Quick Tip Tuesday: Framework for a successful mini-lesson

March 3rd, 2009

In the final chapter of their book, Teaching for Deep Comprehension, Linda Dorn and Carla Soffos focus on mini-lessons. They discuss the drawbacks of standardized, scripted lessons some schools use and some professional development materials provide. Instead, Linda and Carla provide a framework for a successful mini-lesson in this chapter, leaving it up to teachers to provide their own language to engage their students.

The Framework of a Mini-Lesson

The success of a mini-lesson is grounded in the teacher’s knowledge of the reading process as it relates to the students’ ability to apply strategic behaviors for comprehending the author’s message. The purpose of a mini-lesson is to enable students to accomplish a particular goal with assistance from the teacher. The teacher closely observes the group, makes mental notes of students who need extra help, and plans for ways to scaffold these students in small groups or individual conferences

The first step in conducting a reading workshop is to introduce a mini-lesson. The teacher uses books from the classroom library to demonstrate how authors craft their texts to support the reader’s comprehension. Prior to any mini-lesson, the students should have heard the book during read-aloud time; this previous experience with the book will give them a meaningful context for studying the strategy that will be introduced. Teachers should use a variety of texts in mini-lessons so that students can learn how to apply strategies for different types of texts. The teacher gathers all the students in a group and presents a brief and explicit teaching demonstration, usually making use of good literature, literature, which provides the basis for thinking out loud and demonstrating the strategy being taught. Typically, mini-lessons are approximately fifteen minutes long; longer mini-lessons run the risk of degenerating into a focus on items instead of a strategic process for problem solving. A mini-lesson should leave memorable traces in the minds of the students, enabling them to recall the important points of the lesson with ease. The mini-lesson follows a pattern within the workshop format. The workshop begins in a small group with the mini-lesson, proceeds to independent practice, and ends with a time for sharing.

This framework is compatible with a gradual release model, which begins with a high degree of teacher support and ends with a high degree of student independence.

Step 1: Review anchor chart of comprehension strategies.
The workshop mini-lesson begins with a review of comprehension strategies from the anchor chart. As comprehension strategies are introduced and discussed, they are added to the anchor chart. This part of the workshop generally takes two or three minutes.

Step 2: Model the process.
The second step of the mini-lesson is to model the comprehension strategy being introduced. To do this, the teacher uses a think-aloud process with a mentor book—an appropriate text, generally from a previous read-aloud, that will help students notice and apply a particular comprehending behavior. The teacher preselects a particular segment from the mentor text to use as the think-aloud model, then reads the text aloud in class, stopping at three or four strategic points to describe his or her thought processes. At appropriate places, the teacher might solicit brief comments from the class, maintaining the focus on the strategy at all times. This step generally lasts eight to ten minutes.

Step 3: Provide guided practice.
The third step is to have the students apply the strategy with teacher guidance. Without guided practice, students might find the model useless; in any case, it would be quickly forgotten. Guided practice is the step that makes the model meaningful and enables students to see the connection to
their own learning. This step generally takes about ten minutes.

Step 4: Provide independent practice.
Next, the class moves beyond the mini-lesson to independent practice. Students must have opportunities to transfer their knowledge to different problem solving situations; otherwise, they become dependent on a specific context for activating a strategy. Although guided practice and independent practice are complementary processes, they involve different degrees of processing power. During guided practice, students apply a specific strategy with the goal of testing it in context; during independent practice, students must apply the single strategy in concert with other strategies, thus promoting deeper comprehension.

Step 5: Sharing.
The fifth step, sharing, occurs at the end of the reading workshop. Allowing a time for sharing serves two purposes: (1) it gives students a chance to share their comprehending processes with the class, and (2) it allows the teacher to assess the students’ learning. This part of the reading workshop generally lasts about ten minutes.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Reading

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. C. Runge  |  March 4th, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Thanks for posting a bit of this resource. I’m intrigued by the mention of an anchor chart for comprehension strategies–this is not something I’ve seen mentioned in other workshop texts and sounds like a valuable way to help students see the bank of knowledge they are building.

  • 2. RaiulBaztepo  |  March 28th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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