Article of the Week (AOW) is a current events based close reading and writing activity that has been a game changer in my classroom. Students are given guidelines to annotate a text and then write a reflection based on the article and their notes. The renowned teacher and writer Kelly Gallagher invented AOW and I largely pattern my AOW system after his, with a few tweaks.
Purpose: AOW develops a number of important academic skills:
- Development of Background Knowledge: A new article is used each week, exposing students to a wide-range of topics.
- Close Reading: Students are required to interact with and analyze the text. I have a simple annotation system that my students use that is detailed below.
- Metacognition: Going hand-in-hand with close reading, students must think about their thinking and note what they understand and what they’re confused about.
- Analytical Writing: The highest levels of thinking are required to compose a written reflection from a choice of prompts. The brain’s engines are revving high as students synthesize their thoughts, their annotations, and references to the text into a written response.
Implementation: A new AOW is introduced every Monday and is due on Friday. Students get a 30ish minute chunk of time on Monday to start and then smaller chunks of time throughout the week to work on it. If they don’t finish in class, it becomes homework. The Friday deadline is a soft deadline, if they really need the weekend to finish they can have it.
Process: AOW occurs in two parts, annotations and a written reflection
Annotations: I did a lot of research on annotation/close reading systems but never found a formal system that I loved (the Notice and Note system specifically seems great, but requires a huge time commitment to learn). As a result, I came up with a simple annotation system that has four components, two of which happen in the text while the others are in the margin.
- Annotations in the text:
- Circle confusion: Circle any words, phrases, or references that you don’t understand. Use resources (teacher, classmates, google, dictionary) to research and then make a small note above the circled word to clarify. I often complete the first read through out loud with the students while projecting with my document camera. Students mark confusion as I read. I then ask what confused them and show its location on the doc cam. I clarify about half of the items out loud to the class and tell the students to use their resources to find the other half.
- Underline Key Ideas: Underline any major information in the article. Each paragraph typically has at least one key idea, but not more than a few. I tell students they need to be judicious in their underlining choices only the biggest most important ideas, not supporting info.
- Annotations in the margins:
- Personal Connections: Make at least three connections to prior experiences or prior learning per page. Complete sentences aren’t necessary.
- Summarize Paragraphs: Distill each paragraph into 1-2 bullet points. Grouping very short paragraphs together is fine. These summarizations really help students digest the article and will serve as the best fuel for their written reflections.
Reflections: Students write a one page reflection on the article. Other AOW systems have suggested prompts, but ultimately let students write about whatever they want as long as it connects to the article. I’ve found that focused prompts generate better writing. I always give a choice of prompts each week and try to shape the prompts to sharpen different skills each week: persuasive, opinion, pure text dependence, critique, etc.. The reflection does not need to be final draft quality; first draft quality with a quick self edit is sufficient.
Grading: AOW takes little time to grade. AOW is not the time for deeply critical analysis and feedback of student thought and writing. One of my favorite points that Kelly Gallagher makes relates to volume of writing. He argues that students should be writing wayyy more than teachers can possibly grade. AOW helps build up the volume of writing while practicing other important skills without draining precious teacher grading and planning time.
I quickly scan the annotations to make sure all of the requirements are met. Next, I scan through the reflection to identify the gist. If I make a comment on the writing, it’s either praising a particularly good use of writers craft or its identifying a single issue that is so common and blatant that it is unignorable. Students either receive full credit or I bounce it back to them ungraded with an explanation of what they have to add or change.
Other Resources that I’ve found helpful:
The originator – http://www.kellygallagher.org/article-of-the-week/
Dave Stuart’s videotaped lesson introducing AOW: https://youtu.be/Ekx2x24OkfA
Excellent article resource which are varied in topic and can be adapted to different reading levels – www.newsela.com
Another teachers archive of AOWs – http://ourenglishclass.net/article-of-the-week/
Some AOW examples from my class this year: