A Lesson By Tanny McGregor

Apr 19, 2015

Earlier this week I posted this picture:
 I'll admit...it was totally a teaser.  We had such a great time watching Tanny McGregor's lesson on Wednesday that I just couldn't wait to share all about it.

But then this little one turned five and wanted a dragon party...so my post had to wait.
But I think my time has finally come to to share this amazing experience.

Tanny McGregor is the author of Comprehension Connections and Genre Connections.  She is a co-author of Comprehension Going Forward.  The reading teachers within my school have read her book Comprehension Connections.  They have discussed it, marked it up, tagged it, and taught it.  It has changed the way that we approach our introductions to new comprehension strategies.  Honestly, it has changed the way I introduce many topics in all subjects (but that is for another day, another post.)

Let's dig in...Tanny's topic: THEME!

The lesson began with a discussion around the word theme.  Immediately a hand shot up..."You mean like a birthday party theme?" Yes!! Our first connection was made!
To build a better and more concrete understanding of theme, Tanny dug into her bag.

She pulled out a container of sand with a note card at the bottom that said "theme."  Using her fingers to touch the top of the sand, Tanny explained that the sand is the surface thinking that we do.  But when we dig deeper (with a small shovel), we use deeper thinking.  We uncover the theme.

This was illustrated right away with a short poem by Jeff Moss.

The kids analyzed all the surface level things about the poem with Tanny: there are 14 words in the poem, capital letters, and 2 contractions.  As these things were pointed out, my students touched the surface of the sand.

We chorally read the poem, the teachers chorally read the poem, and the students chorally read the poem.  Then it was time to take the shovel and "dig deeper" into the poem.

Students discussed what they thought the theme of this poem may possibly be.  As the possible themes arose, they were written on this chart.  The triangle represents the three text cousins: poem, pictures, and book.  The heart represents the possible themes that they all contribute to.

We moved on to the pictures.  These were found within the text Each Kindness.  Tanny did not read the book or even look at all the pictures within the book.  She just showed a few of the illustrations and briefly explained what may be happening in them.  Students were asked to "turn and talk" about what the possible theme of the book.

The theme ideas that were generated were added to the chart.  Then it was time to turn to the last text cousin: the book, Red.

Students listened intently and made some great inferences and predictions about what was going to happen as Tanny read the book.  This was my first time hearing the text, so I was eager to see how it connected to its "cousins."  As the book came to a conclusion, the students and teachers were once again asked to conclude what possible themes the three texts share.  All of these ideas were recorded:

We never decided on a definite answer for the theme.  She allowed students to make their own connections between the text cousins.  These were possible themes and she did not discount any of them.

To bring the lesson to a conclusion, Tanny brought one student up to the front.  She discussed surface level things about the child as she played with the top of the sand.  He has on a red shirt, he wears glasses, etc.  Then she asked the teachers to "dig deeper" with the shovel and share deeper things about the child.  What a great way to bring the lesson full circle!

It was powerful, meaningful, and we enjoyed every second.  When our students traveled to their next class, math, they were busting with excitement.  They said, "We met a REAL author...like a REAL one!"  I have to agree with them..."I met a REAL author...an INSPIRING one!"

P.S.  I would like to dig just a little bit deeper into my personal learning from this lesson.  I would like to talk a bit more about the text choices that Tanny made.  You can find this post at Adventures in Literacy Land on Wednesday.  Another topic I want to discuss: the power of observation!


  1. I feel so lucky to be the first to comment on your amazing post and experience! What a fantastic way to present a concept that is tough to wrap your head around. Your students will never forget theme, or their experience with a Real Live Author!! Awesome!

  2. I know I should have remembered her name when you shared that Tanny McGregor was coming to teach. About 15 years ago there was this summer professional development opportunity that I attended. It was a 4-day experience out in Lakota, and I believe she was the presenter. Would you believe that back in those days, they paid us to attend?! She was AMAZING! I teach Love That Dog today because of her! She is one of those individuals that I could listen to for HOURS! How awesome that your Bulldogs got to learn a lesson from her!

  3. LOVE!!!!!! Thanks for sharing!!! :) She's amazing!


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