This strategy was created to address a common gripe that many of the teachers I work with have. The struggle is that students just plop quotes into the middle of their writing without any precursor or explanation to its relevance. These students lack the skill of how to transition into and/or out of quotes. In student-friendly language, we call this setting up and unpacking a quote.
When addressing this struggle, I would only attend to one or the other- never both at the same time. My reasoning is that I do not want to overwhelm the students. I’d prefer they focus on one strategy fully rather than trying to split their attention. If students need to work on BOTH, I always begin with setting-up quotes. Why? Because it’s easier to attain. This is due to the fact that all students need to do to be successful in this skill is to add in a simple transitional phrase.
So, let’s start with how to set-up a quote (how to unpack a quote will follow). A sample teaching point to introduce how to transition into quotes might look like this:
Begin your small group by showing a piece of your writing where you are having this struggle.
Point out to students the way the quotes are just dropped into the text without giving the reader any warning. Explain how this seems blunt or even confusing.
Next, share with students a simple chart that provides some examples of transitional phrases they can use to set-up quotes.
You might want to modify this chart for varying levels of students. For example, special education students may be overwhelmed by too many options, so a shorter list would be appropriate. Or, include sophisticated language for those students that need a little push. After reviewing released student samples from our state test (we are a PARCC state), there was a notable score difference for students who used more academic transitions (“In addition ___, states…”) compared to more basic versions (“Also ___, says…”). So, you might want to build students up in that way.
Also, think about the power of using the same transitions all year long (in literary essay, argument, and information writing). Recently, I discussed with Emily Strang-Campbell, a fantastic staff developer from TCRWP (as well as a friend and mentor of mine), how having a set list of 5-8 transitions might actually help students internalize them easier and transfer their use when it comes to state test time. Often, our inclination as teachers is to give them an all-inclusive list of every possible transitions imaginable. Our thinking might be that our chances of a student using a transition increases if we provide them with more options. The more the merrier, right? However, by focusing in on a few very powerful transitions, that are ALWAYS used, students might remember them easier.
Another piece of advice is to hang this anchor chart in the same place all year. Come test time–yes, you take all your instructional materials down– but if students are taking the test in your room they may be visually reminded of the transitions because of where that chart used to be.
Getting back to the small group lesson, model incorporating transitions to set-up quotes in your demo piece. Think aloud how you determine which to use. Show how your piece looks with changes in place.
Finish off your group by allowing students to try this work right in front of you as you coach into their progress.
Up next- Unpacking Quotes. Check back soon!
Let’s keep the conversation going-