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18 Power Strategies

to Boost Reading & Writing Achievement on Stadardized Tests


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Skills 1-8 | Skills 9-18

SKILL #9 Assess the strength of author ideas

Introduce facets of argumentative text

To evaluate an author’s ideas, students need to identify his claim and the support provided. Use the table top and legs approach to introduce this to students.

Define types of evidence

Watch a video of Kristina explaining how to analyze an argument.

All evidence is not equal. Introduce different types of evidence.

The expertise of the author ways heavily in the effectiveness of an argument. This is especially true in historical text.

Evaluate the text

Initially, use short argumentative text by an author with a very obvious perspective on the topic. These resources work well:

Often students have to generate a constructed response that goes beyond identifying an author’s claims. They need to evaluate the quality of his argument. I love this skeletal frame by Roz Linder in Chart Sense: Grades 3-8.

SKILL #10 Draw comparisons across multiple texts

When asked to compare texts, students are NOT to write about which one they “like better.” They are to critique relevant components of both texts.

Start with a T-Chart organizer. This allows students to keep specifics for both texts separate, but parallel. Be sure to add a middle column to note the categories of comparison.

Compare 2 similar texts

Compare perspectives

Compare 2 different texts

When the two texts being compared are not the same genre, it’s sometimes harder to know where to start.

  • Compare a historical account v. a fictional account.

  • Compare an informational text to a poem on the same concept.

  • Compare an informational text to a literary nonfiction picture book.

The comparative features are less obvious. However universally these three will apply:

Informational Text


Note those involved, physical characteristics, attitudes and beliefs, motivations and challenges.

Time & Place

Note the time period, the geographic location, the physical environment, the social environment.

Important Events

Note the big ideas, conflicts, problems, actions, discoveries, etc.


Important Events

Note details about the plot (e.g., problems, conflicts, relationships, outcomes, etc.). What is happening and how is it affecting those involved?

Time & Place

Note details about the setting that are authentic to the time period. Note those that strayed from reality.

Important Events

Note details about the plot (e.g., problems, conflicts, relationships, outcomes, etc.). What is happening and how is it affecting those involved?

Compare print text to other medias

When the two texts being compared are not the same media type, it’s sometimes harder to know where to start.

The secret is to critique the different text formats based on their value to the reader. Identify two broad categories of comparison:

  • PROS—What are the reader benefits, pros, perks, or values of this text type?

  • CONS—What are the challenges or shortcomings for the reader when faced with this text type?

Take video notes

When one of the texts to be compared is a video, make sure students watch the clip multiple times, adding to their notes as they observe details.

  • The first view is for gist and overall understanding of the content.
  • The second viewing is to make specific notes on what is observable. (This is quantitative evidence that be referenced in a question response.)
  • Play the video a third time, but this time to look at your note-taking and NOT the screen. Focus on the audio only. Jot literal sounds, noises, music, silence, etc. that are details in this multimodal text. allows students to type time-stamped notes while watching the video on a split screen. This fabulous note-taking tool is available through Google Drive. View these tutorials for how to access it and how it works.

SKILL #11 Anticipate the close-reading framework

The standards are organized in a way that deepens reader understanding of a complex text. This is also the progression of the text-dependent question skills we will see on the assessment.

Introduce the Close-Reading Framework

When facilitating students through a complex text, sequence your questions to deepen their understanding with each reading.

  1. GLASSES: Initially, readers comprehend on a surface level. They read to paraphrase/retell specific details, summarize the important concepts, and determine the main ideas. 
  2. MICROSCOPE: During a closer look, readers zoom in to analyze the text and evaluate author decisions about word choice, organization, and purpose.
  3. TELESCOPE: With a deeper comprehension of the text, readers zoom out and integrate new understanding from the text with other texts and bigger ideas.

Consider a question makeover

Purchase a Close-Reading Questions set that includes both literature and informational text (also sold separately: Informational Text / Literature). 

Download a Question Matrix planner (PDF).

SKILL #12 Decode the question/prompt

This article, published by The Text Matters Project, includes research about students’ habits when taking open-ended assessments. In addition to the common mistakes students make, it also offers numerous strategies to support them in preparing for these high-stakes exams.

Utilize Ralph Fletcher’s R.U.P.R. strategy

READ the entire prompt.

  • Which sentences are simply context building?
  • What is the task-based sentence?

UNDERLINE key words.

