Close Reading Practice: Station Work with To Kill a Mockingbird

The beginning of fall means To Kill a Mockingbird in my 8th grade classroom and it is also the time to immerse students into the practice of close reading. The more and more students have opportunities to reread chunks of texts, the better their ability of peeling back the layers of a text. To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful (and complex) text to use for close reading of a story still relevant today and the beauty of Harper Lee’s craft of writing.

Early in the school year students need support with close reading. I have students chunk parts of the text and read it first for the basics or literal understanding. The second and third readings are reading with more purpose: language, craft, vocabulary, and mechanics. I want students to actively use the information from their readings to talk, share, write, illustrate, and or debate the theories and ideas they are formulating in their mind while reading.

To help students read and reread the text, I created three different learning stations this week. Each station had students practice towards mastery and gain more confidence with close reading. Students were to choose two of the stations to complete within a forty minute period. Each station was leveled based on students’ understanding of the text.

Station One – Level One – Literal Understanding of the text. I created a Bingo Board with twenty five questions about the plot in To Kill a Mockingbird. Students had 15 minutes to complete double bingo (or for additional points, complete the entire board for homework) with questions addressing Who, What, Where, When, and simple How questions.

Station Two – Level Two – Notice and Note Signposts in the Text. Students were to go back into the text and pull out examples of the six signposts from K. Beers & B. Probst’s Notice and Note. This text is one of the fundamentals in my teaching repertoire because it requires students to be engaged with and analytical of the text.

Station Three – Level Three – Text Dependent Questions How the Text Works, What Does the Author Mean, and Synthesis. These questions were the challenge questions for my students. Students who really were looking to grapple with the text and go back and do deep digging within the chapter chose this station. These questions might include:

  1. The beginning of Chapter 7 Scout refers back to what Atticus told her about “climbing into another man’s skin and walk around in it.” This is the second time Atticus’ maxim is repeated in the story — it’s something to note and notice (repetition). What does this metaphor do for us as the reader? What does this metaphor help the reader to understand?
  2. Chapter 7 is a series of vignettes about mysteries Jem and Scout find: The sewn up pants, the gifts in the knot hole, the soap sculptures of the children. What is the author doing here? What is the mood among the children in the beginning of this chapter versus the end? How do we know?

I work with an amazing Math teacher who levels all his math work in the class. Students choose the math work based on their understanding of the math concepts taught in class. The basic work is labeled “Mustard” whereas the next level of work has a bit of a kick with a few challenge  questions is labeled “Wasabi.” For those students who rock the math concepts and want a brain teaser, they select “Naga Jolokia,” — the world’s hottest pepper! I always model his class work when I am differentiating my lessons. Not only does the station work allow for differentiation, it also encourages student choice. Choice and practice get students closer to mastery with key ideas, concepts, and strategies.

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4 thoughts on “Close Reading Practice: Station Work with To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Hillary K says:

    Wow! I love your stations / Amazing Race ideas for TKAM. I’m in my 3rd year teaching this novel and every year find more and more cool things to engage with it! Would you be able/willing to share an example of some of your station work instructions or foldables so I could better figure out how to implement these in my 8th grade room for various chapters? Thank you so much!!

  2. blair gabalis says:

    I recently stumbled across your blog… you are fantastic. I love the gamification approaches you take, while still keeping students extremely responsible for their own learning. I’m curious as to how you implemented the notice and note signposts? I have that book from college, and I know what the signposts are, I guess I just didn’t know if you had students go to specific pages or generally sift through the entirety of the chapters to find them. My students need a lot of “hand holding” when it comes to re-reading for understanding (which is why notice and note is so fantastic!).

    • Thanks for your kind words, Blair. On an 8th grade level I front load all the signposts for my students. When I introduced the nonfiction signposts to my students I brought in nonfiction picture books and had students working in groups to identify the signposts and record on poster paper to present to the large class. I do a lot of modeling in class and will pull out a few passages for students and do a think aloud with the signposts. My students annotate the text or use a bookmark strategy to help them record the key elements in the text. It is gradual release and the more my students read, signposts seem to jump off the pages for them which they then record in their interactive notebooks.

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