As we continue to grow in our common core competencies and take on new informational texts, we need tools to help students read closely and analyze texts that may be outside of their fiction plot structure comfort zone (and ours!). At a conference many years ago, I picked up a valuable strategy called the arch method, which I believe can do just that. I learned it from Valerie Stevenson who is a high school English teacher from San Diego, accomplished conference speaker, and incredible fount of knowledge. Originally, I used it as a way to help AP students answer prose analysis prompts, but with the common core emphasis on informational texts at all levels, I want to show you how it is an appropriate and valuable tool for all of our classes.
The strength of the method is that it can work for junior high and high school students at a variety of skill levels. For grade level modifications, the teacher simply needs to ensure that the informational text and guiding question are grade level appropriate. For emerging readers and writers in all grades, the teacher can walk students through the process with several texts over a long period of time before asking students to work independently on this type of task. For more advanced students, one model or explanation may be enough. Even with my AP class, I like to scaffold this process a few times to make sure that I am getting my desired result by the time they work independently.
In the hope that you won't see this tool as something too easy or too difficult for your students, I decided to include an example from a junior high curriculum and a 12th grade college prep curriculum. If you teach AP language and composition, leave me a comment or question about using this strategy in conjunction with prose analysis questions!
Teachers from every level- please feel free to leave questions or comments! I'd love to hear from you.
The Strategy (See picture below):
- For any given informational text, the teacher asks a guided question. The question must focus on BOTH the main idea and persuasive techniques. This type of analysis focuses heavily on author's purpose and style. The questions can vary in complexity for different levels.
- Students draw an arch in their notes and write the question on that arch.
- As they read (directed or independently) students look for the SOAPS (speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, and situation), as well as persuasive language. The use of rhetoric (or persuasive language) is recorded under the arch.
- Then, based on the language, students write the answer to the big picture question above the arch.
- Once this is complete, teachers can assign a variety of extension assignments like writing an analysis essay, writing a persuasive essay or speech using similar techniques, or participating in a class discussion about the themes or persuasiveness of the piece.
- After students have gone through this method a few times, they begin to understand close reading and can apply it across the curriculum. I've found that it is very helpful for students who struggle with finding textual evidence to support their gut feelings.
Junior High Example:
- Junior High students could read and analyze Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech as part of a nonfiction unit or as a companion to novels like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry or The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963. This could also be part of a history unit about The Civil Rights Movement or a look at how leaders across time have dealt with discrimination.
- Here is a link to download an excerpt of the "I Have a Dream" speech.
- Here is a sample annotation that students could do with teacher scaffolding.
- Extension activities may include writing a speech about a subject students feel passionate about, writing a speech from the perspective of a character in a novel, or writing a paragraph explaining why the "I Have a Dream" speech was such a powerful moment in American history.
- In addition to other common core standards, this activity supports the following CCS for grade 6 informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.
High School Example:
- Senior students could read and analyze an excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" to go along with their study of Frankenstein, or as a comparison piece across time to the poem "Eve's Apology in Defense of Women" by Lanyer.
- Here is a link to download the excerpt of "A Vindication of the Rights of Women".
- Here is a sample annotation that students could do individually or with teacher direction.
- Extension activities may include writing a vindication of the rights of teenagers, writing a prose analysis essay, or conducting a class debate about the current state of gender equality.
- In addition to other common core standards, this activity supports the following CCS for grades 11-12 informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
What do you think about the arch method? Would you use it? Do you have other go-to strategies for teaching informational texts?