16:The Directed Reading-Thinking Activity

When you read the title of this section, what did you think you would find out by reading?  Perhaps you thought that the directed reading-thinking activity has something to do with thinking; then perhaps you thought that was too obvious.  Nope, good prediction; keep reading to see what you find out.  Maybe you predicted that this strategy is the newest strategy from some university researcher with an acronym to match.  Also a good prediction; keep reading to find out.  Now that you’ve read this paragraph, you might think this section will give you some ideas about how to connect cognitive processes and texts.

The directed reading-thinking activity, DR-TA, as Stauffer explained it (1969) differed from the before reading–during reading–after reading planning sequence that has been the staple of reading teachers since Emmett Betts (1946) described the directed reading activity in the middle of the last century.  Betts proposed that teachers should take an active role in developing readiness for reading (often called pre-reading), guiding the purposes for reading, etc. Stauffer suggested, instead, that readers could learn to set their own purposes for reading, identify appropriate cognitive strategies to approach the text, make aesthetic connections with text, generalize  from  principles in the text to other texts and situations, and so on. The teacher’s role in the DR-TA is to provide structures and guidance that promote student independence.  While Stauffer highlighted the differences between his DR-TA and Betts’ directed reading activity, we don’t view the two roles as incompatible.  Teachers can prepare and guide students and promote students’ independent use of cognitive strategies at the same time. The authors of the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (Chamot & O’Malley, 1994) suggest that teachers gradually release responsibility for implementation of cognitive strategies over time until students are able to use and evaluate a given strategy independently.  Often, the DR-TA is integrated in context of the before-during-after structure (e. g., Fisher, Brozo, Frey, & Ivey, 2007).

The DR-TA is a classroom structure teachers can use to promote independent use of the prediction strategy. DR-TA, like many of the classroom structures described in this book, is highly adaptable; it can be used in a variety of ways.  DR-TAs work well in small groups, with individuals, and in whole class settings.  Students may write their predictions, the teacher may do so, or the predictions may simply promote discussion without formal structures like worksheets or reader response journals.

Step by Step

  1. The teacher determines stopping points in the text where prediction and discussion of the predictions might logically occur. Many teachers provide a large index card or blank piece of paper to cover remaining text beyond the stopping point on the page.  In this way, students are encouraged to stop and think about their reading rather than simply plowing ahead while other students catch up.  Students learn to evaluate and determine their own purposes for reading.
  2. For texts with illustrations, maps, and charts, ask students to preview the chapter or section looking specifically at these features and others like words in bold type and end materials for the chapter to gain some idea of the topics for the chapter. In other texts, typically fiction, ask students to read the title.  Once students have done this, the teacher asks, “What do you think the story (or chapter) will be about? Students volunteer predictions.  These may be recorded on the chalkboard, on chart paper, or in the students’ reader response journals.  Teachers often note the predictions mentally without recording them in writing to facilitate the discussion.  Students can be prompted to elaborate on their predictions with a question such as, “Why do you think that?”
  3. Students then read silently or in shared reading to the first stopping point.
  4. Teachers may then ask students to summarize by asking, “What have we learned, so far, in the reading?” At this point in the reading, it is worthwhile to review the predictions from the last stopping point to determine if the predictions are still possible or if they should be discarded. New predictions should be volunteered and reasons for the predictions, based on the reading, should be sought.  Vacca and Vacca

    (2005) suggest that explicitly attributing a prediction that has been refuted may not produce a desirable result.  We suggest that teachers consider the tone and manner in which predictions are evaluated as reading progresses without attributing the prediction to a specific student.
  5. Continue reading to stopping points the engaging in the prediction, validation, refutation cycle until the end of the section or story.

Applications and Examples

The DR-TA is an adaptable structure; if students are viewing a video or film instead of reading, a directed reading-viewing procedure might be in order (Cunningham, Cunningham, & Arthur, 1981). If students are listening to a guest speaker, the “R” for reading might be substituted for an “L” as in listening helping students think about what they are learning regardless of the media or text type.

