Dogs & Cats: a close reading research project

What’s your favorite animal?

It’s one of life’s great questions. Even more significant, are you cat-person or dog-person? Guiding questions like this promote an authentic learning experience. Authentic learning experiences make connections outside the classroom. For our purposes, this lesson focuses on research skills to promote close reading.


Research skills includes:

  • Close Reading
  • Academic Discussion
  • Annotation
  • Writing
  • Reporting

Prints and Resources (via DropBox)


1. What is your favorite animal?

As students enter the room, pass out name tags and ask them to draw or write the name of their favorite animal on the name tag. From here, we can practice a variety of skills by playing the mingle game – students mingle about the room for a set period of time until you designate them to adjust into specific small groups. For example:

Students will “mingle” about while you play music or have a timer setup. When the time runs out or the music stops, announce directions, then set the timer or music again and repeat (optional):

  • divide into groups based on the number of legs your animal has
  • divide into groups based on whether your favorite animal is domesticated or not
  • divide into groups based on it’s biological classification (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, etc.)
  • Finally, divide into groups with students that have the same animal as you (then make the noise of your animal)

Then, prompt students to do the following in their groups:

  • mark the beginning/middle/ending graphmes on the animals name (on a partner’s name tag or rewrite the name for the group on a sentence strip or the blackboard)
  • say the beginning/middle/ending graphmes aloud
  • clap the syllables in your group’s animal’s name
  • et cetera…

You can also create a classroom graph of statistics with this step (i.e. document the number of different groups, how many students are in each group, how many letters are in each groups’ animals’ name, how many phonemes, etc.).

How else might you use the mingle game in other subjects or lessons?

2. Dogs & Cats

It’s likely there will be a high number of students that chose Cats or Dogs as their favorite animal. Thus begins the great debate and our second guiding question:

Which makes the best pet – a cat or dog?

Have students separate into cat-people or dog-people (of course, adjust groups as you see fit). Provide each group with poster paper (or scratch paper) and have the cat-people draw an upside down triangle and the dog-people draw a circle in the middle of the paper. In the middle of their assigned shape, they will write their chosen topic – cat or dog. This is their claim (i.e. cats are the best pet or dogs are the best pet).

Add three outstretched lines from the sides of their assigned shape. This is where they will put their research to support their claim.

cat dog
The research diagram waiting to be filled.

SIDE NOTE: The shapes and lines look like the nose of a cat or dog. Sort of… use your imagination!

On the left side, ask students to put three reasons their pet is the best choice. This can be based on their personal experience and opinions. The group has to come to a consensus on the top three reasons that best support their claim.

3. Research

Not all support is created equal
Not all support is created equal.

Now that students have supported their claim – cats/dogs are the best pet – with reasons – see the left “whiskers” – they will conduct research using scholarly texts. Not all support is created equal. Research provides students’ claims with stronger, more stable support for their claims.

Students will close read grade-level appropriate texts and use the best examples from the text to build their claim that cats/dogs are the best pet.

SIDE NOTE: For help choosing grade-level appropriate texts, try the Lexile Framework for Reading.

Feel free to use the excerpts provided from the Common Core State Standards Appendix C (Fire Cat and Good Pet, Bad Pet reading copies) or a text that is more suitable for your students (i.e. Walter the Farting Dog).

After using your preferred close reading strategies with students, consider having them take notes using the Writing Helper handout. With this handout, students will draw their three favorite or the most interesting points from the reading. Under the pictures, they will practice writing about, describing, and/or explaining their choices.

How might the Writing Helper handout be used in other literacies?

After adequate time has been provided for students to close read from their selected text on cats, dogs, or both, and students have completed notes on their Writing Helper handout, it’s time for them to reconvene in their small groups. Students will present their top three points taken from the close reading and, as a group, decide what points are the strongest. The strongest points will be added to the right set of whiskers on their research diagram.

For additional support on understanding close reading, check out my notes and this research provided by Hinchman and Moore (via EverNote).

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