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Guide Small Groups Through Constructed-Response Writing

February 14, 2014

Guide Small Groups Through Constructed-Response Writing

Small-group instruction is the perfect time to scaffold students’ attempts at constructed-response writing. During whole-class lessons, first introduce the 7 steps, including decoding a constructed-response prompt, restating the question, and citing author evidence. Then, use small-group instruction time for students to practice combining the steps.

STUDENTS IN THE SMALL GROUP independently read a short, one-sitting passage.

  • Pick a short text that lends itself to an inferential question/prompt or two. (NOTE: You want your initial texts to be fairly easy to comprehend so students are putting their energies into learning the constructed-response skills.)

THE TEACHER poses an inferential question/prompt.

  • Show students a written copy of the question/prompt and refer to it repeatedly throughout the answering process.

STUDENTS IN THE SMALL GROUP orally answer the question/prompt.

  • Lead the group discussion allowing students to generate a few general answers–a simple answer that lacks specific details.
  • Determine as a group which general answer the students think best addresses the prompt.
  • Combine the general answer with the restatement of the prompt all in a single oral sentence. (Teacher scribes the sentence. See below.)
  • Encourage students to return back to the text pointing to multiple, specific details to support the general answer.
  • Once they have found the textual details they want to reference, encourage students to use the Yes MA’AM sentence starters on the poster and/or the Yes MA’AM mini-signs. Hold up the corresponding sign with each facet to the response.
Yes, MA'AM Mini-Signs
  • Generate a concluding statement. Discuss how the evidence (from the previous sentences) proves their general answer. Ask students, So what? What’s your point? What does that prove? As they start to talk and defend their answer, capture their thoughts.


THE TEACHER simultaneously scribes the oral response the group crafted.

  • Craft each sentence of the response as students generate it orally.
  • Use a white board to model revising words or order as students brainstorm the details.
Yes MA'AM Example

Guide students through the process of formulating a constructed response. When the teacher is the facilitator and scribe, students have the opportunity to co-construct a response orally first. As their confidence builds, they can then tackle this challenging task independently and in writing.

Great Teacher Comments:

Katie Coddington, Northeastern Middle School (Fountain City, IN) works with her sixth grade students in small groups for guided practice on a learning target using the Yes MA’AM strategy.

Coddington Small Group
Coddington Small Group 2
Coddington Small Group 3

Great Teacher Tweet:

Taryn Saulmon, reading teacher at Monroe Central Elementary (Parker City, IN) used this strategy with her 5th and 6th graders. Check out their silhouette and their Yes, MA’AM response:

Taryn Saulmon Inference Silhouette
Taryn Saulmon Yes MA'AM Example
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