Facilitator Notes for PLC – Determine Importance


The Clemson Virtual Professional Development Library (VPDL) for South Carolina Classroom Teachers was designed to support Professional Learning Communities. As we know, powerful learning can occur when we view teaching and student learning and analyze it together with colleagues! For this reason, the possible responses to the questions that accompany each clip are not only hyperlinked to the questions, but are also given here under “Facilitator Notes.” In this way, the Facilitator of a PLC can more easily prepare to lead a session using one of the modules.

While the modules do not need to be viewed in order, we do recommend that teachers are familiar with the ideas in “Classroom Environment: Engagement and Independence” and “Lesson Structure” before working through the Sample Lesson modules for specific reading strategies. The “Classroom Environment” module is the same one used in the Guided Reading modules on this website.

There are six modules that each focus on a specific reading comprehension strategy. In each of these modules, videotaped excerpts of a sample lesson are provided. The sample lesson for each strategy is taught by a South Carolina teacher in either a kindergarten, first, or second grade classroom. In the final reflection section after the lesson, there is a discussion of how the lesson might be adapted for different grade levels. See Introduction to Determining Importance and Suggested Readings for suggestions for additional lessons that will support students in understanding how to use the specific strategy.

To lead a Reading Comprehension Strategy module, we suggest that facilitators do the following:

Before the Session:

Read the Introduction to Determining Importance and Sample Lesson.

  • View all the clips from the lesson. There is about an hour of video, divided into 1-7 minute segments, including both the lesson itself and the teacher’s commentary about the lesson. There is no lesson video for Analyzing Student Work. Instead, you will be examining examples of work produced by the children during the lesson and discussing implications for instruction. Decide how you want to break up the module for viewing and discussion over PLC sessions.
  • Read ” Purpose” and “Procedures” and the “Question(s) to Consider Before Viewing” before watching each clip.
  • After viewing the clip, decide on your own responses, and anticipate other possible responses from colleagues. Then review the suggested responses in the “Facilitator Notes.” These are hyperlinked to the questions. Think about additions or clarifications that would be appropriate depending on the needs of teachers. Please note that the responses given are suggestions only. In many cases, the questions and ideas from the participants or your own insights as you view the segments may shape the most meaningful discussion relevant to the issues confronting your particular group.
  • Teacher Commentary video clips accompany most of the lesson clips. In this Commentary, the teacher of the lesson provides her own insights into the segment of the lesson. We recommend viewing the Commentary after the discussion of each lesson segment.

You may want to download and copy some of the Supporting Documents, especially the lesson plan, book summary (if you do not have copies of the book), student work, and any other charts provided for use during the session. There is also a transcript available for each lesson, and a chart of “The Lesson in Real Time” to show how long each part of the lesson actually took as it was taught.


During the Session:

  • Be sure that teachers have read the Introduction to Determining Importance, preferably before attending the session. Depending on teachers’ familiarity with teaching comprehension strategies in general and the current strategy in particular, you may want to incorporate some initial discussion about the Introduction into your PLC session. We have recommended returning to this introduction in the Final Reflection segment as well.
  • Before viewing any of the clips, teachers should read the Introduction to the Sample Lesson. They should also read the book pages being used in the lesson (or book summary) and lesson plan, both found in Supporting Documents.
  • Give teachers time to read and discuss the “Purpose” and “Procedures” related to each segment of the lesson, and address any questions. Then pose the question given before each clip.
  • View the video clip. Encourage teachers to take notes related to the focus question but also about their own questions, ideas, and thoughts as they view the lesson segment.
  • Have teachers turn and talk with colleagues after the clip about what they noticed, their questions and other reflections. Circulate to support and identify responses that will engage the whole group in deeper discussion. Then lead a whole group reflection about the segment.
  • If there is a Teacher Commentary about the lesson segment, view it and provide time for discussion about it.
  • You may want teachers to read the hyperlinked possible responses to the questions or just incorporate them into the overall discussion.
  • There are many examples of useful procedures and routines employed by the teacher throughout the lesson. In addition to the question(s) posed in the module, you may want to ask teachers to jot down procedures they notice as they watch each segment. Note and discuss these after each lesson segment and add them to an ongoing chart. We recommend adding to this chart throughout your study of all the strategy modules.
  • You may also want to keep a chart of “teaching language.” As with procedures, ask teachers to note language the teacher uses to build a respectful, collaborative community. Again, note and discuss this language and add ideas to an ongoing chart.

