Reading Comprehension

Got Sub Plans?

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When I was in the classroom, we had to turn in a sub folder at the beginning of every year. This caused me great angst. What should I leave in it? When would I need it? I didn’t want to leave busy work, but to leave something in a folder for an “emergency” was far too overwhelming for someone like me to process. Honestly, I feel the worst thing you can do is require kids to do something that is absolutely pointless. What’s worse, inadequate plans are unfair to your substitute. Idle children, no matter how well behaved, can become little terrors from sheer boredom alone. Not to mention that wasting instruction time should be criminal in and of itself (but that is a conversation for another day). So, in light of the sub plan debacle, I have created grade-level specific sub plans that are aligned to Common Core and provide relevant practice for students.

For the students:

6th - Grammar

Grammar Practice
Each set provides a specific grammar skill for students. Instead of having students complete meaningless worksheets that don’t help them retain the skill, these grammar sheets introduce rules and have students practice those skills through various tasks. By embedding the skills in their own writing, students better retain the information.


6th - VocabularyVocabulary Practice – Word of the Day
Students get one new word for the day. They are provided the part of speech and the definition. Students then practice the word with 3 different thought-provoking exercises. In the first activity, students find a synonym, antonym, use the word in a sentence and draw a picture that displays the word.

In the next activity, students make connections to themselves, text, and the real world. Lastly, students understand word relationships when they identify the parts of speech for 2 different forms of the vocabulary word. Students then use the word variations in sentences.

6th - ReadingReading Comprehension
Each reading comprehension passage is an original, grade-level appropriate informational text with common-core aligned questions. To engage students, passages are about animals, plants, or insects that most people are unfamiliar with. Also, students can click on a QR Code that takes them to a video displaying what they have just read. (This is definitely the coolest part of the activity per the students who sampled the product for me.

6th - WritingWriting Skills
Students read a short passage and revise and edit the passage to include more descriptive language by adding various types of figurative language, phrases, and parts of speech.

For students that may struggle or need a refresher on certain elements, students have a cheat sheet at the top of the page for their reference.

For the substitute:

To assist the substitute with the plans, there is a chart the details what the substitute can do to model for each activity and how to have students complete each activity. Designed for a 90-minute block, there is more than enough for students to do.

For the teacher:

Answer keys are provided for the activities. Also, the design of the activities allow for conversation and interaction after completion. The teacher can provide meaningful feedback that students can apply in other assignments, regardless of what they are.

For principals and administrators:

Sometimes you are left holding the bag when a teacher has an unexpected absence. These packs would work well for your middle school ELA classes.

This activity is currently available for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in my TpT store.


One last note:

If you are not an ELA teacher, or this is not something you are looking for, I encourage you to consider what you leave your students to do in your absence. Meaningful work should not disappear in your absence. Instead, consider foundational skills that your students need to work on consistently, and devise a plan around those concepts. This will sharpen students while you are away, and make the most of instruction time. Also, consider how improbable it is for students to sit idly for an extended period of time. Allow them to work with a peer or discuss information with your substitute. You will be amazed at the outcome!

The Power of Vocabulary

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The first time I learned about The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3, I was horrified. To confirm that the achievement gap starts well before a child can even make it to kindergarten is heartbreaking. What’s more, teachers receive much of the blame for under-performing children, and not nearly enough resources to combat the problem. Instead, best practices drop from the sky like candy from a pinata, and districts catch what they can in the process. Teachers sit through professional developments that produce book studies and additional responsibilities, but still not necessarily the solutions needed. This process holds true for vocabulary as well.

It is widely known and accepted that it is best practice to teach students vocabulary through direct instruction, and it is clear that students should be receiving tier 2 words 20170724_095740(words students see in print) on a regular basis. However, the process itself – the actual way that students are taught vocabulary words – is quite murky. Marzano gives us 6-steps, and I often hear all the rave about the Frayer Model, which is a great tool, but many students are still not acquiring words in a meaningful way that allows them to expand their vocabulary. What’s more, I was shocked to learn that of the two different districts where I’ve worked that no one deemed it necessary to require vocabulary instruction. That said, I took matters into my own hands. I worked relentlessly to build my students’ vocabulary through a system that proved to be beneficial to not only their reading comprehension, but also to their verbal and written communication. But before I started randomly throwing word lists together, I considered a few things:

  1. Word Choice: What words should my students know? This is a loaded question. When you consider grade-level, there are words that frequent the grade-level text, and students need to know these words for comprehension purposes, but what about demographic?
  2. Demographic: What we learn from the 30 Million Word Gap is that every child does not receive the same exposure. Consequently, some students need more exposure than others. A vocabulary list in an affluent district may look very different than one in a struggling district. However, I strongly believe some of those words should overlap.
  3. Application: How hard is it for students to apply the words they are given? Where will they hear the words? My word lists came from SAT word lists and class reading assignments, but that left much to choose from. So, to help narrow it down, I also thought about the music they listened to and where they could find relevance in the words given.
  4. Exposure: What role did I play in using those words in the classroom? If I could not use them in everyday conversation with my students, were they actually good words, and how could I expect my students to use them if I could not?
  5. Expectation: How would I require and encourage students to use their vocabulary words? If I was just handing out lists without any follow-up or expectation for continued use, I was wasting my time and theirs.