As you read this section, did you notice that you made predictions based on background and prior knowledge then adjusted those predictions as you gained additional information by reading?  The DR-TA is a tool teachers use to assist students in becoming autonomous readers who can engage in predictive tasks just as you did in your reading.  Below, we provide an example of a DR-TA used with a small group in a discussion format.  As students move through the story, they also create a need to know what happens next; motivation for reading becomes an intrinsic part of the readers’ repertoires. In this example, note that the reader doesn’t impose preconceived constructions about the content on the students.  If the teacher doesn’t maintain neutrality about each prediction, the students will quickly come to rely on the teacher’s construction of the text’s meaning rather than learn to do so on their own (Johnston, 1993). Click to read an example of how DR-TA might be used.

August Heat” by W. F. Harvey (1910)

Teacher:        Now what could a story titled “August Heat” be about?

Student 1:      Well, it is probably about something that happened one very hot summer.

Student 2:      Yes, but it might be a story about a police officer.

Teacher:        The police?  Why do you…

Student 2:      Sometimes the police were called “the heat” in the past.

Teacher:        Okay, anything else?  Other ideas?  Then open your book and read to the bottom of page one.


August 20th, 190—.

I have had what I believe to be the most remarkable day in my life, and while the events are still fresh in my mind, I wish to put them down on paper as clearly as possible.

Let me say at the outset that my name is James Clarence Withencroft.

I am forty years old, in perfect health, never having known a day’s illness.

By profession I am an artist, not a very successful one, but I earn enough money by my black-and- white work to satisfy my necessary wants.

My only near relative, a sister, died five years ago, so that I am independent. I breakfasted this morning at nine, and after glancing through the morning paper I lighted my pipe and proceeded to let my mind wander in the hope that I might chance upon some subject for my pencil.

The room, though door and windows were open, was oppressively hot, and I had just made up my mind that the coolest and most comfortable place in the neighbourhood would be the deep end of the public swimming bath, when the idea came.

I began to draw. So intent was I on my work that I left my lunch untouched, only stopping work when the clock of St. Jude’s struck four.

The final result, for a hurried sketch, was, I felt sure, the best thing I had done. It showed a criminal in the dock immediately after the judge had pronounced sentence. The man was fat— enormously fat. The flesh hung in rolls about his chin; it creased his huge, stumpy neck. He was clean shaven (perhaps I should say a few days before he must have been clean shaven) and almost bald. He stood in the dock, his short, clumsy fingers clasping the rail, looking straight in front of him. The feeling that his expression conveyed was not so much one of horror as of utter, absolute collapse.

There seemed nothing in the man strong enough to sustain that mountain of flesh.

I rolled up the sketch, and without quite knowing why, placed it in my pocket. Then with the rare sense of happiness which the knowledge of a good thing well done gives, I left the house.

Teacher:        Okay.  Now, what do you think?

Student 2:      Well, there’s an artist who works at home.  And he’s drawn a picture of a criminal standing at the dock.  I’m not sure what that means.

Student 3:      Me, neither.  “Dock” doesn’t sound like a place to tie up a boat the way it’s used in this story.  It sounds like part of a courtroom.  Anyway, we were right about one thing.  The story is set in summer when it’s hot.

Teacher:        Right.  What did you read that confirmed this prediction?

Student 3:      Well, it says right here in the sixth paragraph that it was “oppressively hot.”

Teacher:        Ah.  Right.  The artist is about to go somewhere.  What do you think?

Student 4:      He’s going to go swimming?  I think the public bath is a swimming pool.

Teacher:        Could be.  What else?

Student 1:      He’s a relative of the man in the courtroom.  He’s going to go visit him in jail, maybe.

Teacher:        Okay, read to the middle of the next page; put your index card just under the word “death.”

I believe that I set out with the idea of calling upon Trenton, for I remember walking along Lytton Street and turning to the right along Gilchrist Road at the bottom of the hill where the men were at work on the new tram lines.

From there onwards I have only the vaguest recollection of where I went. The one thing of which I was fully conscious was the awful heat, that came up from the dusty asphalt pavement as an almost palpable wave. I longed for the thunder promised by the great banks of copper-coloured cloud that hung low over the western sky.

