PARCC Prep: Research Simulation Task Writing Lesson Cycle

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREI’ve been working with colleagues in the field on an UPDATED lesson cycle for history/social studies/science teachers who are trying to prepare their students for the PARCC Research Simulation Task. (PS: I have previously blogged about teaching the RST here and here.) What follows is still a work in progress, but I hope it will be of use.

Loud shout-outs to Dominy Alderman at HoLa Charter School and teachers at Red Bank CS and Queen City Academy CS, all of whom helped me think this through!

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please chime in!


Lesson #1

Objective: SWBAT turn a statement into a question in order to unpack PARCC writing prompts.

Time Frame: 50 minutes


As we prepare for PARCC, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you need to be able to do is what we are working on today: turning the prompt into a question.   99% of the time, the prompt is not worded as a question and it does not end with a question mark. If you don’t know what the question is, you probably won’t answer it! But if you DO turn it into a question, you should be able to answer it.


As a reminder, when we take the PARCC ELA portion, the FIRST THING YOU SHOULD DO is click forward to the writing prompt so that you can turn it into a question and write it on your scrap paper. Why?   Because the question(s) will guide your reading. You will take notes on the texts looking for answers to the question(s).

It’s a simple two-step process.   Scan the writing prompt for a VERB indicating what you need to do (such as explain, describe, analyze, evaluate) and a QUESTION WORD such as HOW or WHY.

Example Prompt: You have read the passage from Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship, which describes how a hippo and a tortoise depend on one another. You have also viewed a video about the connection between mongooses and hornbills. Think about how these relationships are different. Write an essay that describes how the friendship between Owen and Mzee is different from the relationship between mongooses and hornbills. Use examples from both the article and the video to support your conclusions.

-> Question: How is the friendship between Owen and Mzee different from the relationship between mongooses and hornbills?

99% of the time, you will easily find HOW or WHY. If you don’t see HOW or WHY, find the verb and insert HOW:

Example Prompt: Your class has been studying about the survival of the ponies on Assateague Island. Using information from the articles and the video, describe the roles that both the horses and humans play in the horses’ survival. Use evidence from the articles and the video to support your answer.

-> Question: How do horses and humans play a role in the survival of horses?

Look at prompts from various grades (HANDOUTS NEEDED: See TLC “PARCC Prep” page for “PARCC Research Simulation Writing Prompts-2-22-18” and “PARCC RST Unpacking the Prompt Practice for Grade 5” in the Download Zone. See also PARCC Released Items).   Follow “I Do,” “We Do,” then “You Do.”

Students practice turning given prompts into questions.

Lesson #2

Objective: SWBAT close read text #1 in response to the unpacked prompt in order to take notes for an essay response (untimed).

Time Frame: 40-50 minutes


[Do Now: Practice turning prompts into questions.]

Yesterday we practiced turning the prompts into questions. Today we’re going to practice pulling notes out of the texts to ANSWER the question. This is a REALLY IMPORTANT RESEARCH SKILL, not just for the PARCC, but for college and life!


1.     Review question for this task.

2.     Create 3-column chart on blank paper to take notes (NOTE: 3rd-grade only uses two texts, so for 3rd, use a T-chart and disregard Lesson #4 about analyzing video.)

3.     Model taking notes on ONLY information that relates to the prompt in the first two paragraphs (first column). [See TLC “PARCC Prep” page for “4th Grade Research Writing PARCC 2015 Modeling” for a model.]

4.     Partners read and discuss what should be placed in the notes in next paragraph. Not every paragraph has relevant information!!!

5.     Share out ideas; check for understanding that information is most relevant.

6.     Record those notes on the organizer.

7.     Continue reading paragraph by paragraph.

Lesson #3

Objective: SWBAT close read text #2 in response to the unpacked prompt, in order to take notes for an essay response (untimed).

