Monday, June 3, 2013

Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction

Have you ever used a RAN chart? This is something I've been doing for years but I just realized today that I've never posted about it. The RAN (Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction) is Tony Stead's answer to the dare I say 'old-fashioned' KWL.  I've found it to be so powerful, meaningful, engaging, and useful to me as an instructor that I am confident to say that I will never do a KWL ever again. Ever.

This is how it works. The graphic organizer is a bit more complicated than a KWL with 5 columns instead of just 3. The headings are:

  • What I THINK I know
  • Yes! I was right! CONFIRMED!
  • New Information
  • Misconceptions
  • I wonder...
You can set up the RAN chart many different ways. In the video below, Tony uses a pad of chart paper and flips back and forth. I've used banner paper and my promethean board. Today we used the personal RAN charts I made by stapling two manilla folders together. I didn't have enough for the students to work in pairs so my ESOL teacher let us use the ones my students made for themselves in ESOL class. In the pictures below mine are the blue laminated folders and hers are the manilla ones. I was jealous of hers. I will have my students make their own RAN folders at the beginning of the year from now on.

Just adding the THINK part to the first section sold me. How many times have you done a KWL chart with your kids only to have them shout out something completely ridiculous for something they swear they know to be true? Umm.... how about EVERY time I ever tried to use it. How do you address those kids without making a big goblety gook of the learning? I love that with the RAN you open the activity by inviting the kids to share what they think they know, with the understanding that there most definitely will be misconceptions, and that we can't take every thought in our brain to be gospel truth without backing it up with evidence. So first you introduce the topic and ask the students to write each "fact" they think they know on a sticky note and post it in the first box.

That leads us to CONFIRMED and New Information. After generating what they think they know, kids search in pairs, independently, as a whole group read-aloud, (or whatever your content lends itself too) to find evidence in nonfiction text to prove or disprove their original thoughts. We have even used movies with the RAN chart. That really is the way to get the most out of a United Streaming video btw.  If they can confirm one of their original thoughts, they move that sticky note to the Yes! I was right column. Here's a short video of Tony using the RAN with first graders:

Confirming our thoughts:

"YES!!!" He was so excited every time he could move a fact into the confirmed box.

If they find information in a text that disproves a thought, then they move that sticky note to the Misconceptions box. I find that the students are much less likely to let the misconceptions get in the way of future learning once they have proved themselves wrong, physically moved the sticky note, and placed a sticky note in the New Information column with the correct information. Looking at these misconceptions is also a good way for me to see what might be making a particular concept hard to grasp for some students, and informs my future lessons on the topic. Here's a misconception from today:
"He lived in the Lincoln Memorial."
We live within 30 minutes of Washington D.C. so many students are familiar with the Lincoln Memorial. Obviously this student was unfamiliar with what a "memorial" is... A few minutes into research, he found a text that stated that the Lincoln Memorial was built in 1909... WELL after Lincoln's death. He wasn't ashamed of his misconception and even shared with the class in our post-discussion.

Any interesting new facts students find are written down and placed in the New Information box as well. This phase can go on for a few days. I try to give my students many different text options.

Any questions students come up with while researching are written down and put in the I wonder box.

If you are just using this activity as an introduction to new learning, (like I did today) you can stop here.

BUT - these RAN charts still have a lot more left to give! By now your sticky notes are probably loosing their 'stick' so you might need to invest in those super sticky post-its (or a little scotch tape if you're me). When I do this activity whole-group, I use the pen to text tool on my Promethean board so each thought can be moved independently. Anyway, if you want to take this activity to another level of understanding then you can have your students then focus on their confirmed facts and new information notes. They can start sorting these facts into categories. At this point you can mix up your old facts and new facts as long as they are all confirmed with textual evidence.

Now you've got the basic building blocks for all kinds of nonfiction writing. Need to teach kids to group like thoughts into a paragraph? No problem. Writing a biography? Put those stickies in time order pronto! Writing a research book with different sections? Use your categories as headings for each chapter. Have a group working on a research project together? It's now easy as pie to split up the work. Each person takes one category.

I'm sure there are many more applications but I'm fried at the moment. The best part of this whole RAN business is that it is true inquiry. The kids are making meaning, guiding themselves, researching and finding answers to questions they care about, and there is limited teacher involvement. My guys had a blast today using the RAN charts as we began our study of Abraham Lincoln. I'm pretty sure they know everything they need to know about him just from that one 45 minute lesson. Which means that I can use the rest of my allotted time for ol' Honest Abe to dig deeper and really hit those higher levels of Blooms.

And on a completely unrelated note... here is one of our geese families chillin' on the playground looking for post-rain yummies! Eight babies!

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