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Unit Plan: Take Two

What We Envisioned Happening


A student gives her definition of inclusion

What Actually Happened

After reading half of the book as a whole class, instead of the amazing, rich discussions we dreamed of, we kept getting the same hands when discussing the text. We had gone back to our old ways and the teachers were, again, leading most of the discussions and talking the most! We were also reading the text aloud, creating the story maps and graphic organizers! We knew we had to make some changes to our unit plan.    

What Worked Well 

  • The read aloud was engaging all of our students and everyone responded with enthusiasm by anticipating answers to the questions as we revealed them for each chapter. So we would continue posting the questions one by one. 
  • Students were jotting notes as we read the book aloud and using their notes to answer questions. 

Student tracing a story map 

What Worked for SOME Students

  • The story map had become a useful tool that some students would refer back to when they wanted to remember a specific event.  However, it was not accessible to all students because teachers created the story maps and only one student per chapter would outline the events.

What Didn't Work Well

  • We had unintentionally created a dynamic where the students were directing their answers to one of the teachers. We called this the “Teacher-Student Ping Pong Game.” Students sat on the rug and talked with a partner before we discussed the text as a whole class. However, instead of creating this wonderful discussion where students were building on and responding to each other’s ideas, we had created a very effective ping pong game.  One teacher would ask a question, students would raise their hands, one student would be called and speak directly to the teacher, then one teacher would respond to the student. The teacher would then move on to the next question and repeat the ping-pong game with another student. So while it seemed that many students were participating because everyone spoke with a partner during the “Turn and Talk” and many students raised their hands during the whole class discussion, only a few students were actually voicing their opinions with the whole class.
  • Students were only reading chunks of chapters independently. The teachers were reading most of the book aloud. 

Making Changes to the Unit Plan

So after taking stock and a deep breath we stopped creating everything for our students and:
  • In heterogenous partnerships* assigned students to read the text and create the story maps  
  • Changed the teacher-student ping pong game by teaching students specific language structures to help them respond to each other’s ideas and not the teacher.   
  • Trained ourselves to call and listen to (without interrupting or praising) 3 student responses so that the students were speaking more than the teachers. 


So, Did it Work? 

  • After implementing these changes, we noticed immediately that all students were discussing the questions for longer periods of time. 
  • Students were reading the text in heterogenous partnerships and were having rich conversations! 
  • Some students even assumed the role that usually one of teachers would play!  We heard students ask clarifying questions such as, “Can you explain ___ more?” or “What do you mean by ___? Can you be more specific?” “What page is ____ on?” 

*One  word or about 157 about heterogeneous partnerships

We use heterogeneous partnerships a lot in our classroom, both because we believe that the world is not split into level M and level Z readers and also as a management tool. Heterogenous partnerships allow us to confer individually with students and offer extra support as the rest of the class is working with a partner. When we create heterogenous partnerships we take into account: personality styles, decoding ability, and comprehension ability. Taking into account personality styles first, we then go about pairing students based on one specific reading strength and one specific reading need. For example, one student might be able to keep track of all the story elements in a chapter book but has trouble decoding, so she gets a partner who is a great decoder but has had trouble with keeping track of all the characters in the book. 
We spend the first month of school building a classroom community where students understand that we all have strengths and needs (especially teachers!) and EVERYONE needs help. We celebrate asking for help and encourage students to persevere when trying an academic or social task. 
(But that is a whole other inquiry project! For one resource about building a supportive classroom community you can look here.)