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Responses Revisited


Senior Member
Wasn't it this time last year I posted a similar blog, called What makes a good reading response? It must be that talk backs start out strong and full of energy, but as they go on, that energy drains a little. One of my biggest barriers seems to be finding different ways to breathe new life into our weekly talk backs. Do I expect too much? I'm starting to think so. Read some of these 2nd grade responses and see what you think:<!--break-->

I've put the below responses into categories (Excellent, Medicore, Off Track) because I need your help! Am I being too tough? Is there something more I could be doing to help my students' brilliant ideas match their writing? So far, what I've tried is:
  • modeling talk backs by writing back and forth with the teacher down the hall/ first half of year on-going
  • modeling talk backs by writing in a journal at the same time as the kids write in their own (my student teacher and instructional aide also write in one). Kids write back or we just read them to see the kinds of things grown-ups write and think. ongoing
  • made a list in the classroom of reasons we write about our reading.
  • "status of the class" kind of thing where one workshop, we captured all of the kids thinking in one snapshot and listed them in a long list; to show that readers are constantly having important conversations in their heads.
  • sharing circle where we think of ways readers could write about their reading and make a concrete list.
  • hanging up 5 kids' "big ideas" of the week, reading them aloud, and discussing what the writer did. ongoing
  • writing talk backs directly following an animated read aloud conversation circle when I think a lot of kids will have opinions.
  • taught a seed analogy. We refer to the most basic idea as the seed and then we brainstormed questions we could ask ourselves to grow that idea. (visual is on a flower)
Here are some Talk Backs:

<!--arrow_red--> Outstanding

Dear Mrs. M.
Remember when you read Love You Forever? But when you read it, remember when we were talking about how the boy knew the song? So I think I might know the answer to the question. I think the answer is he is related to his mom and that love from his mom was so strong that he heared it in his heart. And so I learned from that book that love is a very strong word and a very powerful word.

Dear Miss V.
I'm reading this book called Don't Eat Your Chicken Pox, Amber Brown and if I were her I wouldn't let birds fly on my head. It might hurt to have birds land on my head but Amber Brown doesn't care. I wonder why? Aunt P. didn't care that she might get a disease. I don't think her Aunt cares about her. I don't even think Amber cares about herself. Amber is a weird girl.

Why I placed these here: A.H.'s talk back has the big idea and the evidence and a wrap up that rephrases her learning. And also- I know this is intangible, but I like it because I can feel her passion. K's entry may not be outstanding in your eyes- I put it here because although it's not perhaps as linear as I model (idea, evidence or theories, plan), it seems to me that K used her talk back to actually authentically explore her ideas. She starts out by putting herself in the character's shoes and then by doing that, it leads her to look more closely at Amber's over all character and relationships.

<!--arrow_red--> Mediocore

Dear Miss V.
In Disasters I read a chapter called Meteors. I had a question. When will the next meteor hit? The book said in 3000 years but I think it will come sooner. When do you think one will come? Answer _____.

Dear Mrs. M.
I just finished The Littles Give a Party and I inferred through the whole book is Granny Little going to live? At the end Granny Little was... ALIVE. I was so surprised. I thought Granny Little was going to die because in every book if everyone thinks the person is going to live, they die. Please right back.

Dear Miss V.
We read Horton Hears a Who and it reminds me so much about Green Eggs and Ham that Sam-I-Am was really little but he changed the person in the inside not the outside. He changed that he did not like green eggs and ham and Whoville are little but they still made a big noise.


Why I placed these here: C's has a big idea (a question), but I was disappointed that he didn't offer any evidence at all for why he was disagreeing with the book- which he does a lot, by the way. I love that about him, but I need more proof. D's talk back isn't bad, but he writes the same kind of ideas every week. This week, because of him a few others, I outlawed prediction talk backs temporarily. But in this talk back, I believe that he has managed to disguise a prediction/confirmation in order to stick to what he knows. Finally, I thought G was on a really good track and I could also see this talk back as outstanding (especially for G). But her reasoning is flawed-- the class discussed how in Dr. Seuss books, the little characters always make the biggest difference. Instead of writing about times when that is so, (like in the Grinch) she went with a bit of a stretch.

