Establishing Structures for Reading: Getting the Gist (Chapter 1) | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2012 G7:M1:U1:L2

Establishing Structures for Reading: Getting the Gist (Chapter 1)

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Long Term Learning Targets

  • I can determine the central ideas of a literary text. (RL.7.2)
  • I can effectively engage in discussions with diverse partners about seventh-grade topics, texts, and issues. (SL.7.1)

Supporting Targets

  • I can effectively participate in discussion with my classmates.
  • I can determine the central ideas of Chapter 1 of A Long Walk to Water.
  • I can determine the meaning of visual representations on a map.

Ongoing Assessment

  • Reader's Notes
  • Exit ticket


AgendaTeaching Notes

1.  Opening

A. Introducing Learning Targets (5 minutes) 

B. Getting Started: Preparing for 'Difficult' Reading of A Long Walk to Water (5 minutes)

2.  Work Time

A. Reading for the Gist: Chapter 1 of A Long Walk to Water (20 minutes)

3.  Closing and Assessment 

A. Revisit Learning Targets with Exit Ticket (10 minutes)

B. Share Letter to Families (5 minutes)

4.  Homework

Reread Chapter 1 and add to Reader's Notes. Read Chapter 2 for gist and record in Reader's Notes.

  • This lesson continues the simple routine of reading a text to "get the gist," which students will record in their Reader's Notes. Students will practice together to "get the gist" in the first few lessons with explicit feedback from the teacher. This lays a strong foundation for students to build their close reading skills. In subsequent lessons, and with more difficult texts, students will build on this understanding of the gist of a reading in order to help them pay close attention to the text and ask or answer questions that might assist in deepening their understanding. 
  • Students are introduced to the ideas of a "close reading" and will start to build a class anchor chart titled "Things Close Readers Do." In Lessons 3 through 6 in this Unit, students add to their practices of close reading and conduct close readings of a more complex text with continued support and feedback from the teacher. 
  • As noted in Lesson 1, in many lessons in these modules, the teacher reads a portion of the text aloud as students actively read in their heads. This promotes fluency. The teacher reads aloud (slowly, fluently, without interruption or explanation) as students simultaneously look at and think about the words on the printed page. 
  • The Reader's Notes act as the note-catcher for students' record of the story. Students will add notes to this document as they read each chapter, and they will refer to their Reader's Notes for a Literary Analysis at the end of Unit 2 and a Two-Voice Poem at the end of the Module. The Reader's Notes regularly serve as an Opening task for subsequent lessons in which students discuss their understanding of the gist of the reading in partnered pairs, share with the class, and receive feedback from the teacher to ensure that all students succeed in making meaning of the text.
  • As students share their "gist" notes, begin informally to focus on key vocabulary. This models for students, and begins to sensitize them to focusing on specific words, which is introduced more formally in future lessons. 
  • Students revisit Chapters 1 and 2 many times across Lessons 1-4, so they will become increasingly aware of key words and details. (And in Unit 2, students begin their own personal vocabulary list.)
  • Students continue to practice partnered discussions, and should maintain the same partnerships as in Lesson 1 (seating chart set up for "A Days"). This gives students continuity in their discussions about Chapter 1 while reaffirming the agreed upon "Partner Talk Expectations" from Lesson 1.
  • In advance: Review the Letter to Families with regard to the violence described in Chapter 1, and consider how you might adapt this letter or your presentation of this violence to the needs of your community and your classroom culture.
  • Post the learning targets where all students can see them.


analyze, develop, contrast, points of view, characters, determine, central ideas, text features; droned (2), herding (3), aimless (4), bush, rebels (6)


  • Document camrea and projector
  • A Long Walk to Water (book; one per student)
  • Sticky notes (or a notebook)
  • Example of Partially Completed Close Read Recording Form for Reading A Long Walk to Water (for teacher reference)
  • Example of Close Reading Routine Chart with Non-linguistic Representation (for teacher reference)
  • Examples of Non-Linguistic Representations of Learning Target Vocabulary in This Lesson (for teacher reference)
  • Examples of Sentence Starters for Think-Pair-Share (for teacher reference)
  • Close Readers Do These Things anchor chart (new; teacher-created)
  • Exit ticket (one per student)


OpeningMeeting Students' Needs

A. Introducing Learning Targets (5 minutes) 

  • Read the day's learning targets:

* "I can effectively participate in discussion with my classmates."

* "I can determine the central ideas of Chapter 1 of A Long Walk to Water."

* "I can determine the meaning of visual representations on a map."

