Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Collapsing Lists of Events

Right now, we're working on writing summaries of stories. And it's a difficult task! Every year, I find myself starting at the beginning once again, helping young readers to find their way through text. Summarizing brings together so many different skills.

One skill that readers need for effective narrative summarizing is the ability to collapse lists. Collapsing a list is simply renaming a list of specific ideas with a general term. For some items, this is fairly easy--the list of cherries, pineapples, and strawberries can be collapsed to fruit.

In other lists, however, it's a little harder. This task is made even more difficult for struggling readers who may not always understand each component of the list, either due to decoding problems or a lack of background knowledge. The list of Little Round Top, Devils Den, and the Peach Orchard is easy to collapse for Civil War buffs or residents of Gettysburg--these are sites on the battlefield. But someone without this background knowledge would not be able to collapse this list.

In narratives, readers often find themselves collapsing lists of events. I decided to target this when I saw that my students were writing long, rambling summaries. Students and I did a choral reading of the paragraph below:

We hadn't gotten to the fourth sentence before a student called out, "Pizza!" We looked at which clues had helped them to figure out that the text was referring to making a pizza. Then, students worked to write a sentence to collapse the list. In this case, their sentence was also a summary of the paragraph.

You would think it would be very easy, but many of my students struggle with vocabulary tasks. For ELL students,  choosing an appropriate verb is often the hardest part of this. Some of them even had trouble identifying the name of the character, Art. We talked about what they were imagining and what problems they were having. Then, we modeled a good summary of the paragraph.

The second text was also interesting to read. Many of the students know someone named Ethan. I said, "You might picture the Ethan that you know as you read this. But be sure to use the details in the text to build your picture of Ethan--not just what you think you already know."  This time, I read each sentence, and the students read it after me. (I use every chance to model good phrasing and expression!)

"A baby!" one of the students exclaimed. Then we went through and underlined all of the details that helped us to figure this out--the high chair, the tears, the sippy cup. I drew a quick picture of a sippy cup on the board for those students who didn't know what one is, along with clarifying how "'nana" would be spelled if the author were referring to a grandmother.

How would you collapse this list of events? For most adults, the word just trips off the tongue--a tantrum! After a few minutes, one student in my group offered this word, which turned out to be new to about half of the group. These sentences came much more easily, especially once students had this perfect word that encapsulated the entire list of events.

Our next step, of course, is to try this with longer texts. Tomorrow, students will have fun little scripts with dialogue. They will collapse the conversation, trying to capture what information the characters exchanged by writing one sentence. It should be fun--especially the conversation with the cat who drives a car. (Let me know if you'd like a copy of the scripts--I'll post them once I've tried them out with students!)

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