<!--arrow_red--> Off Track

Dear Mrs. M.
I am so happy! Because I am almost ready to start The Boxcar Children or Little House on the Praire. Also in the Spiderwick Chronicles I think that Jared is going to finish the riddle. I also like how the chapters say (In which). Well that's all for now. Ciao.

Dear Miss V.
I just finished The Littles and the Terrible Tiny Kid. I'm inferring that the theme is: teamwork. Why I think that is because in the book they do a lot of teamwork.

Dear Mrs. M.
I'm surprised at how much I'm learning about the Titanic! I did learn some stuff that I did not know. Maybe you can try that!
Love, B

Why I placed these here: Even though I think they speak for themselves<!--grumpy-->, I'll explain. D is all over the place, never really settling on any idea in particular. B had a good idea, but the evidence is SO scant that I can hardly even retype it here without cringing. And B's other talk back is more of the same. Just because the last two talk backs are by the same child, doesn't mean that more kids don't struggle. It just so happens that I only have half the class, and his talk backs show why I'm so frustrated.

My student teacher and I split up the talk backs and write back each week. Right now, I'm looking at a pile that is kind of heavy on my weaker writers. I could have added lots more "off track" ones, but in this pile, I didn't have a whole lot of other "outstandings". :(

As I typed these up, I did notice that one simple thing I might do that would raise some of the mediocore entries to a higher level would be to explicitly model how we cite specific evidence. Some of those ideas in the middle category could be good if they would have grown the idea. The entries in the off track category, however, are mostly down there because they are scattered, lack any evidence at all, or are devoid of a big idea.

Any comments? I can take the criticism.


Full Member

Maybe having them write to a different "audience" would help? What if it was switched up one week, so they were writing to someone different - someone who can still talk back and offer them the appropriate response?

Maybe incorporating the story, the Gardener and having a discussion about what made her letters so meaningful. In many of her letters, she paints a picture for her family.

What about even having groups analyze different talk backs, whether it be the ones the teachers have done or talk back "type" letters in books. They could explore what they think it is the writer has or hasn't done to make it an interesting and deep talk back. Maybe even having them try to respond to one that is virtually impossible to respond to...then they could see what it's like :p

Honestly, I don't think your expectations are too high. These students are capable of writing their deep, brilliant thoughts on paper. I think they have all the strategies they need to succeed, but it's a matter of that one light bulb moment where they finally understand that talk backs are not a place for questions they'll find the answer to on the next page. Maybe even modeling with another teacher a good talk back and a bad one? How to turn that not so good one into a more detailed talk back that paints a picture?


Full Member
I've read how much you've modeled and practiced with your students so it doesn't sound like your expectations are too high. What about starting a rubric with them? Something very simple and kind of fun. In my first grade class, we use the five stars of good sentences. The kids really love going and getting a star sheet to color in and staple onto their writing. Maybe you could do something similar with your students? They fill in stars (or flowers or flower parts since you already have that analogy) if they talk about a big idea, talk about one main thing, grew their idea? It might just help them to think about their responses a little more if they've become automatic.


Junior Member
I LOVE LOVE LOVE the weekly letters. I do it with my class too (4th grade). In the beginning I was getting mostly great responses, even from students that I had never gotten much from. The last few weeks I feel like for about 6 kids it's been like pulling teeth. I am stuck at how to respond to their scant letters week after week after week. I don't want to be critical, I want to offer support and ecourage their thinking about the stories. But I absolutely dread reading some of them because I am just about out of creative ways to respond in an encouraging redirecting way.

I really love the letters with the kids because I think that they respond so much better in this form than in a regular journal response. I think that me writing back makes it more personally enoyable for them. Let's face it, we all like to get good mail! Any way I'm open for suggestions too!:p


Senior Member
I think I agree

Bookmuncher, I really enjoy reading this blog. I have started Readers Workshop and I am trying to get the Back Talks going. It's really helpful to see the responses your kids are making (funny, mine write me the same letters!!) and see what your kids are saying about what they are reading. I think the way that you categorized the writings was appropriate. The first three were better quality and obviously the bottom three were lacking in organazation and didn't have supporting evidence. I think that state testing in writing is really looking for kids to support their opinions and statements with supporting evidence. That is something they don't like to take the time to do, actually restate dialog or facts as they are writing.