  • Students will notice that these learning targets are the same or similar to those in the previous lesson.
  • Emphasize how important it is for every person in the class to develop skills to more effectively engage in discussions, and remind students of the "Partner Talk Expectations" from Lesson 1 (see Teaching Notes--students' seating charts should arrange partner pairs just as in Lesson 1, an "A-Day" seating chart). Explain that there is very important work to do together, and everyone in the class will contribute to our success. 
  • Tell students that their Reader's Notes act as evidence for their progress with the learning target, "I can determine the central ideas of Chapter 1 of A Long Walk to Water," In class today, they will practice completing Reader's Notes for the remainder of Chapter 1, and their independent homework at the end of the lesson will be to complete Reader's Notes for Chapter 2. 
  • Explain that for the final learning target, students will do an "exit ticket" that allows them to demonstrate their progress.
  •  Posting and discussing learning targets with students helps students to self-assess and monitor their learning throughout the lesson. This research-based strategy supports struggling learners most.

B. Getting Started: Preparing for 'Difficult' Reading of A Long Walk to Water (5 minutes) 

  • Remind students that in Lesson 1, they were introduced to a major character in the novel, Nya. In today's reading, they'll learn about another major character named Salva.
  • Tell students that the novel A Long Walk to Water will help us answer our questions about the map, the environment of Southern Sudan, and the dotted line that shows someone's route. Inform students that they are going to read Chapter 1 in class today to "get the gist" of what the chapter is about. Clarify that "getting this gist" is related to our learning target today, "I can determine the central ideas of Chapter 1 in A Long Walk to Water."
  • Explain to students that the reading of A Long Walk to Water will be difficult for two reasons. First, they will be digging into the text deeply to make meaning and understand the experiences of the characters. This practice of reading a text closely can be challenging.
  • Show students the Things Close Readers Do anchor chart. Add to this chart, "Get the gist of what a text is about." Tell students that this is only one thing that close readers do, and it's what they'll be focusing on today.
  • Explain to students that the reading of A Long Walk to Water will also be difficult for another reason. Chapter 1 includes an account of violence. Say something like "It is not graphic or gruesome, but anytime we read about violence in the world, we need to be extra thoughtful to make sure that everyone feels safe." 
  • In the bottom third of the Things Close Readers Do anchor chart, add a heading titled "When text is emotionally difficult..." Ask students for strategies they can use to feel physically and emotionally safe when they are reading about something that may be difficult or bring out strong emotions. Elicit student ideas and record them on the chart (ex. Take a break from reading [put head down], Talk to an adult about your thoughts, Talk to a friend about your thoughts, Journal, Write a note to the teacher, etc.).
  • Tell students that in future classes, they will return to this Things Close Readers Do anchor chart to reflect on how helpful the close reading practices are.
  • Building the anchor chart "Things Close Readers Do" with students will make the practices of a close reading transparent to all students. You will be adding to this anchor chart in Lessons 2 through 6 as you introduce new close reading practices to students.

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. Reading for the Gist: Chapter 1 of A Long Walk to Water (20 minutes) 

  • Be sure students have their Readers' Notes (begun in Lesson 1). Ask students to open A Long Walk to Water to the start of Chapter 1 (page 1). Tell students that as they did yesterday, they will read silently in their heads as they hear a section read aloud. Prompt students to pay attention to what this section is about (the gist). 
  • Reorient students to the first section of Chapter 1 (Nya's story--second read). Read just this section aloud. Ask students to add any new thinking to Columns 3 and 5 of their Reader's Notes. Keep this brief.
  • Then orient them to the second section of Chapter 1. Read the title and date: "Southern Sudan 1985." Ask students to notice the text features: what distinguishes section 1 from section 2? 
  • Remind students that you will often read sections of the text aloud as they read along in their heads. Reinforce the purpose of this practice: it helps them develop fluency as readers. 
  • Read aloud the rest of Chapter 1 (first read). As with the previous read-aloud, simply read slowly and fluently; do not stop to explain or discuss.
  • Ask students to write in Columns 1 and 4 to document their first ideas about what this section is about.
  • Tell students that their writing gave them time to "Think," and now they will "Pair" and "Share" so that they can help each other make meaning of the text. Ask students to turn to their partners and read to each other what each student wrote in Column 4. 
  • Then explain to students that they will "Share" our ideas as a class by using a cold call of three students to share what they wrote for Column 4. 
  • After these three students share, give feedback so that all students have the following "gist" statements in their Reader's Notes:

* Salva is an 11-year-old boy in South Sudan.

* Salva attends school. 

* Salva's father is important.

* Salva herds cattle with other boys. Sometimes they play (note that aimless means without aim or purpose; in this context, it means "without a goal": just playing).

* Salva is daydreaming (the teacher droned on, which means he was talking and talking).

