When Professor Lesley Clear, Ph.D., at University of California, Irvine, conducted this style of Directed Reading and Thinking Activities (DRTA) with her class of future TESL teachers, I knew it was a fun activity, but I love to read. The true testament to this activity is that my high school students, who dislike reading and struggle with it, also think this is a fun activity. Not only does it engage them, but also the strategies that are embedded within this one activity (accessing prior knowledge, making/checking predictions, reading with a purpose, chunking a text into manageable sections, and summarizing/questioning) allow the students to access texts that are at their actual grade level, as opposed to their independent or instructional reading levels which may be significantly lower. These strategies are what good readers naturally do, but in DRTA they are explicitly taught.
I encourage you to go to Msyoungsteachingstrategies.weebly.com where you can view a video of DRTA being done in the classroom. As one proponent of DRTA, Martha Haggard claimed in “Developing Critical Thinking with the Directed Reading Thinking Activity,” that it is difficult to explain the type of magic this activity creates in the classroom (1988). The video will provide a sample of the enthusiasm it generates. I was discussing this with a colleague, and it became clear to me why it generates enthusiasm. In real life, do we ever sit down to read an article in the morning paper and then turn to our partners for a list of reading comprehension questions that we answer, in writing, using only complete sentences? And do we submit it to them for a grade? No! DRTA teaches students why we read. It teaches students that reading is an active experience; one in which we share ideas and opinions, and relate the subject matter to our own lives. During reading, maybe we agree, disagree, or have a little debate about the text, but all of this is why we read: to talk about it with each other, to get to know ourselves, our world, and one another a little better.
History of Directed Reading and Thinking Activities
Directed Reading and Thinking Activities were first introduced by Russell G. Stauffer in his 1969 book Directing Reading Maturity as a Cognitive Process. In her 1988 article “Developing Critical Thinking with the Directed Reading Thinking Activity,” Martha Haggard clearly explains how this technique can be used on any text. The version of DRTA that is found in this book is slightly different. First of all, the stories are written and chunked for this activity. This means the sections are manageable, the vocabulary controlled, and the text is chunked so that the predictions pay off. This is important when students are first learning the strategy of making and checking predictions, so they can meet with immediate success. This adapted version of DRTA was taught to me by Professor Lesley Clear, Ph.D., at University of California, Irvine, who built on what she learned from Leslie Adams, a colleague of hers at UCI. For students who have reading disabilities or are learning to read in another language, I recommend using this version first, so that the strategies are clear and the skills will be easier to transfer to regular texts.
How to use this Book
In the classroom, I conduct DRTA approximately once a week. When I do an activity it is always on theme; for instance, if we are reading about folktales in our textbook I might use “The Shepherd Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “The Farmer, his Son, and their Donkey.” If it is Halloween I might use “The Babysitter.” So I never do the activities out of context, and I teach the embedded strategies all year long. If you explicitly teach these skills in conjunction with doing the activities, you can point out to students that it is the strategies themselves that making reading enjoyable. As I mentioned above, the following reading strategies are embedded in this single activity:
• Looking at the title
• Chunking the text
• Accessing Prior Knowledge
• Making and Checking Predictions
• Setting a Purpose/Reading with Purpose
Through an action research study that I conducted in my classroom, I found that for students the most enjoyable part of DRTA was making and checking predictions. This is also fun to do and easy to teach using activities that do not involve reading. Thus, it has become part of our classroom culture to make predictions on a regular basis. For instance, if someone knocks on the door, before we open it we predict who it will be, or if we know who it is, we predict what he or she will say. Additionally, if someone is tardy, we predict how many minutes late he or she will be. The students love this, and it gets them in the habit of being active thinkers instead of passive observers.
Another successful activity that I use to teach these reading strategies is the Reading Strategy Bookmark. Blank bookmarks are sold at teacher stores, or alternatively, card stock can be cut to form bookmarks. We divide the bookmark into three sections: before reading/during reading/after reading. The students have them all year and as we learn the strategies we put them under the appropriate heading. The students know if they get stuck reading, they can always use one of the strategies that is on their bookmarks.
Finally, there is the question generation game, which I also learned from Professor Lesley Clear. In this game, which can serve as a warm-up on a regular basis, the teacher writes answers on the board: “In the garden.” “For twenty years.” “It was Alice.” Students then come up with the questions for these answers. Sometimes we have contests for funniest, scariest, or weirdest. Question generation is a challenging skill, and when students become more accustomed to DRTA, hopefully, they will begin generating their own questions instead of relying on the teacher to do so.
This brings me to my last point about how to use this book. Directed Reading and Thinking Activities are very flexible. While I have included questions in the teacher’s script, please feel free with more advanced students to have them generate questions for each other. Teachers can also pull in other reading strategies and ask students to visualize, tell what a vocabulary word means, make an inference and support it with evidence, or recite a part of the text the way they think a character would say it. The possibilities are endless, and you can easily tailor the activities to fit your lesson objectives.
Audience for this Book
According to the “Fry Readability Graph,” the texts in this book are at the 10th grade level. This was measured using only four textual samples, so it may vary slightly. The vocabulary is relatively controlled, but the reading level is still high because of the multisyllabic words and complex sentences. However, I have had students that are reading at third grade levels successfully and enjoyably access these texts because they are making use of the necessary strategies. I think these are enjoyable for all secondary school students as well as adults who are learning English as a Second Lange or are struggling with reading. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. Thank you!