1 Writing to Read Steve Graham and Michael Hebert Vanderbilt

Writing to Read
Steve Graham and Michael Hebert
Vanderbilt University
Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading
A Report from Carnegie Corporation of New York
The Recommendations
Writing Practices That Enhance Studentsʼ Reading
from the text to support inferences and a thesis or opinion.
• Write personal reactions to a text.
• Analyze and interpret the text.
• Summarize a text.
• Draw reactions to a text.
• Present arguments that support a thesis or position.
• Explain information learned in one or multiple texts.
From: “A Path to Better Writing: Evidence-Based Practices in the Classroom” by
Steve Graham and Karen R. Harris.
“”For instance, when elementary –grade students are directed to write about
material thy are reading, (versus students who mainly read and reread or study
this material) their comprehension of the text jumps 24 percentile points, whereas
writing about content material presented in class results in a 9 percentile-point
jump on measures of learning” page 381 In The Reading Teacher,
January/February 2016.
1 The Forty-Book Challenge: Independent Reading
Independent reading is the kind students choose to do on their own; it is not
assigned or assessed, but it has a positive effect on learning and school
achievement. Independent reading needs to be a part of every curriculum in
grades K to 12. Research about the effects of independent reading on school
achievement and programs planned to promote it demonstrates these common
The amount of free reading done outside of school has consistently been
found to relate to achievement in vocabulary, reading comprehension,
verbal fluency, and general information. Studentsʼ reading achievement
correlates with success in school and the amount of independent reading
they do.
The preschool years are crucial ones for childrenʼs language and literacy
development. Play and at least four to six teacher read alouds a day along
with meaningful talk prepare students to read.
Common features of effective programs designed to promote reading in
schools, homes, and libraries include access to varied material that
appeals to all ages and tastes, active parent involvement, partnerships
among community institutions, and collaboration among significant adults
in studentsʼ lives.
Classroom libraries filled with 1500 to 2000 books provide students with
immediate access. Libraries include a range of reading levels and genres.
Students need to read 40 self-selected books a year in addition to what
they read for instruction. Independent reading levels are about two years
below instructional reading levels.
Fluency, enlarged academic and domain specific vocabulary, and broad
background knowledge result from the 40-book challenge.
Some Research That Supports Independent Reading
Allington, R. (2011). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers:
2 Designing Research-Based Programs. Boston: Pearson.
Allington, R. & Cunningham, P. (2006). Classrooms That Work: They Can
All Read and Write. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Anderson, R. C., Hiebert, E. H., Scott, J. A., & Wilkinson, I. A. G. (1985).
Becoming a nation of readers: The report of the Commission on Reading.
Washington, DC: National Institute of Education.
Cambourne, B. (1995). Toward an educationally relevant theory of literacy
learning: Twenty years of inquiry. The Reading Teacher, 49(3), 182–190.
Krashen, S. (2004). The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Miller, D. (2010). The Book Whisperer. SanFrancisco, CA: 2006Jossey-Bass
Miller, D. & Moss, B. (2014). No More independent Reading Without Support.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
The IRA/CBC/NCTE Position Paper on Independent Reading
Scholasticʼs Kids and Family Reading report (2014)
Ten Surefire Tips for Maximizing Reading Stamina
I have just invited eighth grade students to select books and find comfortable
places to read them. During the first ten minutes, Adam does everything in his
power to avoid my request. He goes to the bathroom, gets water from the
fountain in the hall twice, sharpens a pencil, considers three books, chooses
none, and instead, hastily leafs through a magazine. Clearly, Adam has a lot of
energy. He also has the ability to concentrate while playing sports and talking to
friends. But invite Adam to read, and he becomes exhausted after ten minutes,
3 often complaining that his eyes and head hurt. These are all common symptoms
of students who lack the stamina to read for extended periods of time.
Reading stamina is having the energy and the concentration to focus on
reading for at least thirty continuous minutes a day. For students who lack
stamina, reading is a frustrating and unpleasant experience, so they tend to read
as little as possible. However, today, reading is a life skill needed for college and
career success, as well as for the joy that a personal reading life brings. The
good news is that you can help students boost their reading stamina at school
and at home by using the ten tips that follow.