Keep posting about this. It's a great topic!!!! I am looking for Debbie Miller's new books. I need one for 3-up. Any suggestions? The sticky note thing is working, but I am having trouble...do I change a poster on the wall every day (they stick them up after reading every day and share them with the class). I added a book recommendation poster and they are going wild!!! They love it.

Any other suggestions?<!--lovestruck-->


Senior Member
thanks everyone!

Lots and lots of good ideas! I definitely will have to stick with it and regroup AGAIN. I think that you're right when you suggest things that make them a little more accountable. I did use a rubric last year and I didn't start out with it this year because I was attempting not to impose that on them and to have it be a little more "free." But I guess that can't last, b/c of course some kids will take advantage of it. I also do need to get on the overhead and model writing in front of them-- I like the idea of turning a bad one into a good one. Specifically, I do need to model like I did last year on how to support your idea.

I'll work on it and let you know how it goes!


Senior Member

Do you guys share post-its everyday, or something else? I've never heard of that... do you find that they are learning a lot from each other? Have you found a way to make big connections between the ideas? Patterns, etc?


New Member
Have you tried letting them share their responses with the rest of the class at the end of workshop? I did this a few weeks ago and found that the questions, comments, suggestions, etc. that they received from their peers really made a difference in the quality of the responses. Children were asking "why" and "how" questions of each other and really critiquing on a higher level. They have pretty much taken over the discussion. I found responses were much better when there was someone else besides the teacher to share the response with. You could take some of the sharing time at the end of the workshop for 2 or 3 students to share their responses.


Full Member

I doubt your expectations are too high... I know how much you model and talk about books so I don't think that's the case.

I wonder how their discussions about books are sounding? Are they full of passion and in your "outstanding" category? If so, are they getting lazy when they get to writing? Or has their talk about books lost some of its luster too? Where is the breakdown?

Have the kids gotten too comfortable? Maybe bringing some samples to the share circle and talking about it. Let the kids distinguish between what is talk back-able and what isn't. Then come up with some expectations together???

I wonder if this is tied to text selection? Are they selecting books that aren't that meaningful to them? And in doing so their talk backs aren't meaningful?

I don't know, just thinking aloud...


Senior Member
I have written

back and forth with my students for years and I struggle with balancing the writing with time for reading. The quality varies a lot. I have started having my kids use sticky notes to write a quick idea while reading each day. They stick these in their response notebooks and I often write back a quick comment when reviewing the notebooks. I make suggestions of other types of thinking to notice if I see they always write the same kind of thinking (i.e. predictions, what they learned, something surprising). We have an anchor t-chart with types of responses on one side and sample sticky notes on the other. I may have the kids post their own each day and discuss some during sharing, then have them put the note in their notebook.

Twice a quarter I have my kids write lengthier letters and these have a structure frame. They do these when they want...

Paragraph one: title, author, prediction written prior to starting the book, support for the prediction.

Paragraph two: choice response writing but I have a file of questions and sentence starters the kids can use if they want/need.

Paragraph three: there "take" on the story (message, theme, heart) with support and why they did or didn't like the book (also with support).

I don't like the structure but have found I don't get much otherwise.

We also write quick responses to prompts or about shared reads about 3 times during each quarter.

Finally, we practice extended response to the same story read independently to help prepare for state testing.

This way we have a variety of types of responses. All have been modeled and written together and have anchor charts for reference in the room.


Full Member
Bookmuncher and everyone else~

I am enjoying reading this blog - I would actually like to read more about this - - - as you know I am subbing right now but will be teaching in the fall.

I am just soaking all of this in like a sponge - Bookmuncher, I like how you have categorized each responses and I agree.

As far as suggestions - I like what has been mentioned - they are such great ideas. And something that I use in subbing for my lessons is having students share/ask/help their classmates (Sunset mentioned this) Maybe this is something that would help the students that are having trouble "getting" it to move forward with their writing. I've seen a lot of positive things happen in my classrooms when this occurs.

Again, thanks for your thoughts


Senior Member
Bookmuncher blog

I love reading your blog and have started to look for it on a regular basis. I am simply amazed at the work you are doing in your class and astounded that it is basically the same material that I am teaching in 6th grade. Okay, you have short books, and mine take weeks to complete, but basically we are teaching similar skills to our students. <!--eyebrow-->

I have a few random thoughts about your post...

