By Tom White
If there’s one thing language arts teachers do more than anything, it would probably be activities related to Common Core Reading Standard number 3: Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text. It’s the essence of reading: students decode text and articulating its meaning. Obviously it’s a very general standard that could – and does – take many forms in any classroom.
Not a day goes by in my fourth grade classroom in which my students don’t address this standard. But one of the things I’ve been trying to do this year is get my students to discuss literature among themselves, instead of just with me. Even when I meet with my reading groups, I always get the sense that they’re answering my questions for me to hear; I have difficulty facilitating a genuine conversations among a group of students.
Recently, however, I discovered a new resource. It’s a series of mysteries produced by The Extra Reading Company. The series is called “Whodunnit.” There are fourteen mysteries in all, each of which has five parts, plus a resolution. The different parts detail a crime investigation in which there are several suspects – each with a motive – and details regarding the physical and circumstantial evidence. They are designed to spark conversation and debate among young readers and the “crimes” are mostly misdeeds that range from a nasty note written about a teacher to a stolen pet. (There is one story that involves a gunshot wound, but I’ve been hesitant to use it.)
When used as designed, a teacher distributes one part of the story each day and lets the class discuss who they think “done it.” What I’ve decided to do instead is post the stories one part at a time on a classroom blog and let the conversation unfold online. You can see for yourself what that conversation looks like by clicking here. This particular discussion was pretty intense. The students were extremely engaged and had some fairly insightful observations. (along with some typical fourth grade fooling-around)
The beauty of this for me was the fact that they were engaging with the text and with each other. If you follow the comment stream you can see that they are doing exactly what standard 3 specifies: Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text. And they’re obviously having fun. After releasing one part each day onto the blog, I printed out the resolution and gave each student a copy. I have never seen kids read something collectively with such enthusiasm! And then the room exploded with spontaneous, animated conversation about how everyone knew along “Whodunnit.” Exactly the kind of conversation that I try so hard to achieve in my reading groups!
Extra Reading publishes a lot of other products, all of which are in digital format and available for about 40 bucks a year.