Common ELA standards require not just that students cite text evidence but also that they explain how it supports an argument. It can be challenging to establish a meaningful, supportive context for practice with evidence. The following six strategies offer effective ways to help all students become confident users of text evidence.
- Choose texts that inspire divergent thinking.
A text that raises questions with more than one reasonable answer is an ideal candidate for in-depth work. If you can develop a question about a text and find evidence for two or more answers, it should support students’ exploration.
- Use discussion to create authentic investment in evidence.
Discussion, whether whole-class or small-group, gives students a reason to find and explain text evidence. Hearing different answers also spurs students to recognize the importance of explaining how evidence supports an answer.
- Give sentence starters for sharing evidence.
For students new to citing and explaining text evidence, phrases like “In the text . . . ,” “The author mentions . . . ,” and “On page [X] it says . . .” can offer needed scaffolding, while for other students, they may serve as helpful reminders. Phrases like “This shows us that . . .” and “The author uses this to say . . .” can help students articulate their interpretations of evidence.
- Ask follow-up questions.
When a student cites evidence, asking a question like, Why does this part of the story make you think that? or Would you tell us how that passage supports your idea? demonstrates your interest in hearing more and makes it clear that evidence is not self-explanatory.
- Show students what “strong” evidence means.
Explain that “strong” evidence clearly connects to the question and answer and fits the argument without stretching or twisting. You can model this by sharing three pieces of text evidence for an answer, rated from strongest to weakest, and explaining your reasoning. Then have students try the same exercise with the same text but with a different question and answer.
- Be transparent about expectations, and encourage self-reflection.
Sharing benchmarks with students (see chart below) takes the mystery out of what it means to use evidence effectively. It also enables students to reflect on evidence that was used in discussion and set goals for next time.
Using Evidence: Student Benchmarks
The following will help you gauge a student’s skill at finding and explaining textual evidence, from struggling (Level 1) to proficient (Level 4).
Has difficulty supporting an answer with evidence
Refers to the text in general to support ideas
Recalls or locates evidence from the text to support ideas
Locates evidence and explains how it supports ideas