Be Jawesome

I was the shark circa 2015 (most days, I am Spidey and Belle).

Well, hello there! I am so happy your ninja skills brought you here! My goal is simple: to give you all the little known ways to teach text dependent analysis (and actually enjoy it).

First, let’s address the metaphorical “shark” in the room. Text dependent analysis is the great white shark lurking in our ELA waters. It brings fear to many due to its cognitive rigor and high stakes demands. It takes a bite out of instructional time and leaves educators chumming the waters for more resources, trainings, examples, and samples. So how do we catch this TDA shark (since it’s not going away anytime soon)? If TDA is the Jaws of ELA than we need to be the Quint – fearless, intentional, and a little bit cray.

So where the heck did TDYAY come from?

TDYAY is a mindset shift. It came to me one day when I felt like the shark in the picture above.

I finished teaching an instructional TDA. I thought I nailed it. I had been building instructional TDA commands since the onset of my work with the original TDA cohort circa 2014-2015. Not one of my 8th grade students transferred what I thought I taught them into their writing. Worst of all, very few of them understood what the command was even asking them to do. So I did what what most teachers do when lessons fail (no, I did not cry!), I went back to the command and deconstructed it line by line. I call this “unpacking the command.”

I realized I never explicitly taught my students how to read a TDA command. If they struggled to read and comprehend what the command was asking them to do, then their purpose for reading, writing, thinking and analyzing would naturally suffer.

I also kept calling the command a question.  Students told me this “messed them up” because there is not a single question mark anywhere in the three lines of the task. It is merely a command to write an essay. Who would have thought these simple switches in semantics would shift how my students entered the text, sourced evidence, and analyzed it.

So I decided to pull a Quint and reintroduce the metaphorical shark (aka TDA command), but this time I did it with fearlessness, intention, and a little bit of cray. I gave students index cards with the same command written on it that brought me such disappointment the day before and said:

“What is the command on the index card asking you to do?”


“What if we took it apart, pulled it apart line by line, and figured it out?”


“What if we did it together and I made it easier for you to understand, so the next time you do it, you will do it better than ever before?”


“What if it works and we actually turn TD-NEIGH into TD-YAY?!? People will want to be like us, learn from us, and we will be famous!”


I actually did do the lesson line by line. I probed the students with questions about what the first line was getting them to think about and why it was relevant/important. I pointed out the second line and asked them to visually represent on paper the elements they were being asked to analyze. They worked in small groups, talked about their ideas, shared their thinking, and were actually having “fun” doing it. We did a silent gallery walk and discovered that every sketch looked different, but had the same elements. This was the “TDYAY” teaching moment. Every student felt successful in some way because their understanding of the command had become clearer and so did their thinking and their writing about text.

I do spend the most amount of instructional time unpacking the command. Yes, it could take an entire class period (42 minutes) or part of an ELA block. Trust me, this is worth every instructional minute as it shows students specifically what to look for as they read. By unpacking the command, students will better understand the purpose for their close reading. For our struggling readers, this part has proven to be the most beneficial. It shows them the command in pieces and gives them an access point to the text.

Adopted from the The Anatomy of a Text Dependent Analysis (TDA) Prompt by J. Thompson
Thompson, J. (2018) The Anatomy of a TDA Prompt

In every single one of my TDYAY graphic organizers, you will see I always start out with an unpacking activity or exercise. I do this before I even give students the text because I want them to know explicitly what to look for prior to doing a “deep dive” into the text. Students enjoy pulling apart the command and identifying the academic language, key words, and concepts they will be looking for, and thinking about as they do a first reading of the text (more about how I collapse close reading and annotations in my next blog post).

So if you are just beginning to “chum” the text analysis waters or looking for a few simple tweaks to make your TDA lessons “Jawesome,” I suggest the unpacking of the command.

Check out a few of our Grade 4, Grade 5, and Grade 6 lesson designs.

5 thoughts on “Be Jawesome

  1. Best of luck to you on your new website. Thank you for all of your help and suggestions. I would say that one of the best things my students do each week is to have meaningful conversations with each other (and me) about the task at hand even before starting their graphic organizers. My students truly enjoy TDAs and have told me that they look forward to what the next one will be. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Dean! Yes, oral language needs to come first. Students need the language to be “native to their tongue” before we can expect them to transfer that into their reading, writing, and thinking. I always love to hear that students are working together in groups and enjoying talking about the TDA. You and your students are TDYAY rockstars! Can’t wait for you to share more with us!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! I love the shark metaphor, something that I think several teachers (myself included) can relate to when it comes to teaching text dependent analysis skills. Last year, even cart wheels across the front of my room wouldn’t capture the attention of my students and I was feeling defeated in ways to to empower my students to get excited about TDAs. After conducing a survey to determine what was causing my students to be so intimidated by the TDA, I found that understanding the command was what tripped most of them up. I thought to myself, “How can they accurately answer a command without understanding what it’s asking them to analyze?” Thanks to the wisdom and advice of Meg Burke, using engaging activities to build interest and UNPACKING the command quickly became the norm in my classroom when responding to a TDA command. This was a GAME CHANGER in terms of developing student confidence and strategies that would help my them attack the TDA with fearlessness as opposed to fear. My advice to you: Stay fearless, intentional and cray as you work to arm your TDYAY ninjas (aka students) with tools and strategies that will help them #getCRAYforTDA. I look forward to learning and sharing more ideas to add to our TDYAY toolkit!


  3. Quint would be proud of your Jawsome response! You are so right about establishing norms with TDA and using formative assessment to ask students what they struggle with and what they do with ease via TDA. Tech helps so much with this via Mentimeter, Zeetings, and Forms! I’ll have to share the TDA student ambassador form I use. You rock Miss Smith!!!


  4. Love this first post, your journey and our journey together with TDYAY! I can’t wait to see all that you have in store for us. Thank you for your willingness to share and collaborate!


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