Concluding the Session:Be sure teachers leave ready to implement new learning from the session. You might conclude with some of the following:

  • Provide time for teachers to jot down their most significant insights from the session and any lingering questions, and then share with colleagues.
  • Review the charts created on “procedures and routines” and “teacher language.”
  • Discuss how teachers plan to implement new approaches from the session.
  • Discuss the importance of students learning to flexibly use the strategy of determining importance, and discuss how to incorporate the strategy into ongoing instruction.
  • Have teachers bring text they would use for an interactive read-aloud with their students to teach a “Finding Important Information” lesson, or another lesson on determining importance. Provide time for them to identify appropriate places where they might think aloud, and what they might say and write or draw. Share and discuss.
  • Arrange for teachers to plan lessons collaboratively based on what they viewed and discussed in the session. If possible, teachers could watch each other’s lessons and provide feedback, or have everyone come together again to reflect on the lessons they taught.
  • Plan to teach a demonstration lesson based on the session for additional support.
  • Hold a follow-up session in which teachers bring their own student work from teaching a similar lesson and analyze it collaboratively.


The VPDL is also meant to be used flexibly by teachers on their own schedules. Teachers might find the Library useful as a reference to review on their own:

  • As a guide to teaching procedures for reading strategy instruction that they have not yet tried;
  • As a refresher for teaching reading strategies;
  • To promote reflective teaching as they analyze the teaching language and teaching moves of the teachers in the videos and listen to the interviews with those teachers;
  • To support using formative assessment as a guide to instruction (See Analyzing Student Work segment.)

Discussions from Video Clips:

Possible responses are given below to the “Questions To Consider While Viewing” from “Finding Important Information” Lesson Video Clips. These are provided to stimulate thinking and discussion, not as complete or definitive answers.


Connect and Engage

What does the teacher do to set students up to be successful and engaged with the lesson?

  • She links the lesson to the current unit on Famous Americans, and gives the children the opportunity to turn and talk to remember what they have already learned about these Americans. This focuses their minds on learning about famous people.
  • She links the children’s comments to “good information” that good readers learn as they read.
  • She introduces George Washington Carver’s importance with the visuals of the peanut, peanut butter jar, and scroll of 100 items from peanuts. This grabs the children’s attention and interest.
  • She explains that books have lots of details, and we can’t remember all of them. She uses the anchor chart to introduce the terms of “important information” and “interesting details.”
  • She explains that the important information about a famous person is what made them famous. She illustrates this idea by making notes on both sides of the anchor chart.

After viewing the lesson segment, watch the Teacher Commentary – Connect/Engage, and discuss.



What is accomplished in modeling?

  • The teacher shows the children her own thinking about how she decides what’s important. She frames important information as helping us understand what made someone famous.
  • Recording the important information on the anchor chart helps the children see it and organize it in their minds as being important.
  • By giving an example of an interesting detail and why it is not important, and recording it in the “interesting details” column, the teacher is working to establish a contrast between the two types of information in the text.
  • The teacher also shows the children how they can mark the important information with a sticky note in the text. This will help them to do the same when they get to guided practice.
  • By repeating the terms “important information” and “interesting details” several times, and having the children chime in on these words, the teacher is helping them to develop the terminology for the concepts.
  • She ends the modeling segment by having the children turn and talk about the problem of the lack of fertile soil. She realizes that children will probably not have sufficient background knowledge to understand this fully, so she wants to give them a chance to think about it and to teach into some of their ideas. The students’ ideas do indeed form a good segue into the next part of the lesson, where they will read how Carver taught farmers to help the soil by planting different crops.

After viewing the lesson segment, watch the Teacher Commentary and discuss.


Guided Practice

Do you think it’s helpful to continue adding interesting details to the anchor chart as well as important information? Why or why not?

  • For most children, the contrast between the details and the important ideas is necessary to help them to understand what is important, just as we understand the concept of tall better when we contrast it with short, or quiet with loud, etc. Determining what is important is a difficult strategy, and this is the first lesson about it, so if children simply begin to recognize that both types of information are found in text, we’ve made a good start.
  • For some children, it may be confusing to use the two-column chart. If this seems to be the case, other types of graphic organizers might be more beneficial. For example, the important information could be placed on large sticky notes in the middle of the chart, and details on small sticky notes around the edges. This may provide better visual support for the difference.
  • Since many of the facts children pull out from the text tend to be details (when born, when died, etc.), it is helpful to give these a name so that children can categorize them as something different from important information.
  • We honor children’s interests and encourage them to enjoy reading about interesting details when they read about a person’s life or in any nonfiction text. We don’t want to squelch children’s interests and curiosity by suggesting that the only aspect of the text worth noticing is the important information.

