Chris Scaturo, BHP Teacher
New Jersey, USA

At some point, we have all taught Ryan. You know Ryan. Ryan is “spirited.” Ryan has a smirk that kids respect and adults, well, fear. Ryan can make or break your class. Now, every Ryan is different, but in my experience, Ryan usually has a secret. He wants to learn.

“Wait. Hold on. You just want us to look at the pictures?”

The three most important moments of my life are my wedding day, the birth of my kids, and the day someone made Three Close Reads make sense. The first read (“Skimming for Gist”) may be my favorite thing to teach. And, I think Ryan likes it too! And, it only takes a minute. And, every student can do it. And, it’s a routine that’s easily mastered.

And, wait for it…wait for it…it’s a life skill because that’s how adults read in the real world!


In my seventh-grade class, we try to do Reading 1 with every article we tackle. If we’re doing it formally, we take a few minutes to fill out the official BHP worksheet, but usually (especially when students are reading different articles), it flows like this:

Me: So, what are you going to read about?

Eager Student #1: <Reads the article title to the class>

Me: Is that the title of the article?

Eager Student #1: Yup.

Me: Can you put that in your own words?

Eager Student #1: (pause) Umm… <changes a few words and rereads the title>

At this point, I heap a ton of praise on Eager Student #1! You know Eager Student. He/she loves praise and I like to reward kids for taking intellectual risks.

We rinse and repeat a few times. And then we get to Ryan. Ryan may not have paid attention to Eager Student #1 and certainly didn’t pay attention to Eager Student #3, but Ryan likes pictures, probably because it’s a scientifically proven fact that all kids like pictures.*

Me: Now, just take a look at the pictures. What are they of?

Ryan: <interrupting> Wait, you want us to just look at the pictures?

Me: Yeah man, those pictures are important, they’re there for a reason.

Ryan: I have a zebra cow in mine, with horns.

Me: That’s a water buffalo.

Ryan: Well, I guess someone taught the cow, I mean water buffalo, how to pull a plough.

Me: That’s domestication for you.

Ryan: Right, domestication, that’s the word.

At this point, I feel the energy building.

Not An Eager Student #1: I have penguins… a ton of penguins! They’re all in, like, a pack.

Not An Eager Student #2: I have a chart-graph thing of world population. Wow, 8 billion is a lot!

Not An Eager Student #3: I have a zebra cow …

Ryan: It’s a water buffalo…

Not An Eager Student #3: Right, water buffalo. I have a water buffalo, too. What are these people doing?

Ryan: Planting seeds.**

Reading 1 in Three Close Reads is always my favorite. For me, it’s a way to:

  • Increase student interest
  • Emphasize vocabulary
  • Practice making inferences

In less than three minutes, students have started thinking about what they are going to do and have made educated guesses about what they’ll be reading. It creates an opportunity to reemphasize old vocabulary and introduce new vocabulary in an organic way. And as it turns out, getting kids to skim like this in advance is important from a cognitive point of view. It gets them thinking about what they already know about the topic and creating a mental model of how to make sense of the bigger ideas when they read more carefully the second time through.

I like it, and I think Ryan likes it, as well.***

* This isn’t true but it feels that way.
** The above exchange is a slightly embellished reenactment of a recent class.
*** Maybe more than slightly. 🙂

About the author: Chris has been teaching for fifteen years, and teaching BHP for the last six. He teaches the course as a semester-long elective to middle-schoolers in Allentown, New Jersey. Chris loves that Big History inspires his students to ask questions on a regular basis.

Header image: Smiling teenage boy © Getty Images / Caiaimage / Sam Edwards.

One thought on “The First Read: In the Beginning There Was Nothing, Then There Was Something…

  1. Many important insights shared here. Reading is one way in which we demonstrate our humanity, even virtue. We slow down, consider new ideas, then offer responses. Reading may remain an enduring challenge during coming centuries and millennia, as young learners become accustomed to working with short, digested sound-bites instead of embracing longer and more gradual narratives. When we ask “Is reading necessary?” we need to make a case that, as we read, we risk personal vulnerability by “admitting” that we do not know (although we belong to Homo sapiens) and we are willing to consider new ideas. “Reading well” is an activity in which we display our humanity.


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