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Using the Efficient “Take a Stand” Strategy to Hook Kids into a Reading

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Sabastian takes a stand

Let me just start out with this: Erica Beaton (of b10lovesbooks.wordpress.com/#seekthebalance/my next door teacher neighbor fame) introduced me to this strategy (her version is much more sophisticated — see her explanation in the comments), and I’ve also seen something like it accredited to George Hillocks in Michael Smith’s, Deborah Appleman’s, and Jeffrey Wilhelm’s book UnCommon Core (which I’m loving so far, by the way). I love this strategy because it’s quick, effective, and contains a dash of sass: just the way I like ’em.

Here’s something this past school year taught me: so much of our job as teachers comes from motivating students to do the work. (<– Click here to tweet that.) Just as a badminton player (see how inclusive I am in my analogies?) cannot get better at hitting the shuttlecock without actually hitting the shuttlecock, so also a reader cannot get better at reading without actually reading.

(Also, this is a shuttlecock.)

(Also, this is a shuttlecock. I encourage using #hittheshuttlecock on Twitter whenever you’re advocating for focused literacy instruction. You and me will be the only ones who know what you’re talking about, but it will be funny to us.)

This is why I agree with those who advocate for a choice-heavy approach to literacy if we cannot get a firm majority of students grappling with whole-class complex texts. But the most critical word in the preceding sentence is if — if we can get all students reading the whole-class complex texts we give them, then I’d say let me earn my money teaching all of my kids, from the lowest to the highest reader, to grapple with grade-appropriate complex texts.

(Note: In my ELA classes, students and I booktalk and choice read daily in pursuit of developing a recreational reading life — I cannot imagine being anti-choice reading.)

Getting kids to actually read complex texts depends on many things, and one of those is hooking well, and Take a Stand is one way to do that

Whether giving kids an article of the week (Kelly Gallagher‘s idea, by the way) or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, I’m a fool if I think even a fraction of my kids will read them — I mean really, heartfully, thoughtfully, mindfully, fully read them — apart from me hooking them in. There are lots of ways to hook kids into a text — discussions, debates, quickwrites, other texts, video clips, building on a previous day’s tangential teachable moment — but the one I’m going to focus on now is what I call Take a Stand.

Here’s how it works:

  • When previewing a text before a lesson, I try to find a debatable claim the text makes or at least a debatable theme it touches upon, and then I turn this claim or theme into a debatable statement (much like the Reading for Meaning strategy). For example, when kids read excerpts of Coyle’s “How to Grow a Super-Athlete” at the start of the year, I might make the statement “Becoming a world-famous athlete depends more on the genes you’re born with than practice” or even simpler, “Anyone can become a world-famous athlete if they practice hard and long enough.”
  • Then, before giving the kids the text, I explain the rules of Take a Stand:
    • “In a minute, I’ll make a debatable statement:
      • If you agree with the statement, stand up.
      • If you strongly agree with the statement, stand on your chair (ahem, I said chair, not desk, Johnny).
      • If you disagree with the statement, stay seated.
      • And if you strongly disagree with the statement, sit, crouch, or kneel on the floor.”
    • I then make the statement and tell kids to show their position.
    • I then randomly call on kids or ask for volunteers to explain their stand in three sentences or less. Remember: the point of this activity is hooking kids into a text — I want to be as efficient as possible in achieving that end.
    • After I’ve gotten a few responses from across the spectrum, I have them sit down.
  • “Now, in this text/article/poem, the author takes a stand on the claim you just made. Can you find it? Whenever you think he’s touching on the statement we just discussed, annotate to point out what he’s saying.”

That’s it

I like using Take a Stand for a few reasons:

  • it’s effective at hooking kids into the argument touched upon by the text (and I embrace arguments in my classroom for at least eight reasons);
  • it’s efficient, leaving plenty of time for the actual reading I want my kids to do (remember: they’ve got to hit the shuttlecock)
  • it’s inclusive and fun, helping kids see that the name of the game in academia — argument — includes each of them and is naturally engaging.

Have you used this strategy or a variant of it in your classroom? Do you know where the heck this strategy originated? Talk back in the comments 🙂

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22 Responses to Using the Efficient “Take a Stand” Strategy to Hook Kids into a Reading

  1. Ann June 20, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    This is such an effective way to engage kids in text. It even works with third graders, although I don’t have them stand on chairs. 🙂 What I especially like about it is that it is effective across multiple days and is completely student-led. I absolutely love leaving this kind of thinking “hanging in the air” and not coming to an immediate conclusion about your claim’s validity. Teaching kids to let thinking incubate while searching for evidence is so powerful.

    • davestuartjr June 21, 2014 at 8:03 am #

      Amen, Ann! That is some awesome commenting, my friend!

