Response to Literature is one of seven units that make up Writing Matters. The lessons at a glance are provided below. For an example of an entire unit, take a look at Writing Editorials. If you would like more information about Writing Matters, contact Teaching Matters at 212 870-3505.

Lessons at a Glance

The unit offers four weeks of instruction and is suitable for a wide range of classrooms. The four-week unit is also accompanied by a Test Prep Center that contains fi ve lessons aligned to standardized middle school testing in English Language Arts.

Step 1: Identify Themes

This beginning stage trains students to explore themes in literature. Students develop theme statements based on one or more short stories and record their personal connections. Students are introduced to the elements of a written response to literature before writing a literary essay.

Lesson 1.1 Explore Big Ideas and Themes

Students learn that big ideas and themes can be found in literature. They look beneath the surface of the short story “Growing Up” by Gary Soto to fi nd the author’s messages.

Lesson 1.2 Connect Themes to Your Life — Beginner

Students discuss themes from “Growing Up” and make connections to their own lives. Based on the discussion, students prepare a one-page written refl ection. This activity promotes a way of thinking about literature that will be critical as students analyze other stories and write about them throughout the remainder of the Response to Literature unit.

Lesson 1.3 Find Big Ideas and Themes in Stories — Beginner

Students identify big ideas in a short story they read independently. In preparation for writing a response to this piece of literature, they formulate thesis/theme statements based on the story’s big ideas.

Lesson 1.4 Compare Big Ideas and Themes in Stories — Intermediate/Experienced

Students identify big ideas in a short story they read independently. In preparation for writing a response to this piece of literature, they formulate thesis/theme statements based on the story’s big ideas.

Lesson 1.5 Connect Themes to the World - Intermediate/Experienced

To reinforce their understanding of the universality of themes in literature, students talk with partners about the short stories they are reading to themselves and make connections to themselves and the world. Based on their discussions, students write reflections about how the theme statement relates to their lives and the world around them.

Step 2: Gather Evidence

By now, students have selected a theme to expand upon in writing. Through close analysis of short stories, students fi nd examples from the text that support their theme. At the end of the step, they have organized categories of evidence from the texts in preparation for writing their fi rst draft.

Lesson 2.1: Analyze a Literary Essay

Students analyze a literary essay for its organizational structure. Students mark up the margins of the essay as they identify key parts and placement of ideas. They will follow this structure when writing their essays.

Lesson 2.2: Find Evidence

Students analyze their stories to fi nd evidence that supports their thesis or theme statements in preparation for writing their responses to literature. Students record direct quotations and pertinent examples from their stories and include an explanation of their signifi cance to the story line and theme.

Lesson 2.3: Refi ne Evidence

Students review the text-based evidence they gathered in the previous lesson and assess whether it is aligned with their thesis or theme statements. They gather additional information and/or delete unrelated examples if necessary.

Lesson 2.4: Organize Evidence

Students organize the body of their responses to literature. By reviewing their theme statements along with the evidence they collected earlier, students identify chunks or categories of information to be addressed in the body of the written piece.

Step 3: Write Your First Draft

Using the evidence they have gathered, students synthesize their ideas to write a literary essay. They complete this step with a draft that incorporates a well-crafted introduction, body, and conclusion, all in support of their theme statements.

Lesson 3.1: Write Topic Sentences

Students create topic sentences for the body paragraphs of their responses to literature. Using the evidence recorded on their T-charts, students develop sentences that convey the main idea of each body paragraph, while also summarizing relevant evidence from the text that refl ects their story’s theme. After crafting topic sentences, students begin writing the body of their essays.

Lesson 3.2: Draft the Body of Your Response

Students use their topic sentences as a guide for drafting the body of their responses to literature. After being introduced to the teacher model, students write three body paragraphs that develop from the information previously gathered. In their writing, students include carefully chosen evidence that supports their thesis or theme statements.

Lesson 3.3: Draft an Introduction

Students look over their theme statements and organizing categories to conceptualize an introduction that highlights their personal understanding of the story’s theme and its universality. Armed with this information, students craft effective introductory paragraphs.

Lesson 3.4: Draft a Conclusion

Students write conclusions that leave readers with a clear impression of the main points addressed in the body of their responses to literature. The conclusion speaks to the theme come to about life or human nature.

Lesson 3.5: Use the Computer for Drafting (Supplementary)

This lesson helps students make the best use of word processing software to prepare drafts of their responses to literature for revision and publishing.

Step 4: Revise, Edit & Publish

During this fi nal step in the unit, students execute revision strategies. They also edit and proofread their written work for accuracy of grammar and spelling. At the end of the step, they celebrate their accomplishments by publishing their completed work in the class ezine.

Lesson 4.1: Get Feedback through Peer Review — Beginner

After learning the importance of sharing feedback and giving specifi c comments, students confer with classmates to improve their writing. As reviewers, they summarize the writing, give a compliment and offer specifi c suggestions. As writers, they use the feedback they receive to make appropriate revisions.

Lesson 4.2: Get Feedback through Peer Review — Intermediate and Experienced

After learning the importance of sharing feedback and giving specifi c comments, students confer with classmates to improve their writing. As reviewers, they summarize the writing, give a compliment, offer suggestions and rate the writing. As writers, they use the feedback they receive to make appropriate revisions.

Lesson 4.3: Revise for Sentence Variety

Students learn that writers use a variety of sentence structures to keep their readers’ interest. Students learn a specifi c strategy for varying sentence structure: combining sentences using conjunctions. Students then identify places in their own writing where they can apply this strategy.

Lesson 4.4: Edit and Publish Your Writing

Students edit the grammar, spelling and punctuation of their writing in preparation for publishing. With the guidance of the teacher, students then publish their fi nished essays on their class ezine.

Lesson 4.5: Respond to Others’ Writing (Supplementary)

Students read one another’s work and post their comments on the class ezine. The process is scaffolded by a series of “sentence starters” that keep the remarks focused and thoughtful.

Test Prep Lessons

Students complete a series of lessons that enable them to synthesize the knowledge and skills acquired in Response to Literature and prepare for typical standardized tests.

Lesson 1: Get Ready to Respond

Students read several text-based prompt questions and examine how they are phrased in order to determine what type of response (explain, persuade, describe, tell a story) is required.

Lesson 2: Get Set to Respond: Plan

Students read a short text and corresponding prompt question. Then, they plan their responses by creating T-charts as graphic organizers for their writing.

Lesson 3: Get Set to Respond: Draft

Students use the organizers generated in Lesson 2 to draft responses. Their goal is to stay on topic, use a graphic organizer to answer every part of the prompt and identify specifi c examples from the text to support their answers.

Lesson 4: Go: Write an Extended Response

Students synthesize the ideas from the previous lessons in order to compose a written response to a non-fi ction article, “Scout Bassett: Succeeding in Life, One Step at a Time.” They execute the complete process of interpreting a prompt question, planning with a graphic organizer and writing an extended response.

Lesson 4a: Go: Write Short Answer Responses

Alternatively, students can read the same non-fi ction article and then respond to corresponding short answer questions. Students may complete either one or both Lesson 4 and Lesson 4a, depending on their needs.

Lesson 5: Go: Write a Comparative Essay to a Prompt

Students write an essay comparing two articles, “Scout Bassett” and “The Sherpa People of Nepal.” They practice the full range of skills required for this assignment, ranging from interpreting the prompt question to planning and writing an extended comparative piece of writing.

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