Have students start small. Have them gradually build stamina by reading
self-selected books in five-minute intervals--then ten minutes, and so on, until thy
reach one hour. Remind students that developing reading stamina is like training
to run a mile in less than eight minutes. Both require regular practice to increase
energy and concentration.
The Ten Surefire Tips for Maximizing Reading Stamina
1. Value Independent Reading. At school, this means setting aside twenty to
thirty minutes at least three times a week for students to read self-selected
books. Teach students how to choose books that they can read with ease by
showing them the two- finger method. Students read a page in a text. If they
encounter more than two words they canʼt pronounce or whose meaning they
canʼt figure out from context, they save the book for another time and choose a
4 different one. Teaching students to choose books that are accessible and
enjoyable will also motivate them to read at home.
2. Use Classroom and School Libraries. Students of all ages need access to
books. Seventh-grader, Lucas, put it this way, “ Having a classroom library
means I can find a book when I need one right away.” Continually work on
enlarging your classroom library: Shoot for 1,000 to 2,000 books at a variety of
levels, on a range of topics, and in multiple genres.
Schedule a weekly school library visit for your students—and be sure to
accompany them so you and your librarian can suggest great reads. If your
classroom library is still a work-in-progress, encourage students to check out
several books whenever they visit the school library and store them in their class
cubbies or lockers, so they have enough to read until their next library visit.
3. Read Self-Selected Books. Educators such as Donalyn Miller, Richard
Allington, and Steve Krashen agree that choosing their own books is the key for
students to become motivated to read at home and in school.
4. Diminish Distractions. Reading is social. There will be times that a student
wants to share something he or she just read which is terrific because it shows
engagement with the text. But it can also be distracting to classmates. So
encourage students to use a soft voice while sharing with a classmate. Keep the
door to your room closed to diminish noise from the hallway. The fewer
distractions, the easier it will be for students to concentrate.
5 5. Create Comfortable Reading Spaces. Think about the places at home where
you read. Most likely itʼs in a comfortable chair, on an oversized pillow, or in bed.
Visit a carpet store and ask the owner to donate small remnants that students
can sit on while reading. Carpet remnants are easy to store; they can be stacked
in a corner or closet. Avoid requiring students to read for pleasure sitting at their
desks. Instead, invite them to find a comfortable space in the classroom. Some
will sit under desks or lean against the wall. If you have a limited number of
beanbag chairs and large pillows, create a rotation system so students take turns
reading on them.
6. Advertise Great Reads. Students respect and value suggestions from peers.
So set up systems that foster sharing book suggestions. Here are three:
Teach students to book talk and have them present a talk each month.
The benefit of consistent book talking is huge! Over ten months, a class of
twenty five students will hear about 250 books from peers.
Set up a graffiti wall by posting a large piece of construction paper on a
bulletin board. After completing a book that they enjoyed, have students
write the title and author on the graffiti wall and one sentence explaining
why they enjoyed the book so much. Then, a few times a week give
students several minutes to browse the graffiti wall to discover peerrecommended books.
Teach students to give a 60 second elevator talk about a book they
enjoyed reading. Their goal is to convince peers to read it. When a
6 studentʼs desire to present an elevator talk strikes, schedule it during that
class or as soon as possible.
7. Set Monthly Goals. Share with students the research findings by Donalyn
Miller and Steve Krashen--that reading 40 books a year independently can ramp
up their reading achievement by enlarging their vocabularies and expanding their
knowledge base. Negotiate monthly reading goals with students to help them
meet the 40-book challenge. Books of 500 or more pages should count as two to
three books. Students who can read books of that length presumably have
stamina, and you want to encourage them to continue reading long and complex
8. Take Brain Breaks. A seventh grade class lobbied their teacher for “brain
breaks”-- time to chat and stretch after they had been reading deeply for thirty
minutes. Brain breaks offer students a few minutes of down time to relax, reenergize, and yes, gain stamina. Tell students that when they plan to read at
home for an hour or more, they should take a break, walk around, have a snack,
and then return to reading.
9. Hold Small-Group Discussions. Organize into small groups students who
have completed different books that are in the same genre. Students discuss
such things as literary elements in fiction or text features and structures in
informational materials. As such, they not only expose their peers to a range of
reading materials within a genre, but they also tend to become better at clarifying
their thoughts and become more reflective when they share their thinking.