After viewing the lesson segment, watch the Teacher Commentary and discuss.


Independent Practice

In the video clip, we mainly see the teacher conferring with students who are having difficulty understanding what was important from the text. What does the teacher do to support them? What else might be helpful in subsequent small group lessons or conferring?

  • She provides a scaffold by focusing students on the anchor chart. She reads the Important Information that was developed from the lesson. Then she asks them what was important to them. She links this question to “Why was he famous?” and “Why do we remember him?”, helping the children develop an understanding of how readers decide what is important in a biography. The teacher honors children’s current understanding and helps them create something on their papers. She might follow-up the children’s decisions by having a conversation with them about why the point they chose was important. This will help them move from randomly picking something off the chart to developing more understanding of why it is important.

In future conferences or small group, the teacher might:

  • Read a specific page and model her thinking about why certain information is important, and then ask the students to verbalize what they think.
  • Reread a page and work through the ideas in it with the children. Some students may simply not have enough background knowledge to understand the meaning of the text, and therefore can’t distinguish what is important. For example, on the page about teaching farmers to grow peanuts to make the soil fertile again, the teacher might model her own questions, “I can’t figure out what’s important until I understand what they are saying here. What’s fertile mean? Does anybody else have this question or any other questions?” Once children understand that soil has to be good for anything to grow in it, and farmers can’t make a living unless they can grow crops, they may be able to better decide what was so important about what George Washington Carver did.
  • Read additional biographies about Carver, and see if having more background knowledge from additional texts helps children decide what is important.
  • Also see Small Group Lesson and ideas for introducing Determining Importance in the Determining Importance Introduction.

After viewing the lesson segment, watch the Teacher Commentary and discuss.


Analyzing Student Work

What we can deduce from the children’s work is of course limited by not having had conversations with them about it, and by not knowing how this work fits into the trajectory of their work overall. However, examining their work helps us think about how we might celebrate their strengths and nudge them forward – our most important role in teaching them.

Use the “Analyzing Student Work Chart” to analyze strengths, needs, and next steps. (See chart under Supporting Documents. You may want to divide the student samples among colleagues.) Please note that there is not one right way to categorize the students’ work. Some possibilities are shown below.

Student(s) How Similar

(needs or concerns)

Next Steps

(addressing concerns or future examples)

3, 8, 12


Synthesized important information across pages of the text. Student 8 even added her own thinking, “He was an inventor” and Student 12 used the information about sweet potatoes and peanuts in the drawing. Point out to these students how they have synthesized across pages of the text so they will know to keep doing this! Use as examples of how we find important information by synthesizing ideas across a text for a future mini-lesson.


1,11,14 Identified a simple reason that Carver was important. Students 1 and 11 used their drawings – Wows and speech bubbles – to interpret that the information that Carver taught about plants was important to others. Help students elaborate on their thinking by exploring further with these students why Carver’s study and teaching of plants was important. Commend students for the interpretations in their drawings and use these to help them articulate why Carver’s teaching about plants was important – what changes it actually led to.


6 Used language of “was important because.” Show as example of how we can incorporate the language of determining importance in responses. This student would also benefit from the discussion in the group above of why Carver’s study of plants was important.


4 and 9 Have a kernel of an idea that needs further development. It isn’t clear if Student 9 has a misconception that Carver actually “made” peanuts, or if the drawing – with the sun and clouds and planting – suggests that the child really means “grew” peanuts.


Have students elaborate – 100 things from what? Why important? “made” or “grew” peanuts – why important?
5, 7, and 10 For 7 and 10, no clear articulation of important information. As noted on the work, Student 5 had not written anythingeither until the teacher took him to the chart, and he chose the first bullet point, without considering any others.


Meet with these students in a group or 1-1 to determine if the issue is determining what’s important, understanding the text in general, or translating their thinking into writing.
2 Includes both an important idea and interesting details Explore with child to figure out if he can distinguish the important information from the details. Also see if he is really using the second sentence as supporting details for the big idea in the first. If this is the case, with some revision this could be used to introduce how authors use interesting details to further explain their important ideas.