Time Frame: 40-50 minutes


[Do Now: 1) Practice turning a prompt (PROVIDE THE PROMPT) into a question. 2) When taking the PARCC, why do we ONLY take notes on the question?]

Let’s go over the Do Now. By now, we should all be experts at turning prompts into questions.   What about question 2, though?   Why is it so important to only take notes on the question? (Discuss)

Today our goal is to get better at taking EFFICIENT notes when reading a text. Because we don’t have all the time in the world!


Practice taking notes again on Text #2. (I Do, We Do, You Do)

Lesson #4

Objective: SWBAT take notes on a video in response to the unpacked prompt in order to prepare for an essay response.

Time Frame: 40-50 minutes


We’ve been working on taking notes on written text.   Today we’re going to turn our attention to how to take notes on a video, which can be a little tricky.   On the PARCC, you’ll have headphones and a chance to watch and rewind the video clip so that you can take notes.


Again, let’s remember what the question is and use that as a guide for taking notes.  Show a whole 3-minute video, then model stopping about every 30 seconds to stop and think about the prompt question, and jotting down notes in the organizer. (3rd column)

WE DO: Let’s practice some more with a DIFFERENT video [NOTE: Use something on the same topic if possible; if not, you will have to create a new prompt.]. Show the whole video, then rewind and stop the video every 30 seconds or so, so that students can jot notes. Share out as you go initially (“What did you write?”), then release them to do more on their own and share out at the end.

YOU DO: [Again, show a different video, stopping periodically without commenting, just giving them time to jot notes.] Students practice independently, then share notes.

Lesson #5

Objective: SWBAT:

●      Identify similarities among texts in order to address those commonalities when you write your body paragraph.

●      Write thesis statement in order to introduce a research simulation essay.

Time Frame: 30-40 minutes


Most of the RST prompts ask us to compare and contrast in some way, so we will need to identify similarities in our notes.   We’re going to use a simple approach: using checkmarks to identify those similarities. Today we’re also going to practice using a simple fill-in-the-blank sentence for our thesis statement….


Using the 3-column chart you have been working on, model how and why to put checkmarks next to notes that show similarities among all three “texts.”

Consider providing a pre-completed 3-column chart on some other topic and have students insert checkmarks for practice.

Show students the thesis statement template:

Thesis statement model:

[Text 1],[Text 2], and [Text 3] all deal with __________________________________ [TOPIC/THEME], but they do so in different ways.

Model this with the titles and topic. Give them another prompt to practice with (You should be able to generate this thesis without even reading the texts). PS–You can go back to the original prompts for this.

Lesson #6

Objective: SWBAT use notes in order to write effective body paragraphs.

Time Frame: 50 minutes


How do we move from notes to writing? This is one of the hardest things we have to do as researchers and writers.   Let’s look at how to do this…


The overall structure of the essay will be:

●      Paragraph 1: Thesis statement (see Lesson #5)

●      Paragraph 2: Body paragraph dealing with Text 1

●      Paragraph 3: Body paragraph dealing with Text 2

●      Paragraph 4: Body paragraph dealing with Text 3 (video)

●      Paragraph 5: Body paragraph dealing with similarities

●      Paragraph 6: One-sentence punchy conclusion

Today, we’ll work on the first two body paragraphs. Show students a completed model of Body 1 and explain how it works. (NEED HANDOUT: See TLC “PARCC Prep” page for “4th Grade Research Writing PARCC 2015 Modeling”) Work on Body 2 together.

Lesson #7

Objective: SWBAT:

●      Pull ideas from notes in order to draft body paragraph #3.

●      Identify what the three texts have in common in order to write a body paragraph explaining these similarities.

●      Draft a punchy conclusion sentence in order to complete the essay effectively.

Time Frame: 40-50 minutes


Let’s review what we did yesterday… And today you will practice with Text/Video 3. Then we will work together on the “What they all have in common” paragraph.


Body #3 = text #3 – You Do (15 minutes, then share some on the document camera)

Body #4 = what they have in common (This needs to be modeled: Instead of drafting this on the spot, show them a completed version, then explain it.)

