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  • Writer's pictureMegan Mariano

Finding and Using Text Evidence: Writing about Reading (No Fancy Acronyms Needed)

Writing about reading is a major focus in ELA classrooms. In the past, students were expected to simply write a paragraph answering an open-ended question about a text read. Now, the expectations are a lot higher and the level of writing goes beyond just open-ended questions. Students now often have to write entire essays supporting their thoughts about reading.

Search online or on Teachers Pay Teachers and you will see all kinds of fancy acronyms to help students write proper reading responses. Those certainly can be helpful, but I find them to be limiting. Something like the RACE acronym doesn't encourage students to use multiple text details. Here you will read about how I teach my students to find and use text evidence to truly back up their thoughts about reading.

Below are the basic steps to finding and using text evidence. I will elaborate on each!

  1. Break down the question/writing prompt.

  2. Answer the question.

  3. Figure out what you already know.

  4. Determine where in the text you will be finding evidence.

  5. Chop up the text and pull a line that truly answers what you're trying to prove.

  6. Explain the detail and how it proves your thoughts.

  7. Write your paragraph(s), using highlighting, evidence, and elaboration stems.

  8. Quote AND paraphrase, but don't quote plop.

Break down the question/writing prompt.

The very first step, as I am sure you all know, is to be sure the students know what they have to answer! No matter the task (multiple-choice question, open-ended question, writing prompt), they need to break it down.

Almost always, they are trying to PROVE something. So the #1 thing they always need to determine is what do they need to prove? They may need to prove a claim, a trait, a mood, a point-of-view, a main idea, etc. It's a good idea to write down what they need to prove BEFORE answering, however, they will be repeating this throughout their writing.

Answer the question.

SIMPLY. In a sentence or phrase, just answer the question. What is the theme? What is the character's perspective? How does the character trait affect the story? Just answer that in ONE SENTENCE. This is often the A in the fancy acronyms.

For my students, I just tell them it's the opening sentence for whatever source they are focusing on.

Figure out what you already know.

The first thing a student wants to do is cite examples from the text off the top of their heads based on what they remember reading. That's not all bad, because they are, in a sense, paraphrasing, BUT it's not specific enough. It's a great start, though. So, oftentimes, I have the students write down their initial thoughts. What do they recall from the text that could answer the question?

They have to fight the impulse to just write what they recall...they have to FIND the detail that supports their thoughts, which is the next step. So, THIS step is more thinking and planning.

Determine where in the text you will be finding evidence.

Once they think they know what events/moments support their answer, they need to figure out WHERE in the text they can find these moments. This is the beginning of finding quotes/lines. They should determine if their supports occurred in the beginning, middle, or end of the story. This helps them narrow it down.

Chop up the text and pull a line that truly answers what you're trying to prove.

When they find the LOCATION of their supporting evidence, they need to then break down that text as much as possible.

To practice, I have them copy over large chunks of text; big scenes that show what they are trying to prove. They then need to "cut out" as much of that text as possible, narrowing it down to a line or two that truly shows the answer to the question they are trying to answer.

They really struggle with narrowing it down, so that action of actually deleting extraneous details is helpful.

Explain the detail and how it proves your thoughts.

Next up is explanations. They cannot just put text details/quotes...they MUST explain them. I teach them a very basic formula to this. Check out the picture below.

They must always write what they are trying to prove in their explanation and how the text detail they chose proves it. They should use elaboration stems (this proves..., this shows..., this explains...) to start their explanations.

Write your paragraph(s), using highlighting, evidence, and elaboration stems.

All of the above should really be done separately to practice finding detail and explaining before diving in to writing paragraphs. I spend a lot of time just having students find quotes and explaining them in no formal format. Eventually, once I feel they have a decent grasp of that, I get them to start thinking about writing an organized piece of writing.

So, as mentioned, I do not use a fancy acronym. I just teach them the basic format you'll see here and it doesn't really take too long for them to get it. Perhaps because by middle school, they have a sense already of how to write like this.

The Format

I always have them start with an opening sentence addressing whatever the question or prompt is asking. That is followed up by an evidence stem and text detail. Right after that is an elaboration stem and elaboration of that text detail. Within their elaborations, they should be restating the claim/what they are trying to prove. They do this two more times with two more text details/explanations. Then, it's all wrapped up with a closing.

I have them highlight based on a key almost all school year. I also color-code my digital notebooks; anytime they have to use a text detail it's typically written in a yellow box, which is the color they highlight it in their paragraphs. This helps SO much because it's a visual.

Here's an example of a what a final paragraph would look like. This is from a research essay based on nutrition. You can find more information on the specific format and a list of evidence and elaboration stems in my Writing about Reading product.

Quote AND paraphrase, but don't quote plop.

Another big thing I have them focus on is emphasizing quotes more so than paraphrases. Quoting is when they take a direct line from the text to support their thinking. Paraphrasing is when they put it in their own words.

I also teach them not to quote plop. Quote plopping is when they take a line from the text and just plop it in their paragraph with no words of their own. It's as if (and sometimes they do this) they just copied and pasted it into their paragraphs. This doesn't seem authentic, so I teach them to break up their quotes with their own words.

Here's an example of quote plopping in a paragraph supporting how the text shows that we should be knowledgeable about what we are eating:

According to the text it says, “if you do it when you know then it’s your fault.” This is a quote plop because the only evidence provided is a direct quote and an evidence stem.

Here's an example of using the same quote, but paraphrasing within it the quote. This is avoiding quote plopping (which is good).

According to the text, Mohsen Baghied states that there is no nutritional information on fast food menus in Kuwait saying that “if you do it when you know then it’s your fault.” So, this includes a quote, but before the quote, is a paraphrase that relates to the quote.

Another way they can do this is to break up the actual quote and put their own words in it. Here is an example:

According to the text, "if you do it when you know," referring to how America has calorie information on its fast food menus, "then it's your fault."

All of the above is a way to add quotes to writing about reading without it getting choppy, boring, and repetitive. Mixing direct quotes and paraphrasing is key. Another important thing to remember is a quote does not mean something someone is SAYING in the text. So many of my students think when I say to quote the text to find a quote from a just has to be a LINE from the text. I struggle with how to get my students to understand this, so I am open to suggestions from you!

Bottom Line

Consider ditching the acronyms and just teaching students to quote and explain 3 times in their writing about reading, being sure to focus on a claim...something they are proving.

I apply this strategy to student essays, as well. My students do two major essays, research and literary. Both essays focus on applying what they learned from their readings of multiple sources. So, they follow the same format mentioned, but each paragraph focuses on a different source.

Below are all my materials that can get you started with this process.


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