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Are we alone?

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By David Clayton

For a long time, people have looked into Space and wondered if any other creatures exist ‘out there’. This discussion text looks at what people have experienced – highlighting the evidence – and invites the children to say whether they think extraterrestrials exist or not. It is perfect for stimulating debate and exploring how to present both balanced and persuasive arguments.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS Ages 9 to 11 November 2008.

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Before reading

  • Look at the title and the pictures. What kind of writing might this be? Give reasons.
  • Make a KWL grid of the group’s ideas, knowledge and opinions about UFOs.
  • Start a ‘Working Wall’ on which you will add evidence, ideas and text features.

Previous learning

Children should have experience of: offering reasons and evidence for views; considering/responding to alternative opinions/differing viewpoints; using ground rules for talk and interactions; taking different roles in groups and using appropriate language; identifying speakers’ main points, comparing arguments and how they are presented; summarizing evidence from a text to support a hypothesis.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To present a spoken argument, sequencing points logically, defending views with evidence and using persuasive language;
  • To understand different ways to take the lead and support others in a group;
  • To understand the process of decision-making;
  • To express subtle distinctions of meaning;
  • To recognise rhetorical devices used to argue, persuade, mislead and sway the reader.

Guided reading

  • As you read the text, identify the focus of each paragraph and discuss the way layout can help the reader navigate. (AF1 and 4)
  • Explain and highlight/annotate the features of a balanced argument. (AF4)
  • Identify examples of rhetorical questions in the text. What is their function? (AF5)
  • Discuss the use of brackets. How have they been used? Write further examples.
  • Look at the pictures and illustrations. How do they enhance the text? Could they have been placed anywhere? (AF4)
  • Ask comprehension questions, to encourage scanning skills and test the effectiveness of the pages’ layout. (AF1 and 2)

Responding

  • Working in pairs, find examples of words, phrases and sentences that suggest (or imply) that alien visitations have been kept secret from the public. What is the effect of these sections on the reader? Why do the children think the writer suggested such suspicions rather than making them explicit? (AF3)
  • Make an evidence chart using the activity sheet. Skim and scan the text to find evidence for and against the existence of UFOs. (AF2)
  • Having read the text, which side do children think they would take? Can they explain their opinion with evidence from the text? (AF2 and 6) Ideas for writing
  • Conduct further research into UFO sightings and post the evidence on the Working Wall.
  • Respond to the balanced argument you created on your activity sheet with a persuasive argument for or against the existence of UFOs.
  • Script a news report or press release detailing one of the sightings from the text or an imaginary sighting.

Assessment for learning

Opportunities to assess the children’s reading skills have been highlighted in these notes. Download a brand new set of child-friendly Assessment Focus sheets, designed for the children to use themselves during guided reading and writing sessions.

Speaking and listening

  • Hold verbal boxing matches in groups of three, with children taking turns in different roles, on the topic of whether UFOs exist/Roswell was faked/the alien autopsy was faked, etc. See activity sheet below for instruction cards.
  • Hold a whole-class formal debate about UFOs, working in teams to argue ‘for’ or ‘against’ their existence.
  • Perform/film the children’s news reports on the UFO sightings.
  • Improvise the conversation that officials might have with the Prime Minister over a UFO sighting. Hold a conscience alley with each child saying something to the Prime Minister about his/her actions. At the end of the alley, the person playing the Prime Minister could turn and respond to the questions or comments.

Plenary

  • Review the features of a balanced argument. Would the children change the way the balanced argument was written/set out? Why?
  • Review the features of a persuasive argument and compare with the balanced argument.
  • Vote on the effectiveness of the balanced argument. Did it help with a decision/present evidence fairly?
  • Did the children find the verbal boxing matches difficult? How could they improve their performance? What advice could they give another group doing this activity?
  • Reflect on performance during the whole-class debate.

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