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Teaching Interpretation

Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning

By Sonja Cherry-Paul, Dana Johansen
Foreword by Lucy Calkins

Teaching Interpretation demystifies the interpretation process, helping teachers show students how to construct, revise, and test their interpretations.  Lesson ideas, text recommendations, and templates help you easily incorporate the work of interpretation into your practice.

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"How glad I am that this book has arrived on the scene!  It reminds us that teaching towards the Common Core can be some of the most demanding, significant, and bold work you could possibly do.  In Teaching Interpretation, you'll join two extraordinary teachers in demythologizing the essential skills of Common Core-aligned reading, and in teaching those skills in such a way that students own them."
Lucy Calkins

What does interpretation really mean? What does it look like in the classroom?  How can we effectively teach students of all reading levels to be successful at constructing interpretations? 

 “With the Common Core calling for students to take part in the rich and rigorous work of interpretation,” write Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen, “it is necessary for all teachers to learn how to teach this important work in ways that reach all learners.”  Teaching Interpretation demystifies the interpretation process and help teachers take on the challenge of showing students how to construct, revise, and test their interpretations.  Presented in manageable chunks that can work with any curriculum, they offer a conceptual framework that makes the interpretation process transparent to both teachers and students.   Lesson ideas, text recommendations, templates, and suggestions for how to differentiate help you easily incorporate the work of interpretation into your practice, while student samples and graphic organizers make it all visible. 

Additional Resource Information

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Introduction:  What Is Interpretation?  Demystifying the Process of Interpretation
Ch. 1:  Figurative Language: Analyzing Word Choice and Usage
Ch. 2:  Mood, Atmosphere, and Tone: Considering Setting, Environment, and Author's Intent
Ch. 3:  Multiple Perspectives: Examining and Understanding Multiple Points of View
Ch. 4:  Symbolism: Reading Signs and Symbols
Ch. 5:  Theme: Connecting to Universal Ideas Embedded in Texts

In Depth

Interpretation is a critical-thinking process. It begins with students generating ideas, drafting theories supported by text evidence, and creating a claim or a thesis statement. Then they move through an iterative cycle of revising and testing their claims. This involves finding the strongest text support and seeing how their claims exist outside the context of a singular text, such as across texts, across artistic mediums, and in the world. This book will benefit classroom teachers as we take on the challenge of teaching our students how to construct, revise, and test their interpretations.

In response to the ambiguity surrounding the teaching of interpretation, we offer a conceptual framework that teachers can follow to make the process of interpretation more transparent for our students and ourselves. We believe this framework will benefit classroom teachers as we take on the challenge of teaching students how to generate, experiment with, and rethink their interpretations. We see this as an iterative rather than linear process, which means that students will enter and exit this process from various points. To construct powerful and plausible interpretations, we’ll need to teach our students how to journey through the process.

We created this framework to demystify the process of interpretation for teachers and students. The framework begins by creating an entry point for students to construct an interpretation (Generating). Then it encourages students to locate text evidence (Experimenting) or to rethink their ideas or their angle (Rethinking.) We have found this framework helpful for students as they find themselves shifting among these three processes. We have also found that some students move fluidly through the framework, from generating to experimenting to rethinking, while others move fluidly from generating to rethinking to experimenting. Furthermore, we have seen students go back to generating ideas after moving through the framework to begin the cycle again. These three processes are foundational to students’ critical thinking and construction of interpretations, and the framework demystifies this work. It also illuminates the process for teachers by helping them assess where students are and where they are getting stuck.

The title of this book, Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, stems both from the framework we’ve created and from the importance of students supporting their thinking and ideas. By using text-based evidence to construct meaning, we hope to instill in students not only the understanding that all ideas need basis and validation, but that there are varying levels of strength when it comes to textual support. This close reading work involves a ritual of time and practice. Not all textual support is the BEST support, and not all support carries the same weight. Learning to cite text effectively is a thread throughout this entire book. We believe this framework will help teachers respond to the increasing expectations set forth by the Common Core State Standards.



“Interpretation” is one of those words that strikes fear into every educator’s heart. We can tell when students are struggling, but moving them beyond mediocre ideas feels akin to teaching them to breathe underwater. In a thoughtful and resource-packed debut, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen help to demystify the teaching of interpretation skills. Not as a one-right-answer formula, but as a progression of experimentation and rethinking that feels right at home in student-centered classrooms. Teaching Interpretation has given me tools for teaching complex thinking in approachable ways. Christopher Lehman, author of Falling in Love with Close Reading

As a Literacy Coordinator, Teaching Interpretation is the professional resource I will keep close at hand in my work with teachers and students as we navigate through the demands of the Common Core. Sonja and Dana know how the work of interpretation can be a daunting and overwhelming process. But luckily for us, they have set forth an Interpretation Framework that provide for students multiple entry points in developing their understanding of what it means to construct powerful and plausible interpretations of a text. In this book, Sonja and Dana also provide specific ways for teachers to introduce or review the various concepts that are essential in teaching interpretation to help our students become better critical thinkers. The design of the book allows for teachers to easily incorporate any of the ideas, lessons, assessments, graphic organizers, and list of text resources into an already existing curriculum. This book is a must-have resource for any teacher.  Michelle Kaczmarek, K-8 Literacy Coordinator, Dobbs Ferry, New York

Sonja and Dana break down the invisible, mysterious, and difficult process of interpreting a text in a realistic, practical way that every teacher and every student can instantly implement. Their approach allowed my students not only to identify important features in the book, such as theme, mood, and symbolism, but also to push their thinking further, making connections supported by the text. With Teaching Interpretation, Sonja and Dana have given teachers a framework for breaking down the process of interpretation so that students have the tools not only to find what is important in the book but also to understand why it’s important on their own.  This book has everything that I want in a professional development text: student writing samples, suggestions of mentor texts, lesson plans, and the honest, clear voices of two reflective teachers who are doing this work each day in their classrooms.  I’ve become both a better teacher and reader with this book! Maureen Mooney, English Teacher, Greenwich Academy

In my experience as an English as a Second Language (ESL) educator and as a Literacy Specialist for more than twenty years, it is often challenging to increase my students’ English language proficiency, while simultaneously teaching higher-order thinking skills.  Teaching Interpretation has been critical in supporting me as an ESL educator.  Cherry-Paul and Johansen expertly deconstruct teaching interpretation by stripping the concepts to its core. They provide clear explanations, instructional support and include graphic organizers to scaffold, track and organize students’ thinking. In addition, for my students, the use of digital texts is pivotal as it removes language as an obstacle that might impede their academic success. Jenice Mateo-Toledo, K-12 ESL Coordinator, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York