I remember the shift from multiple choice reading assessments to constructed response reading questions like it was yesterday. When we first made the shift, we got everything from blank stares (because they didn’t understand the question), to single word answers, simple phrases, answers that were off-topic, and let’s not even talk about the grammar and spelling. Hint: It was rough. 😛
My grade-level team and I had to come up with a plan and fast. One strategy we implemented that made a huge difference was teaching the students to use the RACE acronym when answering constructed response questions. However, there were some learning curves, as with any new strategy. This post will breakdown RACE, why I chose this strategy, and tips for each part of the strategy.
Why Use RACE for Constructed Response Reading Questions?
First, RACE stands for:
R – Restate the question.
A – Answer the question completely.
C – Cite evidence from the text.
E – Explain the evidence.
There are many different strategies and acronyms that are available to students. I chose to use RACE because of the importance put on restating the question and the fact that the students have to take their answer a step further by explaining how the evidence they cited supports their answer.
With that being said, any acronym and strategy you teach will work if you teach each step strategically and support students as needed. How do you do that? I am glad you asked…keep reading for all my tips and my recommended resources, including freebies.
Tips for Teaching Constructed Response with RACE
1.) Practice with short texts specifically to teach the strategy FIRST. Introducing it in a nonthreatening way with short texts will allow the students to learn the process and importance before moving on to lengthy grade level texts.
2.) Start the year off teaching this strategy so your students have all year to practice it. The sooner the better. Please don’t try and implement this in the weeks leading up to the test. #spokenfromexperience
3.) Embed it in read alouds and guided reading throughout the year. One easy way to do this is through sticky note evidence collection. For example: “In this section, we learn just how greedy the character is. Look for evidence in the text to support this conclusion.” The students flag or jot down the evidence and then we discuss it and sometimes compile it into written responses using the RACE formula.
4.) Teach each step on its own and let them build on each other. I teach R (restating the question), and we practice. Then, we move on to A (answering the question completely), and we practice and talk about the importance of using complete sentences, making sure we answer all parts of the question, using key vocabulary, etc. That usually takes one day, but sometimes two. The next 2-3 days focus on teaching C and E (how to pull relevant evidence, cite that evidence, and then explain it). The C and E are the ones that we spend ALL YEAR practicing and refining.
5.) Teach the students to write the acronym on their paper beside each question AND check off each part as they complete it. I do give my students posters and bookmarks to remind them of each part (see Tip #7 for freebies), but ultimately, the responsibility needs to be on the students because they can’t use those resources on state assessments.
6.) Another tip that I have done is to have the students color code the different parts of their response. This is an engaging way for the students to make sure they include everything needed. I like to do this every now and then throughout the year, and my students love it.
7.) Scaffold the students with reminders. This can be done through bookmarks, posters glued into reader’s notebooks, or by creating RACE toolkits with bags, containers, or by putting the posters on a ring.
R – Restate the Question
I learned several years ago that my students need explicit practice with this part of RACE. One way that I do is this is through lots and lots of practice, but I also like to incorporate some fun activities.
One of the activities I use are these Restate the Question puzzles. The students have to read the question puzzle piece and find the restatement that matches. The questions are all focused on reading standards, so it will be a nice review of key vocabulary, as well.
To get these Restate the Question puzzles for free, simply join my email list using the form below. Due to the nature of the questions and reading vocabulary, these are best for 4th and 5th graders.
FREE Restate the Question Puzzles
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Another activity that my students really enjoy is my Restate the Question Bingo. The students really enjoy playing this and even request it when we have a few extra minutes to spare.
Besides teaching this skill explicitly and reviewing with the activities above, here are two more ways that I help my students:
- Have them answer questions verbally in complete sentences. Just doing this simple strategy throughout the year will make a huge difference in their ability to restate questions in complete sentences in a written format.
- Have the students restate the question orally and in writing (leaving the answer part blank) before they even begin to answer the question. We do this with math constructed response tasks, too, and it makes a huge difference in ensuring the students’ understand what the question is asking them.
A – Answer the Question Completely
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but one thing that I do for this that really helps is have my students check off the question as they answer it. This really helps ensure they answer the question completely if there is more than one part. They simply place a small check mark above the part of the question after they have answered it.
I also teach my students the importance of ensuring they use vocabulary from the text and don’t use pronouns for characters until after they have introduced them in their response.
C- Cite Evidence from the Text
Citing the evidence is the part of answering reading constructed response questions that can be the trickiest. Here are the strategies we use:
1. I teach several mini-lessons that focus specifically on finding and collecting evidence to support points, inferences, or answers. I do these mainly through our read alouds so it integrates nicely. I use these two printables that are included in the RACE toolkit also linked above.
2. When we use passages, my students are taught to underline the evidence from the text that supports their answers.
3. I explicitly teach the different ways to cite evidence from the text. I do teach both types but, honestly, I prefer to have my students paraphrase the evidence in their own words. This keeps them from plagiarizing and having an answer that is not their original thoughts.
The posters shown above are also included in the RACE toolkit. Also, the typo on the Cite Your Evidence chart has been corrected in the download. 😉
4. Provide sentence stems for the students to use when they are citing their evidence.
5. Teach my students the power of 3. This means that they try to provide three pieces of evidence to support their answer. We do talk about how sometimes three pieces of evidence may not be available. However, teaching them the power of 3 and that the more evidence you provide, the more difficult it is to refute the answer keeps them searching for more relevant evidence to use.
E – Explain the Evidence
This step was the bane of my existence for a long time. For the life of me, I could not figure out a way to help my students explain their evidence without just restating it.
Finally, I had a light bulb moment and came up with two strategies to help.
1. I taught the importance of not only providing valid evidence but also explaining it using a detective analogy. As a class, we discussed how a detective collects all of the evidence but doesn’t just plop the evidence down on his boss’s desk. He has to explain how each piece of evidence proves his case.
2. I also came up with some simple sentence stems that would both help my students explain their evidence and show them the importance of explaining it to begin with. The stems helped them understand that they need to show why the evidence even matters through their explanation.
Do you use RACE for constructed response reading questions? Or another strategy? Let me know in the comments. I love hearing all of the different strategies teachers use.
And don’t forget to grab the free charts and posters to make your own RACE toolkits to help your students master reading constructed response questions by clicking here.
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