Students Teach Critical Concepts

By on May 27, 2013

For most of the year, I have explicitly taught critical concepts to my students before we enter a text. I have my students create a critical concepts table in their spiral notebooks and work with them to complete each row in the table. Over time, I have asked students to complete elements of the table on their own. 

Now, my students know my expectations and can complete the activity on their own. In order to release more responsibility onto my students, I ask my students to teach critical concepts to the class. Here is how it works.

First, I identify 8 critical concepts from the reading.
Second, I ask students to move into groups of four.
Third, I hand each group one word to teach. I give them about 15 minutes to research their word and come up with an illustration.
Fourth, students stand as a team and present their word, completing their row while students copy the information into their critical concepts table.

They teach each word like I would. They say, "Our critical concept is 'expression.' Repeat after me: 'expression.'" The class says "expression" at the same time. If not, the group says the word again and expects all of their classmates to repeat it together. Then they move on to the part of speech and work their way across the table.

Each member in the group is expected to present. My students love this activity. It is highly engaging and it moves students toward independence as they take on more responsibility. This type of activity helps create the LiteracyTA Environment. In this environment, we focus on four main elements: skill practice, engagement, professionalism, and independence. Having students teach critical concepts to their peers hits on all four elements.

Try this activity with your students and let us know how it goes. We have a number of resources and support tools to help educators teach critical concepts.


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The Conversation

Kathy Kathy 5/28/2013

Is this just teaching the meaning of the word in the reading? Seems like a lot of time spent for just a few words? Maybe I am missing the main idea here.

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Mr. LeMaster Mr. LeMaster 5/28/2013

Critical concepts are words in and around a text that carry important context that readers need to know to best comprehend and analyze a text. We want to spend time teaching these words so that students understand the context in which the text is written. For example, if I want my students to read and understand an article about drones, I might want to teach words and phrases like "unmanned aircraft," "stealth," and "black ops." These words might be in the text we are reading or the writer might assume his/her reader knows them before entering the text. Critical concepts is one way to build schemata (or a mental framework) to help them navigate the main ideas in a text. Sometimes, I do not have time to teach critical concepts, and other times I don't have to because my students are familiar with the content and/or language. This activity should be used for teaching important pages in the history textbook, for that historical speech, or for a new science unit. I hope this helps. Let us know.

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
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