Chunking

Rationale

A Chunking activity involves breaking down a difficult text into more manageable pieces and having students rewrite these “chunks” in their own words. You can use this strategy with challenging texts of any length. Chunking helps students identify key words and ideas, develops their ability to paraphrase, and makes it easier for them to organize and synthesize information.

Procedure

  1. Preparation
    Chunking can be used with challenging texts of any length. A paragraph can be chunked into phrases and sentences, while a reading of several pages can be chunked into paragraphs or sections. It is often helpful to have students record information about each “chunk” in a graphic organizer, which you may want to prepare in advance.
  2. Review Reading Strategies
    Before having students work on paraphrasing the text, it is helpful to go over specific decoding strategies. You may want to post the following “reading reminders” on the board:
    • Circle words that are unfamiliar.
    • Use context clues to help define these words.
    • Look up the meaning of unknown words.
    • Write synonyms for these new words in the text.
    • Underline important places and people and identify them.
    • Read aloud.
    • Read multiple times.
  3. Chunk the Text
    “Chunking the text” simply means breaking the text down into smaller parts. Sometimes teachers chunk the text in advance for students, especially if this is the first time students have used this strategy. Other times, teachers ask students to chunk the text. Students can work on chunking texts with partners or on their own. Depending on students’ reading level, the lengths of chunks can vary. A struggling reader may work with phrases rather than sentences. A stronger reader can often work with longer chunks.
  4. Students Paraphrase Meaning
    Students should rewrite “chunks” in their own words. By the end of this activity, students should have a paraphrased version of the original text.
  5. Assess and Share
    The paraphrased text can be used to evaluate students’ understanding and reading ability. You can also have students compare their versions of the text. This step often leads to interesting discussions about interpretation – how people can often find different meaning in the same words.

Variations

  • Identify and Define Key Words: To help students move from reading the text to paraphrasing, ask them to first identify and define the key words found in that chunk. You can add a space on a graphic organizer for this step.
  • Create a Visual: To improve comprehension and retention of ideas, have students visually represent the selected chunk as a picture or symbol. They can create the symbol or image, or they can find one in a magazine or online.
  • Paragraph Shrinking: To help students clarify main ideas, ask them to summarize the meaning of a paragraph in ten words or less.
  • Identify Significance and Connections: After students summarize a portion of the text, ask them to respond to these ideas. Questions you might use to prompt their thinking include: What do these ideas remind you of? What questions do they raise? Why is this idea important? To whom?
  • Jigsaw Chunking: You can divide a longer text into sections and have small groups work on summarizing a paragraph or two each. Groups can share the meaning of their section with the rest of the class by using the Jigsaw strategy or by having small-group presentations. This variation works well with a text that has clearly divided parts, such as the Bill of Rights, because students need to be able to paraphrase their section without having read prior sections.

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