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How do I plan a comprehension mini-lesson?

march 10, 2020

Every reading or writing mini-lesson needs to include the four steps of explicit instruction:

1. Introduce the skill.
2. Demonstrate the skill through teacher instruction (i.e., I do).
3. Support students as they interact with the skill (i.e., We do).
4. Close the lesson.

When planning whole-class reading comprehension lessons, my Comprehension Planner can help you to stick to this four-part process with fidelity.

Incorporate Inference

When executing the four steps of instruction on any comprehension standard, it is important to remember that they all require inferring. Thus, each whole-class comprehension lesson should be tied to Roz Linder’s Silhouette Head.

Step 1: Introduce the Skill

Start the week’s mini-lesson by introducing the specific target skill using the accurate academic vocabulary term (e.g., We are going to learn how to infer a character’s perspective.). Keep the skill “mini” by making sure it’s short and focused. Incorporate the Silhouette Head as a focal point for the first several days, introducing the same target comprehension skill throughout the week.

Step 2: Demonstrate the skill through instruction

After naming the skill, explain the specifics of the skill by YOU (the teacher) doing the work. YOU execute a Think Aloud while reading a passage (Reading Voice) and putting details together (Thinking Voice). For students, this is the I do, You watch & listen portion of the mini-lesson.

To help you plan and present the I do, consider using Think Aloud cards, a 16-card deck of “I” Statements (e.g., I’m wondering if… But then I… This makes me think that…). Holding the cards up while you’re talking to yourself reminds students that Step 2 is YOUR show.

It is crucial that you plan out this portion of the mini-lesson. If you attempt to wing it, the mini-lesson will likely go long and/or you will start asking questions of the class. When this happens, the I do bleeds over into Step 3 (i.e., We do) prematurely. Step 2 is all about teaching the thinking.

Think Aloud Cards

Plan out your Think Aloud

There is no single tool for planning out comprehension lessons—although you want one that allows you space to note your Think Aloud thoughts. For those wanting a digital document they can type into, here is one option.

Here is a second digital version. Dr. Danielle Hickerson (instructional specialist in Cobb County, Georgia) created both a Word document and editable PDF for her teachers. Notice how she included reminders about the purpose of each step to guide their planning.

This third planner would be for those who prefer to use paper. Note that the Comprehension Planner has two pages. The top of the second page includes a space to plan out the text details that lead to the I-do inference. Slowing down and reflecting on your process allows you then to show students the journey of your thinking within Step 2.

Comprehension Mini-Lesson Planner
I Do-- You Watch and Listen

Keep in mind that the entire four-step mini-lesson process is to be only 15-20 minutes. Consequently, there will be facets of the skill that the students need to know that you will NOT reveal during Day 1’s mini-lesson. The key is to break up this skill into a multi-day series to keep it from getting too long and too in-depth on any day. These additional points can be noted on page 1 within the bulleted section as a reminder to roll them out via Think Alouds on subsequent days. (See pages 3-8 of the download.)

Step 3: Foster interaction—We Do

Within Step 3 of the Comprehension Planner, you will guide students through a parallel experience by doing the exact same type of thinking with a second text, excerpt, passage, etc. Make sure to point out all of the key points you demonstrated in Step 2—but this time, invite the students to help you do the work. Treat the We do with the same attention that you gave the I do. In other words—plan out the second Silhouette Head on page 2. Expect to guide students’ Thinking Voices. Although you will give students time to Turn & Talk, anticipate that you will do most of the work because they are still in the early learning stages of the skill. Redefine We do to mean I’m going to do another one; I’m hoping you can help me.

Step 4: Closure—Wrap it up

After the 7 or 8 minutes in Step 2 and the 7 or 8 minutes in Step 3, Step 4 needs to close the lesson quickly. Reiterate the comprehension skill that will be the focus for the week. At this point, transition into the You do. For secondary teachers, this includes a specific task related to this new skill. However, for elementary teachers, the You do is much more loose. End your direct instruction with a simple invitation asking students to think like this during classroom library or when reading independently. (NOTE: Until this skill is refined in small-group guided reading, there isn’t much of a structured You do.) The same target skill is the focus of the whole-class comprehension mini-lesson for 4-7 days. The first page of this planning template includes the key instructional points to roll out across the week, but the same 4-step rhythm is executed daily. Each day, as a new facet or tip is shared, the teacher demonstrates another I do followed by a We do. This is the reason for pages 3-8 in the planning template. Each excerpt used in the lesson has been pre-selected and pre-planned for its Reading Voice and Thinking Voice details.

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