What Do You Mean? Establishing a Focus When Writing a Short Constructed Response

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Generally, every student understands that they should begin a short constructed response with the restatement of the initial question. Once they have done so, they are ready to begin citing the text that supports their answer. Often they jump right in without thinking about what it is they’re trying to support. Having them write an additional sentence or a few sentences that explain what they mean before beginning to cite the text, forces them to think about what they’re trying to prove. Here are some examples that my students have been working with this year:

Genre:  This passage would most likely appear in the genre science fiction. Science fiction stories are often set in the future and/or outer space. Technology is also usually used in the story.

This student now knows that he or she needs to find text evidence that describes a setting and use of technology that matches the attributes of science fiction. This narrows the scope of the text that they should cite. It provides a focus.

Theme: The theme of this passage is persistence pays off. That means that, if you keep trying you will meet your goal.

This student now knows that he or she needs to find text evidence that supports the idea that if you keep trying you will achieve your goal. This again provides a focus for the student as they begin citing the text.

These are just a couple of examples of how asking our students to explain what they mean will help them identify the text that supports their answer. This one simple step really has helped my students. Of course, explaining what you mean isn’t always that easy to do. This is when it is the most beneficial. If you can’t explain what you mean, then it is impossible to analyze the text and explain how it supports your answer.

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