The mystery novel I had chosen for my advanced fourth graders, The Westing Game, had no less than twenty key characters and a winding, intricate plot written to mislead the reader. My students, on the other hand, were exhibiting evidence of the dreaded "surface reading." How could I help them understand this book (and grow as readers)?
My unit already used literature groups with key questions designed to bolster comprehension, but that didn't seem to be working. I'd have to use my walls!
First, we began to summarize the chapters (CCSS RL.4.2). After hanging them on the wall, we discussed the plot in depth.
Second, students began listing information about each of the main characters (CCSS RL.4.3). This helped them keep the characters straight and discover any information they'd missed while reading.
Third, I typed and posted key parts of the text needed to solve the mystery. In our discussions, we kept coming back to these excerpts to avoid being totally misled (and not understanding the book at the end).
It worked! As we wrapped up the book this week, shouts of "This is really getting good!" and "I've figured out the REAL solution to the mystery!" reverberated against my classroom walls. Thank goodness for those walls. They've lifted my students to a higher level as readers.