One of the activities at our Reading Reconsidered workshop today asked participants to draft Text Dependent Questions about the first two paragraphs of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, on which Colleen had taught an amazing close reading lesson.
We gave people this chart describing types of Text Dependent Questions (TDQs) at different level
Then we asked them to write some examples for the first two paragraphs of Grapes of Wrath including at least one ‘sensitivity analysis‘ question. I listened in on the conversation of Jessica Zoutendyk from Memphis Rise Academy and Jessica Yiannos from Springfield Preparatory Charter School. Their examples were pretty great so I thought I’d share them.
First here are Steinbeck’s first two paragraphs for context:
To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The plows crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover. In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring were dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try any more. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.
In the water-cut gullies the earth dusted down in dry little streams. Gophers and ant lions started small avalanches. And as the sharp sun struck day after day, the leaves of the young corn became less stiff and erect; they bent in a curve at first, and then, as the central ribs of strength grew weak, each leaf tilted downward. Then it was June, and the sun shone more fiercely. The brown lines on the corn leaves widened and moved in on the central ribs. The weeds frayed and edged back toward their roots. The air was thin and the sky more pale; and every day the earth paled.
Jessica Z wrote this question: How would the sentence, “The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more” have been different if Steinbeck had used the word “plants” instead of the word weeds? This is a great question because it isolates the implications for meaning of word choice like “weeds.”
Jessica Y wanted to ask students to thin about the role of color. She wondered about asking a sensitivity analysis question that simply took the colors out of certain sentences and asked students to assess the differences. We also discussed the possibility of asking a paragraph level TDQ–Circle each of Steinbeck’s references to color in the paragraph. Discuss how the descriptions of colors change from the beginning of the passage to the end.
I thought these were great examples of how text dependent questions can develop students’ eye and ear for detail and nuance during close reading.