How I plan lessons about a text

This is a follow-up post to last week’s content, craft, and conventions post. 

  1. Interesting topics and questions
  2. Important vocabulary
  3. Crucial page numbers
  4. A follow-up task in mind

For me, these are the four things I try to gather as I read a text that I will teach. Give me these four things, and the students in my class will be engaged in a meaningful literacy experience in the classroom. Regardless of whether it is a whole class novel, self-selected book, or a short text used for a mini-lesson, these are the necessary pieces.

The physical process for preparing to teach a text

I read the text with a pen in hand. The back, blank, inside cover of the book serves as my table of contents. This list has two parts:

  1. The page numbers to use for read alouds or reading lessons
  2. The big ideas or essential questions that come to mind while reading

Hopefully, the important passages share some themes and big ideas. Those are the words and phrases that go on the bottom of the page. See the example below from When I Was Puerto Rican:


The back page of When I Puerto Rican, with a list of important page numbers and big ideas.

Selecting Vocabulary and Scribbling Questions

The other part of this reading process happens on the individual pages of the book. Here, two things happen:

  1. Circle important vocabulary words
  2. Scribble important questions that come to mind

The vocabulary words can become part of a simple pre-reading preview activity. The students can follow along as we circle the challenging words, discuss existing knowledge of them, and look them up.

A page from When I Was Puerto Rican, with questions scribbled and an important word circled.


That reading process covers vocabulary words, crucial page numbers, and questions. Lastly, the task in mind sets the purpose for reading. This can differ greatly in terms of its magnitude. At the smaller end, students might simply turn and talk about their literal level understanding of a text after a first-draft reading. On the opposite end, they might be writing a full-blown argumentative essay in response to multiple readings and annotation. Maybe they will emulate the author’s craft in a piece of the same genre. Perhaps they will seek evidence for a debate or interesting questions for a Socratic seminar. Whatever the task, I need to know it before students read. And, students need to know it before they read, too. This focuses their efforts and makes their performance on that upcoming task better.

So, these four pieces alone don’t make a unit plan, a curriculum, or even a single lesson. But, they are essential pieces for focused, effective reading instruction, at least as I see it right now.

Leave a Reply