Determining Importance with The Gardner

Determining importance is a critical skill as we approach testing season, and with my classes, I try to practice this by modeling with mentor texts/think aloud and practicing with shorter articles quite a bit from February to April. I don't know about your students, but mine love to "paint the page" with their highlighters, so this is something that really cuts down on that. They have great difficulty determining what information is most valuable, and I've even had kids say, "But, all the information is important." Yes, but some information is more useful for certain comprehension skills. This year, I've worked quite a bit on close reading strategies and citing text evidence, so hopefully we'll be in better shape as we close in on our state assessments.

What Text Works Best for Determining Importance?

So what texts work best for determining importance?  Well for my groups, I typically choose books that:

  • Have lots of details to sift through.
  • Include headings and subheadings to help with categorizing information.
  • Have main ideas that are clearly defined.
  • Include quite a few characters and lots of action in fiction.

Getting Started

When I begin teaching this skill, I start by using this lesson from One Extra Degree. I think the analogy helps students think about the fact that not everything is of equal value.  The kids really enjoyed this lesson last year, and I think it's definitely a repeater.
Pack the Suitcase:  Determining Importance FREEBIE!

Skill Modeling

Determining Importance Anchor Chart HandoutAfter we've determined our packing list, I give my kids this handout to place in their interactive notebooks.  As we practice with articles, I try to have them keep a few as examples of how they can mark the passages and use the margins for notetaking.

Mentor Text

While we're on the topic of our packing list, this book might be useful for modeling.

Here's what the Amazon description says, 

Lydia Grace Finch brings a suitcase full of seeds to the big gray city, where she goes to stay with her Uncle Jim, a cantankerous baker. There she initiates a gradual transformation, bit by bit brightening the shop and bringing smiles to customers' faces with the flowers she grows. But it is in a secret place that Lydia Grace works on her masterpiece -- an ambitious rooftop garden -- which she hopes will make even Uncle Jim smile. Sarah Stewart introduces readers to an engaging and determined young heroine, whose story is told through letters written home, while David Small's illustrations beautifully evoke the Depression-era setting.

The Gardener is a 1997 New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year and a 1998 Caldecott Honor Book.

Guided Practice

Here's a video clip of the book that can be used for modeling.  I love using this as the students can read along and yet, the teacher can stop and discuss what would be most important and record those points on a determining importance organizer.

Other texts I found in preparing this post include the following:  

Tops and Bottoms
Wilfred Gordan McDonald Partridge
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
Rudi's Pond
The Keeping Quilt
The Empty Pot
The Big Green Pocketbook
The Old Woman Who Names Things
Miss Rumphius
Prince William
Arthur Writes a Story
and The Memory String

Independent Work

Here's a little freebie I made to share for use in small groups.  I hope it comes in handy to you as your students practice with texts of their own..

Determining importance takes lots of practice, and hopefully, with this long list of mentor texts, you'll have plenty of options. 


  1. Great strategies to go with this book. Thank you for sharing this. :)
    Come Visit Readbox!

    1. You're welcome Kristin! I'm glad you dropped by to read my post. I hope the materials work well for you if you teach this in the coming weeks.

  2. Carla,
    I just LOVE The Gardener! What a touching and timeless story. The video link you provided is perfect. This is a fabulous story to use for determining importance!
    :) Wendy
    Read With Me ABC

  3. I love your umbrella image! This was be incredibly helpful for students when they think about sifting through important and interesting information, especially with fiction. Thanks for sharing this week!

    1. You're welcome. I enjoyed writing this post up (and preparing a lesson for this week).


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