Say What? Helping Confused Readers Cope

crazy reading passage
Before we start off the year with novels and short stories and such, I spent quite a bit of time with my sixth graders, talking about reading strategies. This is even more important these days, when our new curriculum (Common Core) calls explicitly for more complex text, close reading skills, and pushing young readers to the stretching points. There are going to be times when they will be scratching their heads over something they have read, but not quite understood.

I tell them that when that happens to me, and it is a book I have chosen to read, I often given the text another try, paying closer attention, and if it is still beyond my understanding, I abandon the book. But, I remind them, with a text assigned to them, they don’t have that option, so they need some strategies for making some sense of confusing text.

This activity uses the very short story above (which I believe I found in some materials from a special education conference around dyslexia and reading difficulties, as a way to demonstrate to teachers the struggle that some students go through). First, I have a few students read it out loud to the class (much laughter). Then, I read it, in my best “read aloud” voice.

We then work through a series of questions, such as when did this story take place, who was in the Nerd-Link, what happened there, what did the ditty strezzle do, and what did Pribin chife to Flingledobe. There are typically many looks to me like, what? But I refer them back to the text itself, and remind them that they don’t need to interpret the meaning of the words, just the meaning of the story.

Then, we have our discussions, and it ranges from reading strategies and clues (quotation marks indicate communication, subject/predicate shows who is doing what, parts of speech help identify unknown words and phrases, etc.) They really get into the fact that they could make sense of something that does not make sense (more laughter when I say it like that), by becoming detectives examining the passage closely and by parts, instead of giving up on it. These are skill that we will work on all year long, but this kind of nonsensical prompt helps set the stage for those discussions.

Peace (in the story),


  1. Great lesson to help students “grapple” with complex text. I will be adding this to my lesson plans to use with my 7th graders. Thanks!

  2. I LOVE this!! Totally stealing it. I do some pretty difficult text with my fifth graders, and this would be a wonderful introduction.

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