  2. Erica Beaton June 20, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Dave,
    Great post! Strange to say, but I may be your original source. I use a “human bar graph” of chair standers and floor sitters when we start with an Anticipation Guide. Normally, I present multiple (like 5-10) arguable claims. After we visually “graph” our results, they write an argument defending their stand (or sit/squat) and discuss why the results may align or not with their beliefs. Then after reading the novel (or midway), we reassess and regraph.

    • davestuartjr June 21, 2014 at 8:03 am #

      E, you are totally right! I probably first did this strategy when I was using your To Kill a Mockingbird units when I first started at Cedar. “Defend your squat” — love it.

    • Jeff Mercer June 23, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

      Erica, I admire your idea of having your kids defend their position in writing, and later re-check their position. I am wondering how you get them to perform the visual “human bar graph” Would you please clarify for me how this is demonstrated?

      • Erica Beaton June 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

        Thanks, Jeff! The “visual bar graph” is the strategy that Dave is talking about in this post, having the kids lay on the floor (strongly disagree), sit in a chair (disagree), stand next to her desk (agree), and stand on his desk (strongly agree). It’s basically a kinesthetic alternative to using PollEverywhere.com.

        • Jeff Mercer June 23, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

          Aaah! Thank you. I missed the posturing the first time, but your clarification has definitely helped! Thank you!

  3. Lee Batjiaka June 20, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

    I love this concept, but am having difficulty finding appropriate debatable articles for 8th grade students. Anyone have suggested sources?

    • davestuartjr June 21, 2014 at 8:00 am #

      Hi Lee,
      I’d recommend ReadWorks.org or NewsELA.com — both of which I’ll be writing more about next Monday.

      • Lee Batjiaka June 21, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

        I use both of those (especially loved newsela before they started charging for the pro version) but never thought of having debates with them. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Mary Lou June 29, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    I love this and can’t wait to use it. I also like to use the 1 min debate that I learned from AP training. Give a debatable claim and then divide students into groups of threes. Pick one to argue for the claim and one to argue against the claim and one to judge/give feedback. They get 1 min to argue for their side. They love it. You can rotate out the for and against people around the room to keep the arguments going.

    • davestuartjr June 30, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

      Mary Lour, I’m intrigued by this 1 min debate — it gets a lot more kids speaking/listening/arguing than the “pop-up debate” I use in my room.

    • Holly Brumley September 5, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

      I know this is an old post, but Mary Lou – can you give me more information about the “judge/give feedback” group please?

  5. Kyle Fedderly September 5, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    Wow, Dave, your posts are a collaborative goldmine. Thank you – and all who participate. I am working my students through Burke and Gilmore’s “Academic Moves” in my junior/senior Modern American Literature classes, and in the spirit of the NFO framework, I am starting the year with argument. EVERYTHING in this post resonates with me, and is encouraging and challenging me in all the right ways: I’m so excited to use the 1-minute Argument routine in preparation for our first debate. Thank you, Mary Lou! It sounds similar to the Total Physical Response I have been using from Kevin Yee’s “Interactive Techniques,” but in a more lively, versatile, and interactive framework. We just moved to 90-minute blocks last year, and my colleagues and I are all looking for ways to incorporate more movement into our lessons so our kids don’t go (literally) numb.This is definitely a tool I will be using – tomorrow!

    • davestuartjr September 5, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

      Kyle, it’s so great to hear from you. Do me a favor and bring me out to absolutely-gorgeous-Montana someday. 🙂 I seriously do appreciate your comment and hope to hear from you more here on the blog. Thank you, Kyle — best of luck with those 90 minute blocks!

  6. Liesl November 30, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

    Totally off-task question: Dave, what kind of shelves do you use in your classroom? My shelves can’t stack higher than eye-level and I’m running out of room! Thank you!

    • davestuartjr November 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

      Liesl, great question — they are old dvd shelves from Blockbusters. Back when those stores were going out of business, a lot of them were selling shelves very cheap. Keep on eye on stores like that or bookstores.

  7. midwesternheartindixie July 9, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

    I want to come teach you and Erica!

  8. Sandy July 30, 2016 at 1:36 pm #

    Excellent, excellent work, Dave!

  9. Carolyn January 14, 2017 at 8:40 pm #

    Hi Dave, I’ve been following your posts for about a year. I’ve used pop-up debates successfully and love the idea of students using the four physical positions to indicate their stance on a debatable claim. I am reticent to have the kids stand on chairs. I’m thinking that those who strongly agree can raise their hands over their heads. I can’t wait to try the strategy as a hook. I could not agree more that finding a manageable number of tried, true, and effective strategies beats moving from one to another. I’ve been there…..exhausting and fruitless!! Your posts and the feedback from others have been helpful to me. Thanks!

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