I must have walked five or six miles, when a small boy roused me from my reverie by asking the time.

It was twenty minutes to seven.

When he left me I began to take stock of my bearings. I found myself standing before a gate that led into a yard bordered by a strip of thirsty earth, where there were flowers, purple stock and scarlet geranium. Above the entrance was a board with the inscription—



From the yard itself came a cheery whistle, the noise of hammer blows, and the cold sound of steel meeting stone.

A sudden impulse made me enter.

A man was sitting with his back towards me, busy at work on a slab of curiously veined marble. He turned round as he heard my steps and I stopped short.

It was the man I had been drawing, whose portrait lay in my pocket.

He sat there, huge and elephantine, the sweat pouring from his scalp, which he wiped with a red silk handkerchief. But though the face was the same, the expression was absolutely different.

He greeted me smiling, as if we were old friends, and shook my hand.

I apologised for my intrusion.

“Everything is hot and glary outside,” I said. “This seems an oasis in the wilderness.”

“I don’t know about the oasis,” he replied, “but it certainly is hot, as hot as hell. Take a seat, sir!”

He pointed to the end of the gravestone on which he was at work, and I sat down.

“That’s a beautiful piece of stone you’ve got hold of,” I said.

He shook his head. “In a way it is,” he answered; “the surface here is as fine as anything you could wish, but there’s a big flaw at the back, though I don’t expect you’d ever notice it. I could never make really a good job of a bit of marble like that. It would be all right in the summer like this; it wouldn’t mind the blasted heat. But wait till the winter comes. There’s nothing quite like frost to find out the weak points in stone.”

“Then what’s it for?” I asked.

The man burst out laughing.

“You’d hardly believe me if I was to tell you it’s for an exhibition, but it’s the truth. Artists have exhibitions: so do grocers and butchers; we have them too. All the latest little things in headstones, you know.”

He went on to talk of marbles, which sort best withstood wind and rain, and which were easiest to work; then of his garden and a new sort of carnation he had bought. At the end of every other minute he would drop his tools, wipe his shining head, and curse the heat.

I said little, for I felt uneasy. There was something unnatural, uncanny, in meeting this man.

I tried at first to persuade myself that I had seen him before, that his face, unknown to me, had found a place in some out-of-the-way corner of my memory, but I knew that I was practising little more than a plausible piece of self-deception.

Mr. Atkinson finished his work, spat on the ground, and got up with a sigh of relief.

“There! what do you think of that?” he said, with an air of evident pride. The inscription which I read for the first time was this—


BORN JAN. 18TH, 1860.


ON AUGUST 20TH, 190—

“In the midst of life we are in death.

Some students flip back the pages of the story to check the name of the narrator.  Then the teacher asks a question.

Teacher:        That’s interesting.  Now what do you think?

Student 5:      OK—these two guys know each other and the stone mason is playing a practical joke.

Student 1:      Hmmm.  Maybe, but they don’t seem to know each other once Withencroft enters the stone mason’s shop.  Maybe it’s some sort of time shift where one or the other went forward in time.

Teacher:        You may be right.  What else?

Student 2:      Well, the two guys don’t seem to know each other, but Atkinson has created a gravestone with Withencroft’s name on it.  We might find out how that happened on the next page.

Teacher:        Let’s find out.  Read the next section to the words, “…but I knew what he meant.”

For some time I sat in silence. Then a cold shudder ran down my spine. I asked him where he had seen the name.

“Oh, I didn’t see it anywhere,” replied Mr. Atkinson. “I wanted some name, and I put down the first that came into my head. Why do you want to know?”

“It’s a strange coincidence, but it happens to be mine.” He gave a long, low whistle.

“And the dates?”

“I can only answer for one of them, and that’s correct.”

“It’s a rum go!” he said.

But he knew less than I did. I told him of my morning’s work. I took the sketch from my pocket and showed it to him. As he looked, the expression of his face altered until it became more and more like that of the man I had drawn.

“And it was only the day before yesterday,” he said, “that I told Maria there were no such things as ghosts!”

Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant.

