Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin, and we use tests as one way to measure students’ abilities to do both. On this page, we examine strategies that take advantage of the connections among these different skills to strengthen literacy skills overall.
In Part I, “MAIN IDEA/ARGUMENT: Finding One vs. Building One,” we consider how to find a main idea/argument (reading and test-taking) vs. how to build a main idea/argument (writing).
Part II, “CRITICAL READING AND ROBUST WRITING” provides code words for different types of critical reading questions, strategies for reading fiction and nonfiction, and suggestions for how to create more robust writing.
For more information, check out the home pages of the following sections:
PART I: MAIN IDEA/ARGUMENT: Finding One vs. Building One
|The MAIN IDEA/ARGUMENT is supported with EVIDENCE. In both reading and writing, you need to know the difference between ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE.
1. Demonstrate the difference.
Ex.: Which is an ARGUMENT? Which is EVIDENCE? How can you tell?
*For more practice, use Argument vs. Evidence-Catcher in the Rye. History teachers, see Argument vs. Evidence-President Harding and Argument vs. Evidence-FDR (Thanks, Hans Winberg!).
2. Practice SUMMARIZING in various ways:
|In nonfiction, the MAIN IDEA is an ARGUMENT. When answering questions about MAIN IDEA, eliminate choices that are TRUE but are FACTS, not ARGUMENTS.
Show students examples of choices they could eliminate without even having read the passage!
Ex.: The main idea of this passage is
1. Take POE (Process of Elimination) to a higher level: Leave a blank next to each multiple-choice answer, where students must EXPLAIN WHY EACH WRONG ANSWER IS WRONG.
2. Teach students to notice the word choice. In the example above, you could ask, “What’s your definition of ‘exciting’?” Ditto, “dangerous”? These words need to be explained. That’s how you know they are not merely facts. They require evidence and explanation.
GENERAL REMINDER: Just because it’s true, that doesn’t mean it’s the right answer.
Check out What is the Main Idea? handout in the Download Zone.
|When reading nonfiction, you need to be able to locate the TOPIC SENTENCE that expresses the MAIN IDEA/ARGUMENT in each paragraph. And before you can write your own topic sentences, you need to know what a good one looks like. Go to the Argument vs. Evidence page for detailed recipes for how to teach students to identify arguments and write their own.
1. Teach students to identify and underline the thesis/topic sentence. Given passages, use “I do/We do/You do” approach to practice this skill.
|If you can FIND a topic sentence, you should also be able to WRITE one.
1. After some practice in FINDING TOPIC SENTENCES (see above), give students sample effective topic sentences for which they must generate relevant evidence (bullet points are OK to start; later they can add the rest of the paragraph). Model this, then have groups try it and report back to the whole class. Then students can do it independently. PS, this is a great way to review material!
2. Give students a range of effective and ineffective topic sentences and ask them to evaluate the sentences. Ineffective ones should suffer from these common problems:
Once you can WRITE an effective TOPIC SENTENCE, you need to support it with EFFECTIVE EVIDENCE.
1. Give students sample paragraphs (from passages that address content you want them to read) that include effective and ineffective evidence and ask them to evaluate the evidence. Ineffective evidence should suffer from these common problems:
2. Repeat the exercise above using sample paragraphs written by (anonymous) students in the class. This approach will raise their awareness about their OWN writing.
PART II: CRITICAL READING AND ROBUST WRITING
|DETERMINE WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS BEING ASKED before you try to answer it.
Teach students “code words” that indicate what kind of question is being asked. Then give them sample questions and ask them to determine what kinds of questions they are. For tips on how to create critical reading questions, see How to Create Critical Reading Questions: A Recipe.
FINDING MAIN IDEA/ARGUMENT:
VOCAB IN CONTEXT:
|When you read, ANNOTATE!
Model this repeatedly. Use the overhead and say what you’re thinking as you read and take notes. Note that we approach non-fiction and fiction differently.
*See the following documents:
If annotating with Post-Its, students can pre-write the questions they are trying to answer on the Post-Its, then stick them next to appropriate passages where they find answers.
|USE CLAUSES AND PHRASES to enrich your writing.
1. Teach the difference between an independent and a dependent clause. Independent clauses, AKA “sentences,” can stand alone. Dependent clauses would topple over (good idea to model this physically); they cannot stand alone.
2. Teach different types of phrases/clauses/ways to elaborate/enrich a sentence, eg, appositives, -ing phrases, and other types of dependent clauses that can be removed from a sentence.
3. Have students insert these different types of clauses and phrases into their own writing.
4. Teach Why Punctuation Is Important. See also A Poem on Why Punctuation Is Important.
USE ROBUST VOCABULARY to enrich your writing.
Model the use of robust vocabulary by speaking redundantly/parenthetically, e.g., “Halt, stop, cease, desist!”
Give students bland passages, triple-spaced, and ask them to rewrite them using more robust vocabulary.
Want to review the FOUR CRITICAL READING SKILLS (paraphrasing, inference, vocabulary in context, and summarizing/inferring main idea) and teach your students how to identify test questions that deal with these skills? Check out this Sample LESSON PLAN TO LABEL CRITICAL READING QUESTIONS and HANDOUTS for the lesson.
IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for Connecting Reading, Writing, Test-Prep:
- Argument vs Evidence-Catcher in the Rye
- Argument vs. Evidence-President Harding
- Argument vs. Evidence-FDR
- How to Find the Topic Sentence
- Generic Annotation Rubrics for Fiction and Nonfiction
- Paraphrase, Question, Infer, Summarize Annotated Model
- Paraphrase, Question, Infer, Summarize Organizer
- Clauses and Phrases Overview
- Why Punctuation Is Important
- A Poem on Why Punctuation Is Important (NEW!)
- What is the Main Idea?
- How to Create Critical Reading Questions: A Recipe
- Sample LESSON PLAN TO LABEL CRITICAL READING QUESTIONS
- Sample LESSON PLAN TO LABEL CRITICAL READING QUESTIONS HANDOUTS