That night, she looked at her own copy of Tom Sawyer. She reread Chapter 30 and realized that it gave the perfect setup for a reader to know that the characters are in a cavern. She then reread Chapter 31 and saw that without the context clues in the previous piece, a reader, especially a 21st century middle school student in Brooklyn, might have no way of knowing that the scene is in such a faraway remote place. It's because there is no context! There is no context from the student's prior knowledge. There is no context from the previous chapter. There is no context in the explicit language of the chapter itself. "Context," Dorothy told us, "is key."
In a previous post, I wrote about Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Plato writes about how confusing it would be to interpret the world simply through the shadows of reality. When you only see the shadows of truth, you can be very confused about what's going on around you. Inadvertently, we do this every time we remove the context of something and turn it into an activity. Here are some ways in which you can add real context to seemingly isolated activities...
You should also have kids orally create sentences with a partner for the word. It takes away some of the, "I'm doing this for the teacher" flavor of the traditional writing a sentence for each new word activity and make it seem more real. The nuances will shine through much more, because kids will develop context through the oral revision of sentences with their partners or the whole class.
The latter might create sketches, abbreviations, and other messy icons of thinking. However, the thinking is what we're going for! The writing about reading is actually a part of the process of reading, not an end product that's just for accountability. Once kids tap into how a timeline, a jotting about a thought, a T-chart, or a sketch can make them think more deeply in their text today, it can create greater context for their continued reading tomorrow.
When kids can look at charts and be reminded of something they learned how to do, these strategies are triggered and strengthened at each glance. That's why we tend to not reuse charts from previous years, instead opting to recreate these with each new class. This is also a good argument against buying ready-made charts in the store with things like classroom rules, examples of grammar and punctuation, or content-specific vocabulary. These have context, but the context doesn't match that of the experience of your class, and in that way, they're very limiting.