7 10. Have Students Self-Evaluate. Four times throughout the year ask students
to review their reading logs and reflect on the number of books they completed,
favorites books, books they reread, and the amount of reading they completed at
home. Then, ask students to use their self-evaluations to set reasonable
independent reading goals which might include: extend reading time at home by
fifteen minutes, read longer books, try a different genre, add a book to the graffiti
wall, or read other books by a favorite author.
You can also give students a checklist to measure their reading stamina
as part of their self-evaluation.
My Reading Stamina Cheklist
Checklist for Evaluating Reading Stamina: check items that apply to your
____I quickly found a comfortable space to read.
____I concentrated on my reading and met my goal of _____minutes.
____I read for_____minutes beyond my goal.
____I can read and concentrated for all of silent reading time.
____I read without jumping up, getting a drink, or moving around the room.
____If I was distracted, I worked hard to avoid distracting others.
____I recognized I was distracted and was able to return to my reading on my
____I have a reading stamina goal and use it to increase the amount of time I
read deeply at school and at home. [end checklist]
8 Two Kinds of Conferring With Students
1. Making the Rounds: each morning fill a clipboard with two to three
sheets of blank paper and put dated, sticky notes on each sheet.
Circulate among students as they read and write independently.
Pause at each desk to see how things are going. Help students who only
need a 2 to 3 minutes conversation. Jot the highlights of your conversation
on a sticky note and give it to the student as a reminder.
Jot the names of students who need a 5-minute conference (or a series of
these) on a sticky note.
2. Five Minute Conferences: start with one or two as students work
independently and work up to three to four in a twenty to thirty minute
Schedule a series of conferences, each one on a different day, for
students who require longer interventions.
Complete the “preparation” part of the conference form before meeting
with the student.
Post, on the chalkboard, the names of students youʼll meet with each day
you plan to confer.
Try to have at least two scaffolds you can use during the conference, for if
one doesnʼt work, you have another at your fingertips
Store conferences in a literacy folder you keep for each student.
You can also put students work samples that represent progress an needs
in the folder. These come in handy at IEP meetings and at parent-teacher
9 Five-Minute Intervention Conference Form
Directions: Complete this conference form and use the information it contains to
inform your practice. Store in the studentʼs assessment folder to consult later as
Focus the conference topic:
Points to discuss with the student:
The kind of scaffolding Iʼll try:
Note important comments the student made:
My observations of the student:
Negotiated goal for the next conference.
Date of the next conference:
10 Differentiating Reading Instruction
In order to prevent backward slide among students, itʼs important to develop a
reading curriculum that has every student reading and progressing. There are
three elements to a differentiated reading curriculum:
Interactive read-aloud
Instructional reading
Independent free-choice reading
Interactive Read-Aloud
An interactive read aloud is a ten-fifteen-minute lesson. The teacher reads a text
passage to students and thinks out loud in order to model how to apply a reading
strategy to improve comprehension. The interactive element is inviting students
to ask questions and involving them in the thinking and sharing of ideas.
Interactive read-alouds can be presented to the whole class, small groups, and
woven into scaffolding or reteaching lessons. These read-alouds provide
students with mental models of how to solve reading problems presented by an
expert, the teacher. Present interactive read-alouds to the entire class to provide
opportunities for every student to learn more about reading and build their mental
models of how readers make meaning and connections to other texts and media.
Instructional Reading
Students spend 20–30 minutes at least three times a week improving their skill,
fluency, vocabulary, recall, and comprehension by reading texts at their
instructional reading levels. When students work at their instructional reading
levels, they bring a solid vocabulary and some background knowledge to texts
and can learn from them with the support of the teacher. By teaching the widerange of instructional reading levels among students in your classes, you are
differentiating reading instruction. As much as possible, teachers should allow
students to choose from a variety of texts at their instructional level because
choice can lead to motivation to learn and engagement with the text.