As always, I see that you are doing a fantastic job. I agreed with your assessment of the responses of the students. I thought G's response was very sophisticated because he made a connection to another text, however when you said that you already discussed that connection and he didn't quite get it, that dropped the response in my eyes as well.

Have you thought about reading two books and asking them to make their own connections between the texts?

I also thought that oral responses would be a good idea sometimes. I noticed that some of my students with strong critical thinking skills struggle to find the words to write. They get tangled up in the spelling and the handwriting. It would be fun to have an older group of students come in and scribe answers once in awhile.

On another note, I was impressed that B used the term "inferred" when talking about the theme of the story. That kid knows that inferring is to read between the lines for information. On the other hand, "D" seems to think the term "infer" means prediction. I would want to take "B"'s letter and tell him what would make it better. Along that thought, would it work to read some of the letters and tell the students these were "excellent" responses. Then read some that need help from the class. I would take "B"s letter and ask the students if they can make it better by finding evidence to support his idea.

Thanks again for your thoughtful insights into education.


Junior Member

In our school board, we're being encouraged to use this approach to improve the quality of written responses to literature. Answer, Prove, Extend. After modelling the kids actually put an A beside the answer part (the big idea or question in your example); a P beside the proof from text in their response and then an E for their personal extension or synthesis. This should make their omissions obvious to them and motivate them to improve their own writing by completing the ape. I teach Grade 1 and am still working more on getting quality oral thinking and responding, so have not personally tried it but the teachers who have seem to feel it holds the kids more accountable.


Senior Member

After reading/scoring the latest writing sample for our unit test (in first grade), I began to think. :D It is the most verbal kids that can usually write more than others. It is the most capable kids that can write more than the others. (sometimes the quality may be not as good as the verbal kids in regard to content).

Does this also convey to reader responses, BookMuncher. Do you see a coorelation between the kids who are "comfortable" with writing and those who can make a reader response that is indepth? Maybe not so much with second graders. But I think of my little guy who is still having lots of "guidance" and "encouragement" to get even one sentence on a page in a small moment three page book. Yes, he is the one who is also struggling to "talk" in complete sentences.

But what about the "average" writers. Are they so insecure in their writing that they would struggle with being able to put their reading responses down? Maybe it is the "writing" that is keeping them from actually thinking about the response and not so much the written language. If that is so, then my responsibility comes in giving them the confidence to do both.


Senior Member

I think it correlates to a degree, definitely. A few of my most basic conversationalists definately do produce talk backs that are right around where they talk. And in the same way, my best conversationalists usually have the deepest talk backs. But the ones in the middle can go either way. I guess I would be more worried if there was no correlation because then, why would the good talker not be able to get his/her ideas on paper?

But I definitely see what you're saying. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I cave in (particularly for this one little guy) and scribed his thinking. Actually- I know what would happen: his talk backs would be longer and more in detail, definitely a step up. I don't think they would be deeper though, because I haven't seen that in any setting. You do bring up a good point! What do you think the implications for the classroom are?


Senior Member
The implications

for me are to first center MORE on reader response orally. We do this every day of course but maybe I need to do the recording on charts so that these "strugglers in written" can understand that they are simply writing what they are thinking. If the writing becomes so sllloooooowwww because they are concentrating on decoding the mental thoughts into the written language, no wonder I won't see much of a deep thinking response! It is my job to give them the confidence as well as the tools they need. (There's not much time left--only six weeks for me). But my goal is for them to leave first grade with the ability to think about their reading when not in the classroom or because I ask them to think.


Senior Member
that assessment...

seems dead on to me! I definitely find that they responses are better when they directly follow a book discussion- so that might be something to try also. I encourage them to write about our discussions, even if the book was a read aloud, not from their bookshelves.

Wow! 6 weeks! Lucky you!!


Full Member
talk backs?

I haven't ever heard reader's response referred to as talk backs. Does Debbie Miller address this? Do you give them specific questions to answer or is it free response?


Senior Member
talk backs

I just call them that because I tell them that we are always having a conversation in our heads as we read- talk backs are their chance to put it into concrete words and "talk back." My kids respond freely with whatever it is gives them the strongest feeling-- of course, I modeled lots and lots of talk backs, so in that way, I've put ideas into their heads, making it a little more structured.