How to Improve Reading With Cross-Lateral Activities

There are several studies that have surfaced making connections between reading comprehension or reading fluency and movement.  In addition, there is research that makes connections between cross-lateral movement and academic achievement.  In the attached link, several cross-lateral movements are included.  Cross-lateral movements are easy to do and take little time to complete, so for those who are concerned about time in the classroom and fear that movement activities might detract, these exercises may be appealing.


Testing and Moving


The testing moment is upon us…..

Or perhaps the testing beast….

Or testing nightmare….

Testing delight???

OK.  That might be pushing the envelope a bit much.  In a little over a month, students in Washington will be taking the much anticipated state test in reading, writing, math, and science.  It is at this moment that anxiety starts to set in for teachers and students.  As an English teacher for 7th and 8th grade students, my brain starts to overload as I think about three tests (two in writing and one in reading).  This is the testing season where I attempt to review, reteach, review, reteach, review,……. Some would argue that this is teaching to the test, which is probable accurate to some degree.  I also think it is emphasize skills students need to have in reading and writing.  I just wish the demands and repercussions of the test were not so high or stressful.

I believe, during this testing season, it is critical  to get students up and moving.  It helps to calm the anxiety of both teachers and students. It can help break up monotony as well as re-energize students as they make mind-body connections to the content being studied.

It may sound silly, but little moments of physical activity can create a surge in success for students.  One of the teachers in my building created a thesis statement dance, so we have decided to create an entire essay dance.  Students roll their eyes during it, but they have fun and they are constantly reviewing it physically and mentally as we prepare them for the essays they have to write.  Will this actually help them on the test?  We won’t know for sure.  We only wait several months before the testing results are relinquished from the realms of the state.  Until then, I believe that during this testing season, it is possible to experience positive stress, have fun, teach with high expectations and standards, and be human!

Stickies and Close Reading


I have read, had, listened to, and led various discussions regarding the process of close reading.  In fact, I’m going to lead a session tomorrow morning on the topic.  To some, close reading can be tedious to teach and have students experience; however, I find it fascinating to watch students go through the process.  When a short text of a paragraph or two, limited to one page, is selected, the effort students put forth to analyze the text can really illustrate the power of words.  With that said, I sometimes get a groan from my students when I announce, quite excitedly, that we are going to engage in a close reading of a text.  So, with my practice of adding movement to my classroom, I have developed several ways to “jazz up” the close read experience by having students get up out of their seats during the process of close reading.  I am including one of the activities I will be highlighting during my training tomorrow. It is a fairly simple activity that students love because they get to analyze the text in more than one way visually in groups and as a whole class.  Plus, the process allows me to listen to the discussions students have to get a better understanding of how various students are understanding more complex texts.

 Close Read Sort and Stick

Each student receives a short stack of sticky notes.  Individually, students read the  selected close read text.  While students are reading, they write key words or  phrases from the text on the sticky notes provided.  When each student has  finished the reading task, students share their answers in groups of four.  Poster papers with four categories are placed around the room:  tone, inferences, figurative language, and theme (relationship to characters, setting, and plot).  Groups discuss the sticky notes written by each member and determine the category for each word.  The sticky notes are then placed on the large posters.  After each group sorts the words, the class discusses the placement of the words and reposition words if needed.

Motivating Readers by Reading Through Movement


Middle school readers are challenging to motivate.  Those that love to read enjoy reading books in class and diving into rich classroom discussions enthusiastically.  Those that struggle, or claim not to enjoy reading, sit in a fog of denial, selflessness, and bleak daydreams.  This might be a bit extreme, but there seems to be two types of students in the Language Arts classroom:  readers and nonreaders.  Bridging the gap between these two by the time students reach middle school is a demanding process, but it is also a worthwhile process.  When I glance at the students in my classes, I see the dread in the eyes of the reluctant readers when I divulge we are going to be reading a new text.  Perhaps the wall students build to fortify their stance against reading is due to the fear of having to sit for long periods of time; the social embarrassment they face if they fail to understand concepts, words, or plot; or the belief that if they haven’t enjoyed reading by middle school, they will never enjoy it.

Doom.  Do we, as educators, accept that reluctant and struggling readers  will remain in this temperament? I believe we have to do whatever is in our power to help inspire and prepare our students to read.  There are several ways to address these types of readers, but I would like to suggest that breaking up the monotony of “seated” reading can help motivate students due to an active versus a passive environment.

As I have been preparing for the Association for Middle Level Educators Conference in Minneapolis this week, I have selected several activities to help energize and motivate reading activities within the classroom.  I will be presenting a workshop titled, Reading Through Movement.  One of the activities I will showcase is a simple activity involving predetermined partners students need to find at various points in the reading process.  The process was originally presented in a workshop I attended led by Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute:


This activity can be used as a Before, During or After Reading Strategy.  It can be used as a Before Reading Strategy to activate prior knowledge, as a During Reading Strategy to check for understanding, and it can be used as After Reading Strategy to summarize a text.

