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How do I keep my mini-lesson short when the text is long?

november 17, 2020

Whether teaching in person or remotely, short and effective whole-class mini-lessons have an important role to play in every subject area. These 15-20 minute lessons focus on a narrow skill and follow a four-step process that leads to a gradual release of responsibility.

When it comes to teaching comprehension, though, too often what was intended to be a short, skill-based mini-lesson turns into something more akin to a read aloud or a classroom discussion. This is especially true when working with older students and longer passages of text.

Although grade-level text is, in fact, longer, a comprehension lesson is NOT about doing reading—it’s about teaching thinking. For this reason, the text used in most mini-lessons will be pulled from previously-read texts. This allows the teacher to quickly recap the text and then dig into the more rigorous thinking you are attempting to teach.

For example, if this week’s comprehension focus targeted the main idea, then return to a previously-read text and model how to infer what the passage is mostly about. Utilize the bulk of the mini-lesson to explain and model how a reader figures out the main idea. The lesson should NOT be spent re-reading the text but rather explicitly revealing these instructional points.

  • What is the main idea?
  • How do you figure out the main idea?
  • What are clues authors give to hint at their main idea?
  • When do you start thinking about the main idea?
  • What is evidence for the main idea?
  • Where do you find evidence for the main idea?

While comprehension instruction requires text to be incorporated into the lesson, it is NOT the focus. The true purpose of a comprehension lesson is to teach readers to be critical and inferential thinkers.

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