Looking for constructed response strategies for your classroom? Try the four Cs: craft it, collaborate, compete, and cube it. When you shake up learning, engagement skyrockets – and kids get the practice they need.
Ms. Sneed’s Kids Can’t Answer Questions
At lunchtime, our favorite fourth grade teacher sat with her head in her hands. The stack of papers under her elbows told a sad tale. Her kids wouldn’t answer questions in complete paragraphs. “Oh no,” thought Ms. Sneed. “How will I ever get them ready for testing?”
She sighed, pushed back her chair, and headed to the teachers’ lounge. While munching on her sandwich, she asked her teacher friends for advice.
“I use a hamburger analogy,” Mrs. Cordova said. “You know, the top bun restates the question and answers. The burgers provide details and citation. Then the bottom bun wraps it up.”
Ms. Sneed perked up. “Hey, I like that.”
“In my opinion, kids need a break,” added Mr. Keene. “Some days, we just discuss the questions. Once we agree on the response, I write it for them. Surprisingly, these modeling sessions build skills more than writing alone.”
Now Ms. Sneed pulled a pad of paper from her bag and began taking notes. Maybe the problem was how she structured her ELA block.
“My kids hate writing paragraphs too,” Mr. Frank chimed in. “So I let them work in groups. Funny, their answers improve when I let them collaborate. I’d be happy to share the prompts I use – as well as a fun cube activity.”
“Wow, you’ve given me some food for thought. Thank you,” Ms. Sneed said. As she left the teachers’ lounge, the spring had returned to her step.
Constructed Response Strategy 1 – Reteaching with a Burger Craft
The next day, Ms. Sneed stood in front of her class. “Yesterday,” she began, “I graded the questions I assigned earlier this week.”
The students shifted in their seats uncomfortably.
“As you may have guessed, they weren’t good. So, with a little help from my teaching friends, we’re going to start over. Fortunately, I won’t record those grades.”
Now the kids perked up, looking relieved.
“Today we’ll make a constructed response burger.” The teacher picked up a stack of papers from her desk.
“You’ll answer the same question we had the other day. But this time, you’ll write the answer on the top bun, and the conclusion on the bottom bun. Then you’ll add a citation on this ketchup piece and transitions on the lettuce.
“When you’re finished, you can color the pieces and cut them out. Then you’ll glue them on a piece of construction paper.”
As she finished talking, the room began to buzz with excitement. To Ms. Sneed’s surprise, her students got busy right away. When she circulated around the classroom, she was thrilled to see that their responses were much better. This was definitely a constructed response strategy she’d use again.
Constructed Response Strategy 2 – Modeling
The following day, Ms. Sneed tried some new constructed response strategies. “Today,” she told her class, “I’ll ask some questions about the story we just read. That way, you’ll know the type of questions to ask yourself when you do it independently.”
Ms. Sneed asked questions about locating evidence:
- Where can we find evidence to answer this question?
- How did you know where to find it?
- Which parts should we use in our answer?
- Which parts should be left out?
When the kids weren’t sure or wavered, she guided them. As they decided on parts to use, she noted them on the board.
Writing a Topic Sentence
Next, they tackled the topic sentence with more questions:
- After reviewing the evidence, how should we answer the question?
- How can I restate the question as a topic sentence?
Writing Detail Sentences
Without a beat, Ms. Sneed moved on to detail sentences.
- In what order will we place the evidence? Why?
- How can we paraphrase, or put evidence in our own words?
- Where and how will we cite?
With their teacher guiding them, the class easily responded. Then their teacher recorded the sentences on the board.
“Wow,” she thought, “these constructed response strategies are really working!”
Finally, the teacher guided her class in writing a conclusion:
- Should we wrap this up with a summary, or should we add an insight or opinion?
- With which transition should we begin?
Reviewing the Answer
After Ms. Sneed added the conclusion, they reviewed their constructed response strategies together:
- Is the paragraph written in complete sentences?
- Does the paragraph use correct punctuation and capitalization?
- Did we use specific nouns and active verbs?
- Do all sentences work together to answer the question thoroughly?
- Do we need to add any transition terms to help the reader move through our answer?
When they finished, the teacher stood back, looked at the response, and took a deep, satisfied sigh. Then she looked at her class. “Great work everyone! I can see that working together makes your answer shine.”
“Yeah,” someone called out, “and it’s much better than having to write them out ourselves. That makes my hand hurt.”
Constructed Response Strategy 3 – Collaborating
Ms. Sneed had taken her student’s comment to heart. The next time her students read a story, she pulled out some cards. “This time,” she said, “you’ll use a new constructed response strategy. Instead of working with me, you’ll work in small groups.”
“Each person in your group will receive a card. Here, let me read them:
- Topic Sentence – Answer the question in a complete sentence. Use question parts.
- Detail Sentence (two of these) – Support the question with evidence from the text. Remember to cite.
- Conclusion – Wrap up the answer with an insight or summary. Begin with a transition.”
“Do we have to write anything?” a student asked.
“For this story, you’ll answer three questions. You can do this orally.”
Again, everyone cheered.
“However,” their teacher said, “for one question, you’ll write an answer. But you’ll do it round-robin style. The topic sentence person will write first. Then the detail sentence people will add theirs. And, of course, the conclusion person will write theirs last.”
With no complaining, the kids moved into their groups and got busy.
Later, as Ms. Sneed looked over the responses, a slow teacher smile spread over her face. Yes. This was working.
Constructed Response Strategy 4 – Build a Cube
For a few weeks, Ms. Sneed alternated between constructing responses as a class and in small groups. Every once in a while, she asked kids to answer questions independently. To her delight, things improved even more. Then one day, she tried a new strategy.
“On this worksheet,” she told her class, “you’ll find a net for a cube. Each side asks you to write one part of an answer to today’s question. If you want, you can color or even add pictures. Then you’ll cut it out and tape it together. And, as a special treat, the librarian has agreed to display the answering questions cubes. That way, the whole school will see how great you are at this skill.”
“Yay!” cried the students. They loved doing crafts.
Constructed Response Strategy 5 – Hold a Contest
One day, Ms. Sneed pulled out a novel unit. Ugh-oh. For each chapter, kids would answer questions in paragraph form.
Just then, she had an idea. “What if I hold a contest?” she said outloud.
When she sat down at her computer, more ideas popped into her head. In the end, she created five different coupons:
- Homework Pass
- Open Seating
- Line Leader
- Lunch with Teacher
- Pick a Prize
On each, she also typed these words: “Congratulations! You have written an excellent response.”
With a smug smile, she hit print. Hey, a little bribery – and some great prizes – never hurt anyone.
As it turned out, Ms. Sneed’s students excelled at constructing responses. The scores on their standardized tests proved it.
One day near the end of the year, she heard a knock on her door. Shortly thereafter, the principal entered the room. “I was just wondering,” he said, “how you turned your reading test scores around this year.”
Ms. Sneed blushed. “Well, with a little help from my teacher friends, I discovered some new literature activities. Why don’t you take a seat, and I’ll show you what we did.”