* While Salva is at school one day, fighting breaks out in his village, and the teacher tells all of the students to run away from the village into the "bush." (Clarify that in the novel, bush refers to unsettled land, not one type of plant.)

* Salva's country, Sudan, is in the midst of a war. (The rebels are fighting against the government.)

  • Prompt all students to add to Column 5 any new ideas about what this section of Chapter 1 was about. Clarify key vocabulary listed in parentheses above. 
  • Focus students on page 6. Ask them to put a star next to the two paragraphs that begin with "The war had started two years earlier" through the top of page 7 " the war had come to where Salva lived." Tell them this is key background information; in a few days, they will read some informational text that gives more background information about this war. 
  • Encourage students to recognize that there wasn't just one "gist" statement for Chapter 1, and point out that some text can have a lot of information in it. Share with students that they'll be practicing "getting the gist" with Chapter 2 for homework, and the class will work together to make sure everyone understands the reading as they move forward.
  • Reading aloud to students while they read along silently helps to promote fluency. This is an increasingly important practice for students as they encounter more challenging text later in this unit.
  • To support in oral language, consider providing sentence starters for Think-Pair-Shares. For example, "My gist statements for this chapter are_____________."
  • Research indicates that cold calling improves student engagement and critical thinking. Be sure to prepare students for this strategy by discussing the purpose, giving appropriate think time, and indicating that this strategy will be used before students are asked questions. 

Closing & Assessments

ClosingMeeting Students' Needs

A. Revisit Learning Targets with Exit Ticket (10 minutes)

  • Reread the day's targets: 

* "I can effectively participate in discussion with my classmates."

* "I can determine the central ideas of Chapter 1 of A Long Walk to Water."

* "I can determine the meaning of visual representations on a map."

  • Tell students that Lesson 1 and today's lesson gave them lots of practice. Focus students briefly on the first target. Prompt all students to raise their hands to represent how they feel about their ability to meet this learning target right now, using the Fist to Five protocol. Refer students to the Fist to Five chart to cue their hand raising.
  • Describe to the students any patterns that you notice in this self-assessment. (Ex. "I see that a lot of you feel confident that you can participate well during discussions. I noticed a lot of you listening respectfully during partner talk today. We will keep practicing these skills.")
  • Repeat with the second target, again asking for a quick Fist to Five. Tell students that they will keep practicing the second target for homework, but with Chapter 2. 
  • Then tell students that they will now do a bit of writing on an exit ticket that will give you evidence about their progress on the last learning target. 
  • Using the document camera, display and read aloud the Discussion Scenarios (from Lesson 1). Ask students to revisit the question with their partner and share any new thinking. What connections can they make to the novel? 
  • Give students a few minutes to discuss with their partners, and then ask for pairs to share their thinking with the group. At this point it is likely that students will connect Scenario 1 with Salva and Scenario 2 with Nya. If not, ask a few questions to help students make these connections ("In Chapter 1 when we read Nya's part, it mentioned Nya carried a plastic container. This makes me think that her situation is described in Scenario 2. What about Scenario 1?"). 
  • Tell students that now you would like them to take a second look at the map on the inside cover of the novel, to see what they can determine about its visual representations.
  • Distribute the exit ticket. Prompt: "Looking at the opening map from A Long Walk to Water:
  1. What do you now notice about the map and the route? 
  2. List in order the different environments that are on the route from the village of Loun-Ariik to Kakuma." 
  • Set an expectation for focused, silent work time as all students are completing the exit ticket. Give clear directions about these expectations: "I need you to do this work silently and independently so that I can see what each of you is thinking right now. This work is not for a grade, but it gives me really important information about what you learned today. It is critical that you don't interrupt others while they are working. Work on this exit ticket silently, and then remain silently at your desk until all students have finished."
  • Collect exit tickets. 
  • Preview homework.
  • Checking in with learning targets helps students self-assess their learning. This research-based strategy supports struggling learners most.

B. Share Letter to Families (5 minutes)

  • Distribute the Letter to Families and read the letter aloud to the class. Invite students to write a brief note about their response to the violence described in Chapter 1. Collect these notes for personal review and response.
  • Prompt all students to put the Letter to Families, their Reader's Notes, and the novel, A Long Walk to Water, safely into their bags to be used for tonight's homework and returned to class tomorrow. Monitor that all students have a routine established for bringing materials between home and school.


  • Reread Chapter 1 and add to Reader's Notes (Column 5). Then read Chapter 2 of A Long Walk to Water. Write statements in your Reader's Notes (Columns 1, 2, and 4) about the gist: what this chapter is mostly about.

Note: Some students may choose to read ahead in this novel, which is fine. But encourage them to focus on Chapter 2. Tell them that in the next class they will add to Column 5 in their Reader's Notes when they share their notes from the homework. 

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