Fountas and Pinnell Criteria for Instructional Level Reading
11 Criteria based on Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, 2009.
At levels A–K:
90–94% accuracy with excellent or satisfactory comprehension or 95–100%
accuracy with limited comprehension
At levels L–Z:
95–97% accuracy with excellent or satisfactory comprehension or 98–100%
accuracy with limited comprehension
Independent Free-Choice Reading
When students read 40–60 self-selected books a year in addition to books used
for instruction, they experience the practice needed to accelerate reading
achievement and read more complex texts. Students who self-select books take
control of their reading and can gain self-confidence and an enthusiasm for
With independent reading, students practice transferring the skills and
strategies they learn during instructional reading to reading materials that more
closely align with an individual studentʼs independent reading level. Itʼs this
practice that enables students to score high on achievement tests and read more
complex texts. However, benefits extend beyond practice because students
develop literary taste, enlarge their academic vocabulary, develop an awareness
of the multiple meanings and forms of a word in different contexts, build fluency
and background knowledge, and deepen their understanding of the structure of
diverse genres.
Fountas and Pinnell Criteria for Independent Level Reading
At levels A–K:
95–100% accuracy with excellent or satisfactory comprehension
At levels L–Z:
98–100% accuracy with excellent or satisfactory comprehension
Criteria based on Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (2009).
12 Differentiate with Instructional Reading
Differentiating instructional reading means teaching students at their instructional
reading levels. One major concern is that if teachers instruct students where they
are, students wonʼt have opportunities to think like grade-level readers. When
students read instructional texts that are below their grade level, it is important
that they apply and practice grade level skills and strategies. Moreover, with
expert instruction, continual scaffolding, and a rich independent reading life (40–
60 books), students can make one or more years progress in one school year.
Thatʼs a goal we teachers should have for all our students.
What follows are two ways to differentiate instructional reading: guided
reading and genre/theme-based reading. Guided reading is more familiar to
teachers and works well when teachers have 60 or more minutes for reading and
no more than four reading groups.
Differentiate With Guided Reading
Developed by Fountas and Pinnell, guided reading is a teaching approach that
organizes students into small groups of four to six who instructionally have similar
needs and can read the same text. A primary goal of guided reading is to help
individual students acquire the skills and strategies to learn from increasingly
challenging texts over time. Much more than practicing a set of reading
strategies, guided reading is research-based and targets and scaffolds
instruction to studentsʼ needs using high-quality literature and informational texts.
The text offers challenges for students along with opportunities to think deeply
and solve reading problems such as figuring out the meaning of unfamiliar words,
making logical inferences, or identifying themes. With the teacherʼs support,
students can improve their reading and apply strategies to the text because they
are in working their learning zone.
Differentiate With Genre-and-Theme-Based Instruction
This is an adaptation of reading workshop. Organizing your class this way means
that each student reads a book related to a genre and theme at his or her
instructional level. An adaptation of reading workshop, this type of instructional
13 organization places students at their instructional reading level, allowing them to
improve. Choice can also be part of instructional reading as long as you know
studentsʼ reading levels. See page XX for more on establishing studentsʼ
instructional reading levels.
Once youʼve selected a genre or theme, ask your school and public
librarian to pull books and organize them into stacks by reading levels. If your
school has a leveled reading room, you can choose books that meet the range of
instructional reading levels needed. Next, organize books into stacks of similar
reading levels and place stacks on the floor around the room. Try to collect
enough books so that students can choose two.
Direct students to a specific stack and give them about fifteen minutes to
browse through books. Hereʼs what I say: Each one of you will read different
books during our unit on biography and the theme of obstacles. Iʼm directing you
to books at your instructional reading level where you can progress as a reader.
Choose two books that you think you might enjoy. If one doesnʼt work out, you
have a second book waiting.
Have each student write his or her name on a sticky note and attach it to
the bookʼs cover. If you teach grades six through eight and have multiple classes
of students throughout the day, this set of books remains at school so students in
other class periods can use them.
1. Read the Title. Ask yourself, “What do I know about this topic? If you know
little to nothing, make sure you tell yourself to read slowly and thoughtfully.
Be prepared to reread parts and close read to make sense of words,
sentences, and paragraphs.
2. Read the first paragraph if it is long. Read the first two paragraphs if these
are short.
3. Read the last paragraph.
4. Read questions/statements if a quiz is part of your reading.
5. Talk to a partner and tell him/her everything you learned.
6. Jot what you learned in your own words in your readerʼs notebook. This is
your prior knowledge. You may reread parts of the preview for more recall.
1. Use the title of the selection, the concept devastation, or your list of prior
knowledge to set a purpose for reading the selection.
