What's in the Sky?

Exploring Space

Using Topics of Interest to Engage Readers and Writers

Interest, choice, and community are three factors for intrinsic motivation. Use this plan for any topic to get your students to build background knowledge, use reading skills and strategies and write to communicate their ideas and conclusions. Be sure to determine specific learning goals and targets using grade level standards.

Prereading Activities:

Quick writes: Pose a question that will activate prior knowledge. Examples:

1. Have you ever wished upon a star? What is a star? What is a falling star? What do you think you know? What are you wondering?

For one minute, write as much as you can, as fast as you can, as good as you can.

2. What is an eclipse? What happens? When does an eclipse happen? How does it affect the Earth? What are you wondering about an eclipse? What do you think you know? What are you wondering?

For one minute, write as much as you can, as fast as you can, as good as you can.

Reading Activities:

Provide students with 3-5 articles and videos about the topic.

Students choose which articles and/or videos to read or view independently.

During reading, they look to confirm their prior knowledge, take notes about new ideas or facts, and continue to think of questions (wonderings). They can do this on sticky notes or in a reading notebook. If needed, provide scaffolds for accessing the information in the text or video. This can be a recording of the text or an advanced organizer to help the S focus on key ideas and details. Students are focused on extracting information.

After reading, students to think about the information they have mined from the text or videos.

What misconceptions have they identified (look at the quick write)?

What new information have they identified?

To get students beyond extracting the information, ask them to think about what they want to discuss with others during discussion groups.

What did you learn?

What is the author's viewpoint of the topic? Do you agree with this viewpoint?

How did the author feel about the topic? How do you know? What did the author do to communicate their feelings? (Use specific words, tone, repetition, etc)

What was the author's message about the topic?

Did the author leave any important details out of the article or video?

Why would an author leave important details out of the article or video?

What information will you use? How will you use this information?

Why is this important to know?

How does this information change you? What will you do differently?

What is your opinion of the topic? Do you agree with the author?

Have students meet in communities of learning teams to discuss the information. Teams should be three to six students who have explored the same topic. They did not necessarily read or view the same texts or videos.

These communities need to be student-led. Give them two rules: everyone shares there thinking and everyone listens to each other.

The first meeting should focus on building expertise on the topic.

If needed, provide example questions or stems for thinking to get the group going.

The second meeting should focus on the learning team created a product or performance related to the topic. Give the team a task to complete that goes beyond reporting the information that was extracted from the readings or video. The task should involve sharing their new learnings and misconceptions with an audience.


Create a public a product or performance. What does your team think about the topic? What is the purpose of the product or performance? What conclusions, warnings, or awareness do they want to communicate with others?

Why do they think this topic is important to share with others? What reasons will they provide the audience? What evidence will they use to support these ideas?

Be sure the team gets to share their product or performance with the intended audience.

Also, make sure they get feedback related to the intended purpose and the audience's response. Give teams time to revise as they get feedback.

Using topics of Interest, giving choices, and working in a learning community help students dive into deep learning. As a result, they use skills and strategies in real world application. The 21st century learner must be able to plan, organize, and communicate ideas. Give it a try and see if students aren't begging to continue to explore topics and ideas. Curiosity is the strongest motivator of all.

Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction Texts

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Read and Analyze Nonfiction Texts Chart

Falling Stars

The Solar Eclipse