Gimme an S...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013
brought to you by Lori

Gimme an A...Gimme a Q!

What does it spell? Frustration and angst for all teachers across the state of Texas! 

But seriously...not only is the single Short Answer Question a beast, but the paired SAQ is a task that has caused this curly girl to nearly pull out my luxurious locks. Years ago, this angst began with the TAKS crossover Open-Ended Response. The trend continues with STAAR, but I've now got a tool in my arsenal to tackle it.

Here is a typical paired question stem at the STAAR level: 
How are the themes of x and y similar? Support your answer with evidence from both selections.

And here is the typical pitfall of a student answering such a question:
"The theme of x is [something profound...maybe]. The theme of y is [something completely unrelated to the first thing this kid JUST SAID!]." 

My students just didn't seem to understand that the paired question requires an understanding of how the pieces are connected. Saying it to my kids didn't seem to matter. Looking at examples didn't seem to matter. And practice didn't really fix it either. Good thing I am not above making a fool of myself to (1) make them listen, and (2) help them remember. 

Here's my trick. I grab two sheets of different colored paper...we'll say pink and blue. The pink paper represents one story and the blue paper represents the other. I overlap them to show that the question is asking about how both pieces work TOGETHER. Then I set the blue paper down and tell my students that it's now my job to explain how that first piece works APART...all by itself. Then I switch and hold the blue paper APART, re-explaining and praying that they get it. Finally, I pick up both colors TOGETHER and explain that we have to show that those two pieces are indeed connected. 

For more on how we approach the SAQs, click here.

And...because this is how we keep it curly and quirky, there is the Paired Cheer. Walk by my room on any given day that we're studying two connected pieces, and you are almost guaranteed to see my class on their feet, hear their hands clapping, and their voices yelling.

And their answers usually deserve a cheer too.

Click to watch me and my girl, Suzanne, do the cheer just for you.


  1. Do your kids like using Venn Diagrams?

  2. We do use Venn Diagrams. In particular, I like using them while comparing rhetorical devices in two thematically connected expository pieces. It gives students lots to say...more so than they would without thinking about it in that overlapping pattern. Besides, anytime I can incorporate a high-yield strategy, it's always a great day!