15 Interactive Read Aloud: Teaching Reading
Text Complexity Grid
The Great Fire by Jim Murphy, Scholastic, 1995
Text Type: Informational: Exposition/Explanatory
Length of each Lesson: 20 to 25 minutes max.
Lexile: 1000
Text Complexity:
1 = Accessible to 5 = Challenging
Knowledge Demands
Inferential Thinking Demands
Chicago in 1871 was a city ready to burn. The city boasted having 59,500
buildings, many of them—such as the Courthouse and the Tribune Building—
large and ornately decorated. The trouble was that about two-thirds of all these
structures were made entirely of wood. Many of the remaining buildings (even the
ones proclaimed to be “fireproof”) looked solid, but were actually jerry-built
affairs; the stone or brick exteriors hid wooden frames and floors, all topped with
highly flammable tar or shingle roofs. It was also a common practice to disguise
wood as another kind of building material. The fancy exterior decorations on just
about every building were carved from wood, then painted to look like stone or
marble. Most churches had steeples that appeared to be solid from the street, but
a closer inspection would reveal a wooden framework covered with cleverly
painted copper or tin.
16 The situation was worst in the middle-class and poorer districts. Lot sizes
were small, and owners usually filled them up with cottages, barns, sheds, and
outhouses—all made of fast-burning wood, naturally. [Because both Patrick and
Catherine OʼLeary worked, they were able to put a large addition on their cottage
despite a lot size of just 25 by 100 feet. Interspersed in these residential areas
were a variety of businesses—paint factories, lumberyards, distilleries, gasworks,
mills, furniture manufacturers, warehouse, and coal distributors.]
Wealthier districts were by no means free of fire hazards. Stately stone
and brick homes had wood interiors, and stood side by side with smaller woodframe houses. Wooden stables and other storage buildings were common, and
trees lined the streets and filled the yards.
The links between richer and poorer sections went beyond the materials
used for construction or the way buildings were crammed together. Chicago had
been built largely on soggy marshland that flooded every time it rained. As the
years passed and the town developed, a quick solution to the water and mud
problem was needed. The answer was to make the roads and sidewalks out of
wood and elevate them above the waterline, in some places by several feet. [On
the day the fire started, over 55 miles of pine-block streets and 600 miles of
wooden sidewalks bound the 23,000 acres of city in a highly combustible knot.]
Fires were common in all cities back then, and Chicago was no exception.
In 1863 there had been 186 reported fires in Chicago; the number had risen to
515 by 1868. Records for 1870 indicate that fire-fighting companies responded to
nearly 600 alarms. The next year saw even more fires spring up, mainly because
the summer had been unusually dry. Between July and October only a few
scattered showers had taken place and these did not produce much water at all.
Trees drooped in the unrelenting summer sun; grass and leaves dried out. By
October as many as six fires were breaking out every day. On Saturday the
seventh, the night before the Great Fire, a blaze destroyed four blocks and took
over sixteen hours to control. What made Sunday the eighth different and
particularly dangerous was the steady wind blowing in from the southwest.
17 It was this gusty, swirling wind that drove the flames from the OʼLearyʼs
barn into neighboring yards. To the east, a fence and shed of James Daltonʼs
went up in flames; to the west, a barn smoldered for a few minutes, then flared
up into a thousand yellow-orange fingers. Dennis Rogan had heard Sullivanʼs
initial shouts about fire and returned. He forced open the door to the OʼLearyʼs
house and called them to wake up.
Student Discussion Questions/Statements for The Great Fire
1. Why does the author say, “Chicago in 1871 was a city ready to burn.”?
2. Why did buildings in poorer and middle class districts contribute to the
chance of a fire?
3. Explain whether it was wise or unwise to build Chicago on soggy
marshland that flooded every time it rained.
4. Explain whether Chicagoʼs weather did or did not contribute to the fire.
5. Why did Dennis Rogan try to wake up the OʼLearyʼs?
Writing to Explain a Point Using The Great Fire
1. Use evidence from the text to prove that in 1871, Chicago was ready
for a fire.
2. Jot down specific details from the text that help you explain.
3. Develop a topic sentence that includes the quote, the title and author.
4. Support your topic sentence.
5. Wrap up the sentence for your conclusion and add a related idea to
keep readers thinking.
18 19