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How to Teach Central Message with Literature

     Our first week back from Winter Break and we started our first unit using literature!  Up until now, the focus has been mostly on non-fiction text in our curriculum units.  This is the first complete unit which will use literature.  The focus is on folktales.  I started out the unit with 3 of my favorite books all by Gerald McDermott:

  • Arrow to the Sun
  • Raven
  • Coyote

Some of the standards taught in this unit include:

  • RL.3.1  Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
  • RL.3.2  Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
  • RL.3.3  Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events
  • RL.3.6  Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.

     During the first week, I focused on RL3.1 and RL3.2, the latter which includes the idea of central message.  What exactly is central message? Certainly something new in third grade as it was not part of the old California ELA Standards. Central Message is the lesson or moral that the story carries, and which can be proven through key details from the text.

     I started out with Coyote as a read aloud.  But I tried something different.  I gave the students a paper with question starters. As I read aloud the story, the students wrote down questions they had and wrote them on the appropriate line.  Once the story was read, the questions written down, I asked the students to ask me their questions and I modeled how to answer using the text and these sentence starters when appropriate.  

     I found these wonderful posters on Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) in Leslie Ann’s store. Click for the direct link to the FREEBIE.  I wanted the students to really understand through modeling how to properly answer a question by

using the phrasing on the posters

restate the question

cite evidence

completely answer the question

      Once we went through their questions, it was time to retell the story.  Now, most kids when they retell you usually start at the ending and then jump to the beginning and miss most of the middle.  They won’t mention the character’s or setting. So it was time to model retelling the story.  Again I found a wonderful TpT product from Cara Caroll on her blog.  Click here to go to her blog and get it.  We practiced retelling the story together as a class, then I had them practice again with a partner before filling out the retelling worksheet.

Once the students could do that, I then had them answer text dependent questions from the story.  I had actually typed out the entire story and gave each one a copy so they could annotate the text to help them answer the questions.  I did NOT want them relying on their memory, but proving to me where in the text they found the answer.

All these blackline masters come from my Coyote Third Grade Common Core Companion Pack.  I will be using these pack during this unit.  The next day, I reread Coyote again, but this time the emphasis was on teaching the central message of the story.  Stay tuned for part 2.

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