13 Is this an interesting detail or important information? This is an example of where we need to know the child’s thinking to determine if he is getting the difference between an important idea and an interesting detail. The difference isn’t always neatly differentiated. As teachers we could certainly agree that this is important!


Discuss why the child thinks this is important information. Help link it to how Carver was able to make so many inventions and help so many farmers because he taught for so long.


After analyzing the student work, watch the Teacher Commentary.


Sharing and Closure

What procedures are in place and how do they contribute to the sharing process?

  • Students sit in a circle, so that they can all see each other and each other’s work. A circle creates a more inclusive community for sharing.
  • The students have learned to call on other students to share, instead of the teacher doing this. They use the language: “student’s name, would you like to share?” And the student replies, “Yes I would like to share, thank you,” or “No, I would not like to share, thank you.” This process allows the children to take more initiative and relate to each other, not just to the teacher. It also emphasizes polite interactions with each other that can ripple out throughout the day.

After viewing the lesson segment, watch the Teacher Commentary and discuss


Small Group Follow-Up

What are some of the benefits of the small group lesson? What are some of the challenges?


  • Small group provides a great deal more information for the teacher on the children’s strengths and needs. There are many factors that impact how well children understand, and small group instruction helps us to tease these out. For example, the boy in the group had a difficult time writing anything during independent practice. In small group, he showed the strongest understanding of the difference between important information and interesting details. His difficulty writing may have stemmed from difficulty reading the text or with forming written words or with staying focused independently more than with understanding the concept. This is important information for the teacher.
  • Small group provides a supportive opportunity to formulate their thinking for children who might not speak up in whole class or may play a more passive role in partner interactions. Several of the children in the group were very shy about expressing their ideas, but given time in the group most of them began to talk more.
  • Students often can articulate more of their thinking than they write or draw. The small group discussions provide a wider window into their thinking than simply seeing their written work.
  • Flexible small groups can allow the teacher to focus on the similar needs of several children at once.


  • Children are not all on similar reading levels, and several could not independently read the text. Therefore when they practiced in the book, it was hard to tell if their difficulty was due to decoding or to comprehension.
  • The dynamics of a small group that is meeting together for the first time may pose unexpected problems. In this case, one child initially dominated and probably inhibited some of the other children. When the teacher saw how this dynamic was playing out the group, she made adjustments – to asking each child individually for a response instead of letting all of them answer at once, and directly asking the very vocal child to wait for her turn.
  • The sorting activity can lead some children to simply take a guess – if the statement doesn’t go in one column, it must go in the other! It is important to focus on the children’s thinking about whether a fact is important or just interesting, rather than on the right answer.
  • Small groups focused on comprehension complement, but do not substitute for, guided reading groups that emphasize extensive reading at instructional level with prompts for accelerating progress in overall reading competency. (See Guided Reading Modules on this website.) We need to find the right balance for every classroom across the year.

After viewing the lesson segment, watch the Teacher Commentary and discuss.


Final Reflections

How might you adapt this lesson for your own students or for children at different grade levels?

  • We might use a large poster or big book as the text to begin teaching the difference between important information and interesting details in kindergarten or in first grade. Finding the best text is challenging, because often simpletexts are just full of interesting details. See The Primary Comprehension Toolkitfor the Time for Kids Helen Keller poster that Steph Harvey and Anne Goudvis used in this lesson for a great example (Determining Importance Lesson 16: Figure Out What’s Important).
  • Biography is a good starting point since there is a clear logic to what is important in terms of what made the subject famous. However, as we saw in this lesson, biography can also be complicated without background knowledge about the historical circumstances. Finding a text that links to a current unit of study is probably most effective at any grade, so that children will have background knowledge to help them.
  • For second graders, it might be interesting to give them choices of other biographies of the same person, written at different reading levels, to read for collaborative practice. They would then have some background knowledge of the person from the whole class lesson. During sharing, they could compare what they found as important with other students who had read different biographies of that person.

Revisit the Introduction to Determining Importance, particularly the last section, “How do we teach the strategies?” Which lessons do your students need? In what authentic contexts do you or will you continue to develop their proficiency with these strategies?

  • These responses will reflect the specifics of the teachers in the session. Consider how the strategy supports different units of study in your curriculum, where would be most appropriate to introduce the strategy, and how it could be strengthened and applied across the year.