  • What smaller ingredients or tasks must be in the response?
  • What is the purpose?
  • Is an audience identified?
  • What is the specific topic?
  • Is a format or genre required?

PRE-WRITE your written response.

  • Students can utilize blank paper/scratch paper for taking notes and/or pre-writing their responses.
  • Be explicit about the audience students are writing to. They need to know YOU are not scoring their assessments. Someone they do not know will read and score them. This is the concept of the mysterious Test Lady™.  Students might even draw portraits of what they think the Test Lady™ looks like.

REREAD the prompt once more.

  • Do you understand the task?
  • Have you planned all the required facets?
  • Did you find some wording from the prompt to use in your introduction?

Troubleshoot academic vocabulary

  1. Identify words/phrases your students would not recognize.
  2. Provide explicit instruction on a few terms at a time by comparing the complex term to simpler synonyms.
  3. Shift your teacher talk to utilize this academic vocabulary regularly.

Access an editable PowerPoint template to type in the key terms and simple definitions your students need.

Watch a short video of Kristina explaining the importance of academic vocabulary in decoding questions/prompts.

SKILLS #13-15 Respond to complex writing tasks

Modify frames

Here are common extended-response/writing prompt frames. Print each one and then modify them to fit the text(s) your students read closely.

Study the scoring rubrics

Smarter Balanced Performance Task

4-Point Writing Rubric

2-Point Conventions Rubric

New SAT Essay

The 2016 ISTEP+ and English 10 ECAs will include three sessions in PART 1 (open-ended/applied skills portion). Page 3 of this downloadable document identifies the minutes per session per grade level. However, the last set of bullets on page 1 is important to read carefully!

  • Session 1 is taken on one day (read/answer questions in 35 minutes).

  • Session 2 is taken on another day—and includes reading passage(s) and answering a couple multiple choice questions in 25 minutes.

  • Session 3 is taken the same day as Session 2 (after a short break)—and includes 55-60 minutes to write a long prompt-response based on the same text(s) read in session 2.

Organize “research”

To generate strong responses in limited time, students need to have a method to efficiently read and collect the needed information in order to write a persuasive/argumentative response.

Utilize a pre-write

Organizing the research is different than actually planning out the response. Now that students have accumulated the reading and research process, they need to determine the order to present it in.

  • If the task generates an informative response, then a traditional graphic organizer is appropriate (e.g., web, outline, timeline, T-Chart, etc.).

  • If the task generates a persuasive or argumentative response, then the students need a different strategy to organize their thoughts—Persuasive pre-write (1 sided), Argumentative pre-write (2 sided).

Access more resources

For more information and resources about persuasive and argumentative writing, check out these Idea Library articles.

SKILL #16 Understand evidence v. details

Notice details, then make an inference

  • SAY/MEAN TEMPLATE: Students infer what text MEANS—What is the answer? But they must root it in what the text SAYS—How do you know?

  • EVIDENCE CHEAT SHEET: Require students to support each answer/inference with text-based evidence. Use one of these 10 ways to ask How do you know?

Integrate evidence-based responses regularly

Before asking students to independently cite evidence for inferences from complex texts—start with smaller steps and simpler texts.

  • CUSTOMIZE AN EVIDENCE SORT: Provide students a statement/question and several sentences from the text(s). Students sort “evidence” statements from “just details” (editable Word version).

  • CHARACTER REPORT CARD: Determine relevant categories/subjects to assess a character (e.g., loyalty, leadership, wisdom, etc.). Assign a letter grade for each category and then provide textual evidence for each.

  • APPLES TO APPLES—Big Picture version: The students “read” or study the same 3-5 images and infer which one photo best represents the key word based on visual evidence in the pictures.

SKILL #17 Explain evidence thoroughly

Formulate strong constructed responses.

Restate the question and provide a general answer

  • Help students learn how to restate the question using words from the original prompt. Writing words on the Scrabble tiles, students can move them around physically to reword the original prompt.

    • The PDF version needs to be printed, laminated, and cut into separate tiles. Students use write-on/wipe-off markers during a small-group or station time.

    • The Notebook version would be a great all-class lesson tool.

Collect evidence

Bring it all together

Develop longer, extended responses

SKILL #18 Weave in specific citation

Regardless of what state you teach in, all our students are held to the standard of college and career-ready expectations. That said, here are several resources that offer practice tests, passages, and answer keys for grades 3-12.