The purpose of this activity is to get you to think about ways that different people’s understanding of written material varies. The activity encourages reflection about how much room a text allows for the creative construction of meaning while still communicating the gist, or main points, of the author.
Read the following four passages and then answer the questions that follow the passages, either individually or in discussion with a group or a friend who read the passages too.
Recipe for Mexican Cornbread
2 cup cream-style corn
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup chopped hot peppers
1 and ½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 eggs beaten
¾ cup sweet milk
½ cup salad oil
½ teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients. Bake in greased 9×13 inch pan. Serve hot with or without butter.
(recipe from W-Hollow Kitchen Adventure: Cooking with Herbs and Hot Peppers by Glennis Stuart Liles and Helen Schultz.)
- For which passage (1, 2, 3, or 4) are readers’ understanding of the reading passage, least likely to differ? Why do you think readers’ construction of meaning will be less likely to differ on that passage? If they do differ, what might be some of the ways they differ and reasons why they differ?
- For each passage, tell what you think is the purpose the author had in writing the passage. Why might the purpose of a passage affect the readers’ understanding?
- Which passage is the one that different readers are most likely to understand in their own personal ways? How does this passage differ from the passage that you think is least likely to yield different understandings depending on who is reading it?
- What visual and word cues let readers know how to understand the passage? In other words, what tells the reader that the recipe is a recipe? What tells the reader that the poem is a poem? What suggests that the story by O. Henry is a story?
- Ask someone else to read the beginning to O. Henry’s story. After he or she has read it, ask the person to describe how he or she imagined Della and compare his or her image to your image of her. How do your impressions differ from those of the other person who read the passage? Are both understandings compatible with the words on the page?
If you are using this activity with a group of students in a paraprofessional training program or workshop, you might want to organize small-group discussions in which the students talk about what they learned from their readings and reflections about the four passages.