Save the Last Word for Me!

This strategy will help students to:

  • Prepare to meaningfully participate in collaborative discussions


  1. Choose two passages of text that do not require extensive introductions be­fore they are read aloud. Good choices include short newspaper articles or the opening paragraphs of novels. Make sure students have copies so that they can read along. Model the first passage the way the kids do: Read it aloud and then immediately explain in detail why you chose it. The following passage is from the first two paragraphs of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury… When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

  1. Teacher’s Explanation: I chose this passage because it makes me ask a lot of questions. How did Jem’s arm get broken? Why are they still talking about it years later? What does Jem’s arm have to do with Boo Radley? What does it mean that Dill made him come out? Why was he hiding? Why did they even care about him? Who are the £wells? It sounds like the narrator blames them for Jem’s broken arm. Con­sidering that Jem ‘s big concern was playing football, it seems like it’s the narrator who can’t stop thinking about this incident rather than Jem. He seems okay with it. That word “assuaged” is interesting. I wonder what it means.


  1. Then you might say, “Okay, that’s what I think. Let’s get some ideas from some other readers;’ and call on a few kids at random. After that passage explanation, you can bet there won’t be any other ideas because the kids already heard an extended version of “the right” answer. Their thinking has been shut down. When this happens, mention that you’ve noticed the same thing happening during their literature circle meetings.


  1. Before reading the second passage aloud, have students review the read­ing/thinking strategies that they brainstormed during the Think-Aloud modelling done earlier. Now say, “As I read this second passage aloud, I want you to follow along and notice what the passage makes you think about. After hearing the passage, everyone should be ready to have something to say about it.”


  1. After reading the second passage, explain the new strategy: “Now we’re going to Save the Last Word for Me. Before I say anything about this passage, I want to hear what some of you have to say. Tell the rest of us why you think the passage was important, how that passage relates to something else in the story, or just what you noticed and thought about as that passage was read.” Then call on three or four kids at random before you explain why you chose it.


Students should notice that it’s easier to think of a response before the reader explains anything and that their ideas are often different from the reader’s.


  1. Now the groups have their marching orders. Whenever someone reads a passage aloud, the only thing the reader can say at first is “Save the Last Word for Me” Not until everyone else has contributed an opinion can the person who chose the passage explain his thoughts.

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