When I moved to California, I had to take a reading class in order to get a teaching credential. I enrolled at California State University, Long Beach and went to class there one night a week after I’d finished a full day of teaching. Luckily, my professor knew her audience well (we were all full-time teachers) and taught an interesting, interactive class.
One of the suggested activities that I have used repeatedly, both in junior high and in the university, was a pre-reading exercise. Before students read an especially challenging or complex article, distribute four true-false statements that are related thematically to the assigned article. Make sure that these statements are phrased to allow for different responses–you want students to feel they can really express their opinion. Ask students to decide individually whether these statements are true or false.
Next, and this is the important step, have students divide into groups of about 4-5. Tell them that they have to agree on an answer for each statement. Students discuss each question, trying to persuade each other in order to come to a consensus. Then, discuss each statement as a class before finally reading the assigned article.
This pre-reading activity works particularly well with controversial topics–it creates student engagement and ownership which results in a willingness to explore ideas and, eventually, a deeper understanding of the topic.
This is such a simple technique–yet it works so well.
In one of the presentations I do, I use a variation on this assignment. I’ll spare you that explanation, but here are four statements that I use dealing with immigration:
- Because immigrants still retain practices associated with their home country, they aren’t really from their new country.
- Immigrants bring an energy and curiosity that enriches their new country.
- Immigration is okay, as long as immigrants come to the new country legally.
- Immigrants have made the U.S. a more tolerant place.
I’ve specifically created statements here that might yield different answers depending on how closely they’re read and how students interpret them. The statements are slippery, which usually leads to interesting discussions, more nuanced expressions of ideas, more diverse opinions about the “right” answer.