for teachers to show them how a progression works and how literacy and other skills can be broken into steps to aid their students and themselves. It also delves into Protherough’s stages of learning and can be taught in conjunction with its mentor text, “The Range of Activities” in Developing a Response to Fiction (pp.184-199).
(Estimated Running Time: 22-25 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to identify the steps of a progression by combining steps on notecards into a progression.

Essential Question(s):

How do you teach a task or skill?

  • Teaching something requires teachers not only to know how to do something, but how to learn it.
  • A task or skill can be broken into steps or stages.
  • By breaking something into steps, teachers can see where different students are in their learning.
  • Moving progressively toward a goal allows teachers to adjust to their students on the fly.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

  • Hands
  • Notecards with a few of Protherough’s stages listed, one task per notecard
  • Good attitudes
  • “The Range of Activities” by Robert Protherough, Developing a Response to Fiction (pp.184-199)

Inquiry Exercise:

(3 Minutes)
What does progressive mean?

Introduction to New Material:

(2 Minutes)
Protherough forwards a theory that includes 6 stages of reading, analyzing and responding to a text. These stages are:

  1. Pre-reading activities
  2. Reading
  3. Emphasizing personal response
  4. The first sharing
  5. Developing and structuring response
  6. Synthesizing responses

The first two steps set us up to learn a the skill of literacy, and the sixth step is effectively what schools have traditionally expected. The middle steps, however, are key to learning a skill. Today, we’re going to learn to do high fives! We’re going to this by breaking down the act into steps, examining how we feel and react, and sharing the experience while we codify and structure high fives.

Guided Practice:

(5 Minutes)
I know you’ve probably all given a high five or two before, but we’re going to go through this as if we didn’t know. Additionally, I’m going to teach you a trick that, if you didn’t already know it, will take your high fives from lame to game!

  1. Partner up.
  2. Practice a low five, where one person holds out their hand and the other hits it. Figure out how hard is good, how solid is desireable. Note the sound and impact. Remember, in a high five, both hands will be moving meaning twice the force.
  3. With hand raised to should height, put your hands together palm against each other at your desired contact point.
  4. High five the air, so we don’t have injuries. Watch each other and think about what your partner is doing well.
  5. Consider the elbow and how it’s working. This is your next level Pro Tip: if you stare at your partner’s elbow when you high five, you’ll nail it nearly every time.
  6. Take it to a full high five! Let’s see how we’ve done.

There are numerous next level high fives, from high tens using both hands, to high fives in which we swing it back around and get a reverse high five on the down swing. If you and your partner are bored with a standard high five, consider the variations. Every student is different, so be prepared to let some students dwell at a specific stage where they need more work or take them the next level.

We’ve just gone through a six step progression for high fives in order. You should be able to see how each step builds on the last toward a high five.

Individual Practice:

(10 Minutes)
Now, we’re going to breaking down reading in the same way. While we won’t be working through a progression, we’re going to look at a few of the progressions that Protherough lists and see if we can’t put them back together and figure out which step goes with which.

In front of you you have a notecard with a task listed on it. The task matches up with one step in a six step progression. Take a look at it, think about it and  consider how it could help someone learn to read. Your goal is to find the other five steps in your progression by moving and collect with them. You can’t have two of the same steps in a group and everyone must find a group. Ready? Go!

Once students have grouped up, ask them to write down their progression with one or two sentences explaining how it flows. This can be collected as the exit ticket assessment.


(2 Minutes)
The text, unlike the note cards, have nearly 100 example activities organized by stage. Protherough spends a lot of time noting that things like individual journals and book response notebooks provide students a chance to use reflect and connect with a text more concretely and are often overlooked.

Once you understand Protherough’s steps, there are an infinite number of ways to traverse them if you simply use your creativity. Additionally, by practicing these steps, students should be able to build toward analyzing a text and formulating topic ideas for a paper.

Now, before we end I have one final request: I need a high five from each and every one of you! You know, to make sure you learned!