After considering all of these things, and constantly requiring students to look up words I used, but they did not know, I knew there was an opportunity to make a real difference in their vocabulary and reading comprehension. I began to develop vocabulary lists until I had enough of them for an entire school year. Each set provided 3 days of practice with 5-6 different opportunities for students to use their new words. I quizzed students over the words and gave a summative assessment at the end of each set of 3. The outcome was nothing short of a miracle. Even my complainers used their vocabulary words. In turn, reading comprehension increased and their writing skills were better. The proof was not only in my grade book, but also in my students’ standardized testing scores.

Ultimately, vocabulary is an integral part of all learning, no matter the subject. Every teacher should use direct instruction to teach vocabulary to not only increase student achievement, but to also close the gap.

Critical Thinking: Analyzing Quotes

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I have always found great appreciation for a thought-provoking quote. In fact, I can remember having great discussions in class about quotes from whichever novel we were reading. Sometimes I would provide the quotes, and other times I would require students to find their own meaningful quotes. What was most interesting about the process was student application. Students are impressive young people, and when you hit the right cord, they will blow your socks off. And so, a quote activity was born.

 What’s Included

  • 18 weeks of analyzing quotes, 1 for each week.
  • 5 activities for each quote
  • Critical thinking, constructed response, text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world activities, and more.
  • Challenges for students to share their own quotes and create activities
  • Opportunities to work with a partner

How It Works

I20170717_101832.jpgf possible, print each student their own booklet of quotes. The booklets can be stored in the classroom so students always have them if there is a concern about the notebooks being lost.

At the beginning of each week, assign students a new quote. Have them complete the paraphrase activity first. This is a great way to assess students’ understanding of the quote because they have to rewrite it in their own words.

As you progress through the week, have students complete a different activity each day. To generate discussion

, you can have students share their responses with a peer or in small groups. For class discussions, have students share their responses and respond to other’s points of view.

At the end of the week, you can collect the notebooks and provide students with feedback. Another option is to use daily discussion to gather information about each student’s comprehension and provide feedback through discussions.

The Purpose

The purpose of the activity is to teach students to think critically. Instead of giving students a grade for a “right” or “wrong” answer, provide them with feedback. Ask them questions as opposed to giving them an answer as there are a variety of ways to answer these critical thinking questions.


By the end of the 18 weeks, students will be able to:

  1. analyze quotes for meaning
  2. make connections between quotes, themselves, the real word, and other texts.
  3. determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in context (RL.4).
  4. analyze the impact of specific word choice on meaning and tone (RL.4).
  5. cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says (RL.1).

To purchase this activity, click here.

Secondary Reading Comprehension – Gradual Release

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Understanding that students may not have the skills they are “supposed” to have to navigate grade-level text is difficult on both students and teachers. For this reason, I always spent the beginning of the school year teaching my students reading strategies and comprehension skills that we would implement for the rest of the year. Instead of starting with a novel, we read short stories and informational text together. During the first month of school, I used the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model almost daily so that I had a better understanding of where my students were. I also wanted to make sure that they clearly understood the expectations.

A typical reading activity would look like the example below. For the purposes of the example, let’s say that we were reading a 5 paragraph essay.

Gradual Release Example

Reading the Text

I Do: Using the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, I would model reading comprehension of the first paragraph with a think-aloud. We would discuss what I read, my understanding, and their understanding. 

We Do it Together: As a class, we would read the next 2-3 paragraphs. I would ask students what they were thinking as we read. Our discussion included understanding the text and how we arrived at the understanding.  

You Do it Together: Students read with a partner and repeated the process. At this point, students had watched me model, and they had practiced the skill with feedback and guidance. 

You Do It Alone: Lastly,  I would have students finish reading the last paragraph or 2 on their own. We would discuss the passage as a whole.

Applying Comprehension

I Do: Once I believed that students understood the passage, I would model answering the first question. In doing this, I would break down the question to model comprehension of what was being asked. Next, I evaluated my options. In choosing my answer, I was sure to show where I believed the text supported my answer.  Afterwards, we would discuss my choice. Before I shared the correct answer, I would ask students if they thought I was correct or incorrect. Why or why not?

We Do It Together: After modeling the application of comprehension, it was time to include students. We worked on the next 2 questions together, repeating the process, but with the students’ input. I made sure to ask clarifying questions as opposed to giving the answer. 

You Do It Together: From there, I had students do the next 1 or 2 questions with a partner. We then shared out our answers and discussed them. I found this to be most beneficial to students because it taught them how to analyze questions and support their answers with information from the text. 

You Do It Alone: In my opinion, this was the most important part of the model because if students could not apply the skill on their own, the activity had not been as fruitful as I had hoped. Educators have to remember that it is easy for students to hide in plain site when there are whole-class activities. However, working alone reveals all secrets. Therefore, I had students work independently to finish the questions. Once everyone finished, we discussed each answer together in the same way we had done with the others. 

The Big Picture

Teaching reading comprehension through modeling and guided practice proved to be invaluable to all parties involved. Once students mastered skills to help them independently comprehend text, I was able to cover more content and expose them to more information that would help them, not only in my class, but in all  other classes.