Reading for Knowledge: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
The entire goal of learning to read is to read for knowledge. If a student can accurately call words when necessary for assessment but has never learned to comprehend the text, reading speed and accuracy is moot. That student will have no interest in reading. Some students must be taught strategies for comprehension during reading. While many strategies exist, Pressley found that teaching the strategies thoroughly and singularly is the most effective method of introducing comprehension strategies. In this on-going lesson students will learn to visualize a narrative text with unfamiliar settings and creatures. To scaffold their visualization they will periodically be required to draw a picture, describe their image orally, or write a short blurb about the images in their heads
Class copies of The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, paper to cover books, several copies of printer paper for every child in the class, colored pencils, crayons, markers, etc.
1. Before class conceal every book cover with paper to hide images. Say: "Students, today we are going to learn to visualize our books as we read them. It is important to visualize because that helps us to know what is going on in the story. Visualizing is like watching a movie in your head. If you walk away from the movie then you have stopped seeing the visual and you will be lost. Well, if we stop visualizing in our head because we get distracted we will also be lost. It is important to practice visualizing the story so we will be really good at it. We are going to read a story called The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. This story was written by Julie Edwards. This book starts on Halloween with three siblings, Lindy, Ben, and Tom. Lindy's brothers dared her to knock on the door of the spookiest house in the neighborhood. When she does, the professor opens the door and isn't scary at all. As a matter of fact, the children make friends with the professor and begin to learn some very interesting things from him. He tells the children about creatures that use to be imaginary but now only exist in a magical land called Whangdoodleland. You can only access Whangdoodleland with your imagination. The children beg the professor to take them to Whangdoodle land to meet the last Whangdoodle left. He eventually agrees and promises to teach the children concentration and observation. Do you think the children will ever make it to Whangdoodleland? Do you think they will meet the Whangdoodle? Do you think the other creatures want the children in Whangdoodle land? Do you think those creatures will welcome the children? We will have to read together to find out!"
2. What is the first thing you notice about my copy of this story? Yes! My book is covered with paper. Your copies are as well. It is covered up because the cover has an illustration on it of how the illustrator imagined Whangdoodleland to look like. This is not necessarily what you are going to think it looks like and that is wonderful. It is wonderful that we will all have different ideas about what these characters and settings look like. Please, please do not cheat and peak at the cover. Please do not go to the library and find another copy of this book and peak at the cover. When we are through with the book and all the activities you can look at the illustrator's idea of Whangdoodle land. But I really want you to learn to visualize your stories and make your own images in your mind.
3. This new book has some really great vocabulary in it. You have to know what some of these words mean to know what they mean when you read them! The power word in chapter one is venture. Let's look at what venture means. Venture means to wander. It also means to go on an adventure. Did you hear the word "venture" in "adventure?" that is a good hint for you to remember it! Venture is a verb while adventure is a noun. Would I be venturing if I went to the grocery store? Not really, because I've been there before and it isn't going to be an adventure. What if I went to the beach for the first time? Would I be venturing then? Yes! Would I be going on a venture if I went to my grandmother's house or to my friend's crazy aunt's house? Would you venture to the park that you go to all the time or to Disney World? I am going to use venture in a sentence. "The little girl ventured out across the woods to go to her friend's house." Can you think of another sentence that might use "venture?" The teacher should give feedback about each sentence on spot in a constructive way. "Ok! Does that word make sense? As we read our story if we come to the word we are going to point it out to each other. If you are reading alone and you see a word you think should be a vocabulary word I want you to jot it down and turn it in so we can talk about it too!"
4. Let's practice visualizing! When I say I am visualizing a story, what do I mean? (Various answers acceptable) I mean I am reading a book but in my head I am watching the book just like I would be watching a movie! I have pictures in my head to go along with what I am reading. I am going to read the first sentence from the book to you. Please open your own copy and read along with me. When I read this sentence, I want you to visualize it in your head. "It was a crisp, sunny October afternoon and Benjamin, Thomas, and Melinda Potter were visiting the Bramblewood Zoo." Mmm, what beautiful imagery! I can just imagine the leaves turning the beautiful colors we see in fall. I bet there is a cool, refreshing October breeze. I imagine the zoo has decorated for the fall so there are pumpkins and hay everywhere. The animals are being lazy and taking naps because the whole zoo is at peace. This is what I see in my head when I read that sentence! Everybody close your eyes and I am going to read it again and I want you to imagine the first sentence in your head. (Teacher re-reads sentence and pauses for a silent moment.) Who wants to raise their hand and tell me what you visualized in your head from the first sentence in our book? (Various answers, all accepted with praise and gratitude).
5. As the teacher comes to a vocabulary word in the text she will pause and make a big deal out of the word. She will have the students remind her what it means and review the word in context of the book.
6. We are going to continue to read this book for the rest of this week. Every once in awhile I am going to have you express to me what you are visualizing in your head as we read our book. I might have you draw a picture. I might have you write a short paragraph using our descriptive words to tell me what you are seeing in your head. I might have you come tell me in private what you are imagining. I want you to tell me in private because I don't want you to necessarily influence your peers with your own images while they are working so hard to form their own. We are going to continue reading chapter one today, and at the end of the chapter your homework will be to draw a picture of what you visualized in the first chapter.
7. The teacher will continue to guide reading through the book as her own pace. She will have the students read the book in a variety of acceptable ways, calling on volunteers to read passages, have students read to a certain point silently, have students listen to the teacher as they read along, have students partner read with one another, etc. Do not have children round robin read the text. At the end of pivotal points in the story have the students document their visualization. Pivotal points would include the end of chapter 1 for practice and setting the scene, when the characters meet the professor, when the characters make it to Whangdoodleland, when the characters return to Whangdoodleland, when the characters meet several of the various creatures, when the characters meet the Whangdoodle, when the professor makes it to Whangdoodleland with the children, and any other scene the teacher deems necessary. The students can document their visualization in a variety of ways, including drawing pictures, writing paragraphs, discussing it with a teacher or peers, and any other appropriate way the teacher desires.
8. At the end of the book, encourage the children to not peak at the cover because the images in their heads will be so much richer than the cover. Tell the children that it would be like seeing a movie after reading a book, no matter what the movie is different that what you imagined and it kind of ruins it for you. Conclude the book with having the children pick the best documentation of visualization they acquired through the course of the book to be hung in the hallway. Some students may pick a picture and some may pick their writing. Have the children share this with their neighbors and explain why they picked that assignment over the other assignments. Encourage the students to compare their imaginations with their neighbor's imaginations.
9. The class should review the vocabulary at the end of the book and then to assess vocabulary learned during the book the teacher will administer a vocabulary test or quiz.
Edwards, Julie. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles,. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
Pressley, Michael, Carla J. Johnson, Sonya Symons, Jacqueline A. McGoldrick, and Janice A. Kurita. "Stratagies That Improve Children's Memory and Comprehension of Text." The Elementary School Journal 90.1 (1989): 3-32.
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