The Text Walk, also known as a chalk talk, is one of the foundational activities in our English classrooms. It serves as the basis for many of our other activities, and a springboard for discussion. Most importantly, the text walk is a means of getting students to engage with short extracts of texts for themselves, with little to no teacher input input.
The Text Walk begins by selecting appropriate extract. These can be chosen ahead of time by the teacher, or the students themselves. As a general guide, I like to aim for for between 6–8 extracts from the text. For example, these might be short extracts from a single chapter of a novel; extracts ranging across a number of chapters; or short extracts from a range of interrelated texts. In the case of students selecting their own extracts, this usually happens after students have had an opportunity to read the text and identify what they believe are the most important passages.
The extracts can be chosen to highlight a specific theme, idea, character, or set of values in a text. Or, they could be chosen at random to prompt a discussion which may reveal new insights into a text. I often begin the study of a new text with a Text Walk, assuming the students have not read the full text (or perhaps any of it…). This ‘cold-reading’ of a text allows me to introduce some of the initial ideas without being too didactic. During the course of study we might then complete another Text Walk once we have progressed through a few chapters, at the midway point, around climactic moments in the text, and at the end.
The following example shows an extract from a text walk focusing on Fitzwilliam Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The extracts were chosen by the teacher, as representative of the first few scenes in which Darcy’s character is introduced.
Once the extracts have been selected we either print them at the centre of A3 paper or arrange them at the centre of a shared doc, such as a Google Doc or Google Slides. While the activity works very well in the classroom, allowing students to anonymously comment on a digital version of the text walk also elicits good responses. The extracts are placed around the room, or the digital text extracts are assigned to students. The process then continues as follows:
1. Students are instructed in groups of 3-4 to annotate the extract in front of them.
2. Groups have a set amount of time to annotate each extract. This varies on the ability of the groups, the year level, and the complexity of the extract. For these extracts from Pride and Prejudice, for example, I would give up to 3 minutes.
3. For the duration of the time given students work in their groups to annotate the passages. This is generally an open-ended annotation, with little direct instruction. However, sometimes it is useful to guide the annotation, for example by instructing students to look specifically for connections, important quotes, words and phrases they do not understand, and so on. At the end of the time, groups move clockwise around the class to the next extract, or if they are working digitally move onto the next page or slide.
4. Students continue this annotation process until they have moved around all of the extracts. As they move around the classroom they are encouraged to also respond to the annotations of the groups that came before them. This may include answering questions, responding directly to the previous groups’ notes, or adding questions of their own.
5. At the end of the Text Walk the pages are collected in and scanned by the teacher, or the digital copy is shared with the whole class as a PDF. This resource then becomes the stimulus for further activities in the class.
Following the Text Walk students will be given an opportunity to review the resource they have created. At this stage the teacher may choose to highlight certain points, indicate key quotes – often highlighted by the students themselves – and discuss the details, or pursue further particular themes, issues, or values that have arisen from the students’ notes.
The resource of the completed text walk is one of the most useful student-generated resources in our classroom. It provides the basis of student-created essay topics, discussion prompts, and can be the foundation for the subheadings and contents of their Text File, which will be discussed in a later post. The important thing is that the students have total ownership of the text walk resource, and while the teacher may choose to then highlight certain points, add notes, or extend the activity, it began with the students’ own interpretations.
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