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Readers Writing: Strategy Lessons for Responding to Narrative and Informational Text

reviewed by Frank L. Cioffi - September 26, 2015

coverTitle: Readers Writing: Strategy Lessons for Responding to Narrative and Informational Text
Author(s): Elizabeth Hale
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers, Portland
ISBN: 1571108432, Pages: 208, Year: 2014
Search for book at Amazon.com

Elizabeth Hale’s Readers Writing: Lessons for Responding to Narrative and Informational Text is a collection of creative lesson plans and a rich educational sourcebook. It contains ideas about how to teach reading, and to an extent writing, to students grades 3–8, or in some cases, up through high school. Each chapter (except Chapter Eight) begins with an autobiographical anecdote, and Hale starts the book with the story about how she, as a student, was able to fake her way through book reports by simply summarizing. As a result, Hale urges teachers to move away from assignments that require merely summary. Instead, she suggests that we need to direct students toward thinking more searchingly and deeply about the issues they confront while reading. Indeed, she wants teachers to have students verbalize thinking. In so doing, they will come up with a more complex and higher order response to what they read.

At the heart of Hale’s pedagogy is the notebook. This is divided into three main sections: first for strategy lessons, second for independent writing, and a third for notes that emerge as a result of conferencing (she calls this conferring) with the teacher—this is where students “keep track of strengths and next steps taught in their one-on-one conferences” (2014, p. 4) with their teacher. This notebook, which she suggests can be decorated in a way to reflect the student’s personality, and which is handwritten, is essentially a way for students to verbalize their thinking regarding their assigned reading, or what they read on their own. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but it has a refreshing authenticity to it. Perhaps a second edition will provide a word processing variant of this notebook, but I don’t think that’s really necessary.

What should students put in these notebooks? Hale suggests drawing on Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956)—we as teachers need to promote student responses in multiple cognitive ways to texts: questioning, connecting, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating (“giving evidence” is also invoked several times, though it is not one of the main five). For each of these categories, Hale applies her own five behaviors: “Name it, Why Do It?, Model It. Try It, and Share It” (p. 22). (“Name It” often includes a sentence stem, an incomplete sentence that students might complete in a variety of ways, and which focuses them on the topic of the lesson.) These five tactics form the basis for all ninety-one lesson plans in Hale’s book. They all require active involvement of the teacher (“Why Do It?”, “Model It”), they all require students to produce something on the spot (“Try It”), and they all help build a community within the classroom (“Share It”). While the sharing is usually only of either the “turn and talk” to one’s neighbor variety, or whole class sharing by two preselected students, this element raises the stakes of each lesson: passivity is not an option. Students have to do work; as Hale reminds us several times—“Telling is not teaching” (p. 15).

Her first example of a strategy lesson is in the questioning category, and it’s called “Wonder Questions.” Hale is honest about possible student responses—it seems as though all of these lesson plans have been used in her classroom. She poses the possibility that some students might say “I didn’t wonder anything” about a text. Although she admits that might be the case, she comments “While we can do our best to offer students books that match their level and interest so that authentic questioning is more likely to occur, I also set an expectation that, if questions are not just coming to you, then try to wonder!” (p. 23).  Here is her lesson plan for “Wonder Questions;” the text is Rules by Cynthia Lord (2006):


NAME IT         

Writing questions about what you wonder


Sentence stem: I wonder why. . .

WHY DO IT?     Writing about what you wonder helps you reflect about what


you read and can lead to inferential thinking.

MODEL IT        

I wonder why Catherine’s dad never gets angry with David?


He certainly does a lot of things he is not supposed to. I know


David is autistic and so he has a hard time understanding what


he should do. But you would think his dad would still get


frustrated sometimes.


Ask students where you used a wonder question and what


you were wondering about Catherine’s dad.

TRY IT     

Turn and Talk: Have students tell a partner why it’s good to  


wonder when you read, followed by a brief, whole-class share.


Strategy entry: Students open the strategy section of their


reader’s notebooks and write “Asking Wonder Questions” at


the top of the next blank page. Ask them to write a few minutes


about the most recent chapter of the read-aloud and try to ask


at least one wonder question.

SHARE IT        

All students share their entry with a partner. Then two students,


previously chosen, read their entries to the class. Classmates     


comment on where they used the strategy taught. (p. 23)

Hale applies the same general framework to both narrative and informational texts, and she creates a wide, possibly dizzying, variety of possible class plans. This includes topics such as Movie Connections; In a Character’s Shoes; Making a Theory; Analyzing Objects; Evaluating Word Choice for Narratives; Developing Paragraphs on Your Own, Before and After; In Their Shoes; On the Other Hand; and many more for nonfiction. Some plans are used for both narrative and nonfiction informational texts.

There is no index to these strategy lesson plans, and that might be a helpful feature. In addition, the plans are printed on alternating grey background and no-background panels, and in a tiny font. It might be better to devote an entire page to each of these plans—the book is fairly large, seven inches by nine. Having so many of these strategy lessons, as well as natural examples of handwritten student responses, creates a rather busy text that’s slightly off-putting to read cover to cover. Perhaps Hale should work with her publisher to imagine a cleaner version of the text’s layout.

As long as I am offering more finely detailed criticisms, I have problems with some of Hale’s language. Its chattiness is surely inviting, and her autobiographical anecdotes offer a nice, personal element; however, I found myself digging my fingernails into my palms when I encountered many of “the reason is. . . because” structures, or sentences with plural pronouns referring to singular antecedents—“if you see a student writing about characters, are they describing them?” (p. 136).

However, with these small criticisms aside, overall this is a creative and useful book. For example, Appendices C, D, and E offer common core alignments—a virtual necessity in our current climate. It should help even veteran teachers plan out and possibly even reconceptualize their courses. And it should be a boon to students whose teachers employ Hale’s ideas. Almost all of the many lesson plans included sound as though they would make for dynamic, interesting, and challenging classes; ones that encourage all students to engage in independent thinking, creative imagining, and active reading.


Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, NY: David McKay Company.

Lord, C. (2006). Rules. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 26, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18134, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 8:36:22 PM

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About the Author
  • Frank Cioffi
    Baruch College
    E-mail Author
    FRANK L. CIOFFI is Professor of English at Baruch College—City University of New York. This year he has published One Day in the Life of the English Language: A Microcosmic Usage Handbook (Princeton, 2015); "La Jetee at 52," in Raritan; and “Solipsism and Utopia: Fredric Brown, Charles Yu, Ludwig Wittgenstein” which appeared in The Individual and Utopia: A Multidisciplinary Study of Humanity and Perfection (Ashgate). He is currently working on a biography of his uncle, the philosopher Frank S. Cioffi, and on an article defining and examining "duck rabbit poetry," which focuses on work by Robert Frost. He has taught at Scripps College, Princeton University, Bard College, and elsewhere.
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