Last sentence = punchy conclusion sentence that DOES NOT restate the thesis (This needs to be modeled; there is not one “right answer,” but here is a sample sentence starter: “Ultimately, these texts teach us that _____….”)

Lesson #8

Objective: SWBAT analyze PARCC-released items in order to evaluate them through the lens of the PARCC writing rubric.

Time Frame: 50-60 minutes

Materials: PARCC-released RST item (see, scored student examples, and User-friendly PARCC Writing Rubric from TLC “PARCC Prep” page.


What does PARCC really expect when we do the RST?   Let’s look at the rubric and some student examples that were scored….


●      Analyze the PARCC writing rubric (see TLC “PARCC Prep” page for User-friendly versions), and apply it to several scored student responses (see PARCC-released items).

●      I Do, We Do, You Do evaluation of sample student responses using PARCC writing rubric.

Lesson #9

Objective: SWBAT write a timed RST response (blank paper and typed writing of tasks) in order to prepare for PARCC.

Time Frame: 60 minutes

Material: Laptops (see note below*), blank paper

Intro: Let’s see how we do!


*Insert the passages into a Google Doc/form so that students can simulate the PARCC test-taking experience.

Lesson #10

(NOTE: Skip a day after Lesson #9 so students who were absent can make up the practice timed test.)

Objective: SWBAT revise their RST timed essay response in order to improve their writing.

Time Frame: 40-60 minutes

Material: Laptops

Intro: Today we’re going to see how we did and look at ways to improve. We’ll look at some models and use a revision checklist to strengthen our writing. You will have time to revise your work and meet with me if you have any questions. Our purpose here is not just to get better at PARCC writing but to get better at writing, period.


Phase 1 [First round of revisions, most important stuff]

1.     Answers the question(s) raised by the prompt.

2.     Has a clear introduction/thesis statement.

3.     Paragraphs are focused and logically organized.

4.     Cites relevant evidence from ALL texts.

5.     Explains how evidence answers the question(s).

Phase 2 [Second round, also important]

1.       Proper sentence structure (no run-ons or fragments)

2.       Effective use of transitions

3.       Strong vocabulary

4.       Punchy conclusion

Lesson #11

Objective: SWBAT revise their RST timed essay response in order to improve their writing.

Time Frame: 40 minutes

Material: Laptops (optional)

Intro:  More time to revise!

Lesson: More time to work on revisions if needed.


About theliteracycookbook

In addition to this blog, I am the creator of THE LITERACY COOKBOOK Website ( and ONLY GOOD BOOKS Blog (, and the author of THE LITERACY COOKBOOK: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction (Jossey-Bass, 2012), LITERACY AND THE COMMON CORE: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014), and USING GRAMMAR TO IMPROVE WRITING: Recipes for Action (BookBaby, 2018). Check out my Website for more information about my consulting work.
This entry was posted in Assessment(s), Compare and Contrast, ELA Common Core Standards, Evidence, Explanation, Lesson-planning, Media Literacy, Organizing an Essay, PARCC, Research Writing, Resources, RPM Objectives, Rubrics, Test Prep, Thesis Statements, TLC Website Resources, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to PARCC Prep: Research Simulation Task Writing Lesson Cycle

  1. Pingback: PARCC Prep: Literary Analysis Writing Lesson Cycle | The Literacy Cookbook blog

  2. Pingback: PARCC Prep: Literary Analysis Writing DEMO LESSON | The Literacy Cookbook blog

  3. Pingback: CCSS Test Prep: Literary Analysis Writing

  4. Pingback: PARCC Prep: Literary Analysis Writing Lesson Cycle UPDATED, 1-28-2020 | The Literacy Cookbook blog

  5. Pingback: PARCC Prep: Research Simulation Task Writing Lesson Cycle UPDATED 2-2-2020 | The Literacy Cookbook blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s