It's no good saying to kids, go have a discussion about the text. They need to know how to do that. Enter the "Dialogue with a Text" booklet. We are giving them scaffolding. This discussion work is done with children sitting in groups of 4. The idea is that we want to create the same kind of relaxed atmosphere as a group of people who have just left the movie theater and are waiting for their cab, and the cab is going to be awhile, so they go to a bar and hang out and have a drink and have a discussion about the movie.
Bob suggests writing each of the following questions four times on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 paper (once in each quadrant) and then cutting the paper and stapling it to make a little booklet. You can go through the booklet at your own pace and there's no obligation to finish it. The questions are simply there to spur conversation. When one of them seems to be "talked out," go on to the next one. Having them in booklet form helps to slow kids down -- as opposed to a worksheet where you just want to get to the end -- and having only one question per page is less intimidating. You can just focus on the one thing at a time. Here are the question he suggests. You can modify the language, take questions out, or add some of your own. Kylene suggests laminating them, punching a single hole in the corner, and connecting them with a ring. She says kids can keep them in the "pencil pouch" that comes in the front of those trapper keeper binders and which no one keeps their pencils in.
Please read the text and take a moment or two to reflect on it. Then turn to the next page and begin. Take a few minutes -- as much as you need or want -- with each question. Please reflect on each question for a moment or two, perhaps jotting down brief notes, before discussing it. Some may be more interesting than others for you, and you may wish to give those more time. Please don't glance ahead in the booklet.
- What is your first reaction or response to the text? What thoughts did you have as you read? Describe or explain briefly.
- What did you see happening in the text? Paraphrase it -- retell the event or the argument briefly. When you discuss, see if there are differences in the paraphrasing.
- Does the text call to mind anything else you have read about or learned on this topic or related issues?
- What is the most important word or phrase in the text?
- What sort of person do you imagine the author of this text to be? What do you think the author wanted you to learn in this selection? Is the author trying to persuade you to do something after reading this?
- If there were graphics, did they help you understand the text? How? If there were no graphics, what sort would you have liked to see?
- How did your understanding of the text differ from those of your discussion partners? In what ways were they similar?
- Does this text remind you of anything else you have read, seen, or heard? Think of newspaper articles, television, movies, books, and music. If it does, what is the connection you see between the two?
- If you were to be asked to write about this text, upon what would you focus? Would you write about some association or memory, some aspect of the text itself, about the author, or about some other matter?
- As you talked, did you learn anything about the people with whom you discussed this text?
My favorite one is the last. I've never before seen a reading comprehension question that looked like that.
Read Robert Probst's article here: "Dialogue with a Text", published in The English Journal, vol 77, number 1.
One final reminder -- DON'T make it a worksheet. Booklet format is key.