Reaching for and Achieving the Common Core Reading Standards: Why Mini-Lessons?

By Pat Pavelka

The Common Core Reading Standards are designed to empower students to read—and read deeply—the very foundation of success in college, careers, and life. They challenge educators to find new ways to build the skillsets students will need to advance to the next level.

Specifically, teachers must encourage higher-level thinking and build comprehension, develop vocabulary, make author/illustrator connections, and compare/contrast across different texts. But getting students to read, think, and reason can be a challenge.

Teachers must understand what to teach, how to teach it, and why if they are to make the expected Core shifts in their instruction. This requires that they understand the meaning of each of the Reading Standards and specifically what skills are needed to meet them. It also requires teachers build their students’ stamina for close reading while maintaining their excitement and building comprehension.

This article discusses how mini-lessons can be a valuable tool for addressing the Core Reading Standards and making them fun, accessible, and easy.

The “What” Standards

Standards 1–3—we’ll call these the “what” standards—challenge students to read for meaning by focusing on key ideas and details. Usually, this involves two readings—the first for comprehension and the second for close reading. Students learn to answer and ask questions about key details in a text, re-tell familiar stories including key details, and identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.

The “How” Standards

The “How” standards—standards 4–6—focus on craft and structure. Through another close reading, students read for words and phrases. They ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text, recognize common types of texts, like storybooks and poems, and name the author and illustrator of a story and define the role of each in telling the story.

The “Compare and Contrast” Standards

Integration of knowledge and ideas is the goal of standards 7–9. Students describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear. They also compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories.

Where Mini-lessons Fit In

Teachers can use short, focused, and fun mini-lessons for each Core Reading Standard, with any text they choose, all year long. Mini-lessons are a great way to connect students to learning, demonstrate a strategy, and provide opportunities for students to try out and apply what they have learned. They also save planning time for busy teachers, erase anxiety about how to address the new standards, and build teacher confidence.

Using this instructional framework, it’s easy to get students excited about developing vocabulary, understanding the author’s craft, making author/illustrator connections, and comparing and contrasting across different texts and genres—all skills required by the new standards. Best of all, they’ll help add rigor to instruction and build students’ stamina for thinking deeply and applying what they know to the texts they read.

The goal of the Common Core Reading Standards is clear. And, with mini-lessons in the teacher toolkit, so is the pathway to addressing and achieving them.


For practical ideas for creating and using mini-lessons, check out SDE’s webinar Reading Mini-Lessons for the Common Core: Read, Think, Succeed! (Grades K–2) author and classroom innovator Pat Pavelka.

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