Practice Makes Perfect: Citing Textual Evidence

Strategies, lesson plans, and ideas to help pupils locate and cite textual evidence.

By Dawn Dodson


index cards

Like many of my colleagues, two similar phrases I attach to all reading response questions and writing prompts are, “…support your answer with specific textual evidence,” or “…cite evidence from the text to support your response.” Over the course of the school year, these phrases have become mantras for many of my sixth grade language arts students, and even more so with the transition to the Common Core State Standards and the new achievement testing. This said, an important attribute of the Common Core State Standards is locating and correctly citing textual evidence to support a central idea, a response to a text-based question, and an argument. In my own experiences with kids, this concept takes practice but is completely achievable. The following are practice activities that can be attached to any reading lesson as well as an introductory lesson plan.

A Friendly Debate

As an introductory lesson, I like to begin with a debate. It starts with an article that is read independently. Scholastic is a great resource for brief, fact-filled nonfiction articles. After students finish reading, they choose a side of the debate to support and write down three to five facts that support their argument. As a class, we discuss the central idea of the article and define the debate. The class is then divided into small groups, with each side of the debate represented within the group. Each group member takes turns sharing facts that support his or her side. Following group discussions, examples of correctly citing text in responses to articles are shown on the whiteboard, as well as sentence starters to use to transition from the writers’ words to the textual evidence (e.g., I noticed on page…). Using the facts that were discussed in groups, individual responses to the article are written, including correct citation of evidence to support their argument.

Index Card Evidence Chat

When working with sixth graders, I have found that it is often a challenge for students to reread the same text multiple times. Rereading a text for detail, also known as close reading, is a skill that many of my pupils need opportunities to practice. Once a preliminary reading is conducted, a strategy that I use to reinforce this skill is index-card-evidence collection chats. As readers go through an article, they are required to come up with the central idea(s). These ideas are discussed as a class. Learners are then required to look for at least three pieces of specific textual evidence that support the previously defined central ideas and write them down on an index card. Each member of the class meets with a partner to share evidence, that is, to chat. Together, they rank all textual evidence from most supportive (strongest) to least supportive (weakest). The objective is for students to practice identifying the best pieces of textual evidence to support a central idea. Individually, a response to the reading assignment is written that presents the central idea and the supporting evidence.

It All Adds Up

Similar to index card evidence chats, this activity requires readers to first locate important details of a reading passage or article. Using the details as the evidence, we construct a class list. A discussion ensues, and students notice all the details that are related. Once again, using an index card, each learner individually chooses the three best pieces of evidence from the class-created list and concludes the central idea. Although this is a backward way of looking at central idea and supporting evidence, I find that it provides additional understanding as to how they are all connected. Why use index cards? They are easy to collect as an exit ticket at the close of class time, easy for me to flip through and to group together to identify those pupils who need extra help, as well as they seem less intimidating than a full sheet of paper for my reluctant writers. Over time, I have I have received wonderful sentences on index cards. These can serve as a great pre-writing tool for a longer essay assignment (e.g., debate index cards make a great prewriting strategy to an argument essay).

More Lesson Planet Resources:

Textual Evidence Worksheet

This worksheet is a great graphic organizer that can be used with a variety of texts, both fiction and nonfiction. It guides readers to pull out evidence from text including assertions, quotes, and the all important explanations.

Cite Textual Evidence to Support Inferences Drawn from Text

A seven minute video, this is a great way to introduce and provide instruction on drawing inferences from a text as well as correctly citing evidence to support them. There are also guided notes and a lesson plan to accompany the video.

Characterization and Nonfiction: Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman”?

Pupils read a speech and use a variety of analytical skills, including citing textual evidence to support writing. This is a thorough and well-organized lesson plan that is aligned to the Common Core.

Language Arts Guide

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Dawn Dodson