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Determining Importance

In a previous post, I raved about Tanny MacGregor's book Comprehension Connections. It is just full of great ideas. Even though our Smashing Strategies for Guided Reading series is finished in the spring, I am still going to continue with a few more helpful tips that may aide in making your guided reading a little easier!

One strategy that I find very difficult for my primaries to grasp is Determining Importance. I am sure you have been there... you ask for a quick summary and then get a five minute, play-by-play retelling of an ENTIRE BOOK! So cute, but not exactly what you asked for!

Because primary aged students are concrete thinkers, I love how Tanny demonstrates what determining importance looks like in a practical and tangible way. The first thing that I did, was pull our my personal handbag (aka purse), which is shamefully messy. Having a two year old, I always just end up throwing things that I need and wait, what seems like months, before cleaning it out again. So, to kick off our lesson, I became a bit vulnerable and showed my students the reality of my deep, dark purse! I pulled out many of the objects in the purse and asked them to help me figure out which items I needed to come to school that day. They had to DETERMINE what was IMPORTANT for me to bring to school.

Of course, they thought it was hilarious when I pulled out a bottle of nail polish, coupons for a box of Popsicles (yum!) and essentially, other useless junk. They were quickly able to deduct that I only really needed my keys, to drive to school. My wallet, which contained my driver's license and the colored pens that I use for correcting. Aside from that, there wasn't much else that I needed. It was all just extra fluff. (Don't mind my bare feet... preggo problems...)

The next demonstration was hands-on and the kids flipped when they got to participate! We talked about how sometimes when we read, there is extra stuff, that is just not important. Kind of like when parents cook pasta on the stove. I asked them to walk me through the steps...

First, their parents have to put water into a pot and let it boil on the stove.

Then, they had the pasta to the boiling water to let it cook.

STOP. I asked them, when the pasta was finished cooking in the water, if they just ate it right out of the pot? Like soup, pasta in hot water. NOOOO! They all shouted! After that, water had to be strained right out of the pasta.

WOW! I stopped them here. "So you mean, that the water strains out of the pot, and all the important stuff (aka pasta) stays in the pot. Just like when we read... we want to get rid of all the extra information and only remember the MOST IMPORTANT information. Determining Importance."

Ahhh... light bulbs went off in their little brains, like the 4th of July! So fun!

At this point, I introduced our FOUR THINKING STEMS that they would be using to complete their sticky note assignment during guided reading that day.

* What's important here...
* One thing that we should notice...
* I want to remember...
* It's interesting that...

The kids then went on to do their quiet reading at the guided reading table. I listened to each one, checking for fluency and comprehension. All the while, they were using the thinking stems to complete sticky notes for information in the book that they determined important. I tell you, if you haven't used sticky notes for your guided reading yet, I would highly recommend it. They absolutely love it and it's a great quick check for you, the teacher, to assess their understanding of the strategy at hand.

At the end of the guided reading session, which flies by in what seems like two minutes, I asked them to each choose the sticky note that they were most proud of for the day. They would then share it with the group. With some groups, if time ran short, I had them share their sticky note with the friend sitting next to them, and I listened in to each conversation.

The following week, I gave the students half sheets of paper with these Determining Importance thinking stems listed to use during their Daily 5 stations, This way I could see the progress, if they were able to Determine Importance at their independent reading level without my support at the guided reading table! Happy Teaching!

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