Citing Text Evidence in 6 Steps

Knowing the answer is one thing...but being able to justify your thinking by citing text is an entirely different type of skill. Taking the text and combing through it, like an old man at the beach with a metal detector, determined to find some treasures, not only takes strong reading comprehension skills, but also takes some perseverance, to find what we're looking for.

Here are the six steps I use in my classroom, to teach this important reading skill:

1. Teach the Specific Steps to Cite Text Evidence
No secrets here...I'm a firm believer in teaching kids explicitly how to do the skills we want them to have, whether it's reading or math or any other subject. Often times, I like to make my thinking public, so that my modeling will give the kids an idea of what they can do to reach a particular learning goal. Mentor texts are a great tool to use here and can be read in one sitting, using lots of examples.

About the steps...To cite text evidence, we talk about how we need to read the whole text first (duh, but some kids might just try to skip this part and just try to answer the questions). Then, we read the question and think about how we might answer it. Once we figure out our answer, we go back to the text and search for specific parts of the text, that will help us justify our answer. We make sure to take some time to discuss what it means to justify something and the kids enjoy this part a lot. For example, justify why you should have recess... Justify why you should be able to have a cell phone... Justify why you should be able to have a sleepover... Like little lawyers in the making!

2. Explain How to Cite Evidence
I like using anchor charts so much and this one really comes in handy to teach kids how to cite evidence by using the author's exact words, using quotation marks, and telling where you found it (On page 7..., or In the second paragraph...). We also spend some time working on using commas and quotation marks properly, which is a skill that goes hand in hand with this reading strategy.

Next, I teach the kids a few specific sentence starters, which work really well when citing text evidence. After we've used them for while, these come so naturally to the kids, that they have the set memorized without even referring to the chart.
3. Use Color Coding
Another early-on activity I have found to be useful is a whole class activity, which lets us practice/model this skill together. To get ready for this activity, I copy an interesting passage and then have the kids color code specific parts of the text that answer different questions. I actually do this verbally and write the questions on the smart board as we go. For whole group activities, I've found that if all the questions are all written down, you know the speed demon worker bee is going to do the whole page before we get to the second question! So, here's how I do this activity...I might say, do you think so and so showed responsibility in this passage? Highlight the specific part(s) of the passage that support your answer (use yellow). For the next question, we might highlight in green, or underline in purple. I plan ahead so the kids have lots of opportunities to practice finding different parts of the text, without color coding on top of another answer. 

4. Use Task Cards
Ok...I admit it, I can't get enough of task cards, and they're a great tool to use to help kids practice citing text evidence. Task cards give kids a lot of concentrated practice in a short period of time. Plus, the format is such, that they don't feel overwhelmed. When we do task cards for text evidence, I like to match the kids up in partners and they go around the room, recording their answers on a record sheet. Besides doing a Scoot/Scavenger type activity with the cards though, they could be used in small groups, for centers, photocopied and put into a reading notebook, or used to play a number of fun games (See my blog post called 16 Ways to Use Task Cards for more ideas).

5. Use Resources for More Practice
I often create resources that I need for my classroom and this is no exception. I wanted high interest passages that the kids would enjoy reading, that were rigorous enough to allow them to search for and find justification for their answers. Whether you use my differentiated Text Evidence Kit for 3rd - 5th grades, with color coding passages, practice passages and games or the  Text Evidence Unit (for 4th and 5th graders) or another type of resource, kids definitely benefit from practice with shorter pieces of text before we push them out of the nest a bit, into longer pieces of literature/novels or informational texts.

6. Use Actual Literature or Informational Text Books
All of this practice is necessary and the process is a great one for the kids, scaffolding their learning starting with the teacher, to guided practice, to the more independent work...but there comes a time when they have to show you what they've got. Time for them to dive into an actual book (gasp!) and to use that book, whether it is a piece of literature or some informational text, and answer comprehension questions, while citing evidence to justify their reasoning from the text. Whew! Not an easy task, I know, and not one that occurs overnight, but it is one that is attainable, with the help of a caring you!

Want to read about how to teach your older students (4th and above) to write effective constructed responses? This post has lots of tips as well as a link to a set of RACE materials that are FREE! Click here to take a look!

I'd love to hear about your experiences with this concept. What has worked for you or what do you think is the most challenging aspect of it?