One way to use this is to have students find 12, 3, 6, and 9 partners and write them down on the clock template. At various points, the teacher can tell students to find a specific partner to discuss a question or recall various pieces of the plot of the story.  For example, a teacher may instruct that each student needs to find his or her “12” partner to answer a question regarding the conflict presented in the exposition of a short story. This strategy can be used for multiple questions during the reading of a text allowing students to move several times to find one of their partners (question #1 might be answered with the “12” partner, question #2 with the “6” partner, etc).  Students can keep these same partners throughout the duration of the unit or they can change at the introduction of a new lesson.


There are several moments during the reading process that teachers either ask students questions, or they have students discuss in partners or small groups.  This activity allows student to not only answer questions or discuss with their peers, but also to get up and move!

Forming Links with Vocabulary


I am presenting a workshop at the KDP International Honor Society in Education’s Convocation this week.  The title of the session is Vocabulary Building Strategies and the Common Core.  Multiple Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy focus on vocabulary building, specifically:

Reading:  Craft and Structure
CCSS Anchor Standard 4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Language:  Vocabulary Acquisition and Use
CCSS Anchor Standard 4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
CCSS Anchor Standard 5: Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
Marzano discusses six steps to teaching vocabulary:
•Step One:  Provide a description, explanation, or example of new term.
•Step Two:  Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
•Step Three:  Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the term.
•Step Four:  Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their notebooks.
•Step Five:  Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
•Step Six:  Involve students periodically in games or activities that allow them to play with the terms.
One of the activities that I will share in the workshop focuses primarily on steps four-six. Students, in groups of 4,  are asked to choose one word from a list of words given to them.  After choosing the word of their choice, students go to the  visuwords website,, and enter the word.  visuwords-screenshot
Students spend some time in their groups discussing the diagram they have created.  Next, students recreate the diagram, or a portion of the diagram, and physically illustrate the diagram for the class. This could be through actions, with posters, or any other means they choose to present the information to the class. The key is they are up, physically active, and engaged in the discussion of the selected word.

WEC and Close Reading


I am finalizing my presentation for the Washington Educators’ Conference.  This year I will be presenting during the fourth concurrent session:  Literacy-Rich Vocabulary.  I think there was a bit of a mistake with the title as I will be presenting about close reading and the Common Core.  I think they used last year’s title, or something similar, but I am looking forward to presenting.

I will be previewing various aspects of close reading and strategies to use in the classroom.  I thought I would share one of the activities I will be talking about below.  I title the activity:  Piecing the Close Read Puzzle Together

A shorter text, no larger than a paragraph or two, is needed for this activity.  The text is enlarged so each individual sentence can be cut creating puzzle strips.  For longer sentences, sentences can be split into two.  Students receive an envelope of paper strips and told to put the text in order.  Once the text has been put in order, students read the text in their table groups.  Students identify a sentence that highlights the overall tone or mood of the text or provides a strong inference.  Each group brings the highlighted sentence and places it on a larger piece of paper at the front of the room.  Groups could also cut a single word or phrase from the sentence and bring it to the front of the room.  Students participate in a whole-class discussion focusing on similarities and why groups chose the highlighted pieces of text as important slices of the overall text.

One of the points of the activity is to provide students with the sense of discovery along with a focus on the author’s language.  Students are actively involved and activities like this one break up the monotony of the basic close read activity being performed over and over again.

Counterclockwise Close Reading with Colors

A young man looking through a magnifying glass

There has been quite a buzz recently around the practice of close reading.  Teachers and educational gurus have mixed thoughts about the how close reading should be taught when implementing the Common Core State Standards.  Some teachers are really excited about the practice and the possibility of moving students toward a deeper discussion and analysis of the text.  Others are afraid of ruining a true and organic reading experience for students.  I can see the pros and cons of both arguments and I have not taken a position either way.  I do know, as an English teacher, that I instruct my students about close reading, its role within the Common Core State Standards, and the effectiveness it can have on analysis.

I have developed an activity that can be used to teach components of close reading.  I use color-specific highlighters when teaching reading strategies.  One of the colors I use is blue to represent what I call the blueprint of reading a text.  My students know this as the purpose behind reading a selected text.  For this example, let’s assume the purpose of reading the text of this activity is to identify words the author uses to create a sense of suspense.  In this activity, students sit in groups of four, so in an average class, a total of eight table groups would exist.  Each group receives a section of text.  The text would need to be  enlarged so that each person could easily read the text when it is placed in the center of the table group.  One student reads the text aloud to his or her group (depending on the length of the text, more than one student could share this role).  Once the text has been read, students talk about words, or phrases, in the text that indicate the author’s use of suspense.  Student decide on one word or phrase within the text where the strongest of use of suspense occurs, and they highlight the word or phrase with blue.  After a determined amount of time, students rotate counterclockwise to the next table group, read the new section of the text, and decide on the best use of suspense.  If the word or phrase they want to highlight is already highlighted, they mark the word or phrase  with a number one and highlight a second choice and mark it with a number two.  Students rotate from group to group until they have read all eight sections of the text.

After reading all sections of the text, students discuss in their groups common words, phrases, and stylistic choices the author uses to create a sense of suspense.  Students then discuss and choose the most powerful example to share with the entire class.   This can turn into a larger Socratic Seminar, a written analysis, or the activity can end with a Close Reading Tableau (see earlier Vocabulary Tableau post) of the most powerful words or phrases identified.

The text used in this activity needs to be short and a text worthy of a close read.  This activity allows students to move, creates interest, and engages students in higher-level discussion.