Student 2:      [summarizing] Wow, Atkinson carves a gravestone with Withencroft’s name on it and Withencroft has drawn a picture of someone who looks like Atkinson in a courtroom.  Okay, it looks like something is going to happen.  I think we’ll find out how these two guys know each other.

Student 4:      Yeah, the two must know each other and just don’t remember.  Maybe this is one of those mysteries where one guy cheated the other one in a card game.

Teacher:        All right.  Anything else?  What about the stone with the crack in it?

Student 5:      Oh, right.  Maybe the stone is going to fall on Withencroft.

Teacher:        Perhaps.  Let’s read to the end of the next page to see how things turn out.

You probably heard my name,” I said.

“And you must have seen me somewhere and have forgotten it! Were you at Clacton-on-Sea last July?”

I had never been to Clacton in my life. We were silent for some time. We were both looking at the same thing, the two dates on the gravestone, and one was right.

“Come inside and have some supper,” said Mr. Atkinson.

His wife was a cheerful little woman, with the flaky red cheeks of the country-bred. Her husband introduced me as a friend of his who was an artist. The result was unfortunate, for after the sardines and watercress had been removed, she brought out a Doré Bible, and I had to sit and express my admiration for nearly half an hour.

I went outside, and found Atkinson sitting on the gravestone smoking.

We resumed the conversation at the point we had left off. “You must excuse my asking,” I said, “but do you know of anything you’ve done for which you could be put on trial?”

He shook his head. “I’m not a bankrupt, the business is prosperous enough. Three years ago I gave turkeys to some of the guardians at Christmas, but that’s all I can think of. And they were small ones, too,” he added as an afterthought.

He got up, fetched a can from the porch, and began to water the flowers. “Twice a day regular in the hot weather,” he said, “and then the heat sometimes gets the better of the delicate ones.

And ferns, good Lord! They could never stand it. Where do you live?”

I told him my address. It would take an hour’s quick walk to get back home.

“It’s like this,” he said. “We’1l look at the matter straight. If you go back home to-night, you take your chance of accidents. A cart may run over you, and there’s always banana skins and orange peel, to say nothing of fallen ladders.”

He spoke of the improbable with an intense seriousness that would have been laughable six hours before. But I did not laugh.

“The best thing we can do,” he continued, “is for you to stay here till twelve o’clock. We’ll go upstairs and smoke, it may be cooler inside.”

To my surprise I agreed.

Student 3:      I know.  The stone guy is going to knock off Withencroft.

Student 4:      Maybe, but the Atkinson doesn’t seem to have a reason to kill him.  I think there will be an accident and Atkinson will be blamed for it.

The discussion continues, then the teacher summarizes the predictions the group has identified.

Teacher:        Okay, we predict that there will be an accident where Atkinson is blamed, that there will be an accident and Atkinson will testify in court about it, or that there will be a twist in the plot and Withencroft finally is overcome by the heat and kills Atkinson.  Please read to the end of the story to find out.

We are sitting now in a long, low room beneath the eaves. Atkinson has sent his wife to bed. He himself is busy sharpening some tools at a little oilstone, smoking one of my cigars the while.

The air seems charged with thunder. I am writing this at a shaky table before the open window.

The leg is cracked, and Atkinson, who seems a handy man with his tools, is going to mend it as soon as he has finished putting an edge on his chisel.

It is after eleven now. I shall be gone in less than an hour.

But the heat is stifling.

It is enough to send a man mad.

Teacher:        Well, what do you think happened?

Student 2:      Is that the end of the story?  Where’s the last page?

Teacher:        That’s it.  The author ended his story at this point to leave the reader wondering how it all turned out.  What do you think is an ending that fits the circumstances?

The students discuss possibilities and point out features of the story that lend credence to their predictions.  Atkinson is sharpening a chisel and could have killed Withencroft.  The table is rickety and Withencroft falls and hurts himself.  The conversation continues. In DR-TA, extending and refining comprehension is a key element.  The students’ discussion demonstrates the increasing accuracy of the predictions as they work through the reading. When done well, the DR-TA helps create an environment that is both conversational (Haggard, 1988) and promotes learning through predictions.

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