The English Classroom

A GUIDE TO IMPROVING STUDENT LITERACY

The Situation

Your students find it difficult to know what information they should focus on in a written text.

The Solution

Determining Importance is the process of locating the most important information in the text.

Present the following situation:

You are going for a run around a lake. It will take about an hour to get around the lake. Also, it is a hot day. Unfortunately, you do not have space in your pockets for everything. Here are the items (You can change the items based on the age group):

  • Driver’s license
  • Phone
  • Pack of gum
  • Protein Bar
  • Notebook
  • Inhaler
  • Lip stick
  • Water
  • Car and house keys
  • Hat

Listen to the students conversation. They will need to justify their answers. Now get student to read the following extract from Roald Dahl’s The Bicycle and the Sweetshop (You may choose to present only one paragraph from this extract):

The sweet-shop in Llandaff in the year 1923 was the very centre of our lives. To us, it was what a bar is to a drunk, or a church is to a Bishop. Without it, there would have been little to live for. But it had one terrible drawback, this sweet-shop. The woman who owned it was a horror. We hated her and we had good reason for doing so.

Her name was Mrs Pratchett. She was a small skinny old hag with a moustache on her upper lip and a mouth as sour as a green gooseberry. She never smiled. She never welcomed us when we went in, and the only times she spoke were when she said things like, ‘I’m watchin’ you so keep yer thievin’ fingers off them chocolates!’ Or ‘I don’t want you in ’ere just to look around! Either you forks out or you gets out!’

But by far the most loathsome thing about Mrs Pratchett was the filth that clung around her. Her apron was grey and greasy. Her blouse had bits of breakfast all over it, toast-crumbs and tea stains and splotches of dried egg-yolk. It was her hands, however, that disturbed us most. They were disgusting. They were black with dirt and grime. They looked as though they had been putting lumps of coal on the fire all day long. And do not forget please that it was these very hands and fingers that she plunged into the sweet-jars when we asked for a pennyworth of Treacle Toffee or Wine Gums or Nut Clusters or whatever. There were precious few health laws in those days, and nobody, least of all Mrs Pratchett, ever thought of using a little shovel for getting out the sweets as they do today. The mere sight of her grimy right hand with its black fingernails digging an ounce of Chocolate Fudge out of a jar would have caused a starving tramp to go running from the shop. But not us. Sweets were our life-blood. We would have put up with far worse than that to get them. So we simply stood and watched in sullen silence while this disgusting old woman stirred around inside the jars with her foul fingers.

Now ask you can ask your students: what is the most important fact about Mrs Pratchett? Or, what fact is something we do not know about Mrs Pratchett?

Feel free to use the following questions to assist with creating your own questions.

Question Stems:  

  • Find something in your text that is unimportant & tell why you feel that way.
  • Is that an important event?  Why or why not?
  • Do you think you need to remember this?  Why or why not?
  • Can you find text that you think is important to the understanding of this selection?

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