Designating the MVP: Facilitating Classroom Discussion About Texts

Designating the MVP: Facilitating Classroom Discussion About Texts

This teaching tip highlights a strategy that assists teachers in structuring classroom discussions about texts. Specifically, this conversational technique helps students think and talk about a text beyond its literal meaning. Students learn to make decisions about why a particular phrase is the Most Valuable Phrase (MVP) within a text as a whole.

Many students (especially those interested in sports) are familiar with the term MVP, designating the Most Valuable Player; this usually refers to one athlete who is considered the most valuable to a team as a whole. Given how many elementary school students follow sports, it is not surprising that this kind of talk plays into students' more casual talk, both in and out of school. Surely, during recess or free time in classrooms and in school hallways, it is not unusual to hear at least a few students talking with their peers about who should be considered the MVP of a team. Indeed, students are often eager to provide reasons for these opinions, backing them up with evidence (i.e., home run statistics, touchdowns, or points).

The teaching tip in this article adapts this traditional concept of an MVP into an analytical strategy which, in this case, stands for the most valuable phrase within a text. This strategy aids students as they engage in structured conversations, which provide opportunities for students to extend their comprehension of texts (Johnston, 2002). Specifically, students practice providing evidence for their thoughts and are guided to think critically about how specific language works within a particular text. A conversation about a text's MVP prompts students to champion specific lines of text and explain their significance.

Facilitating this kind of purposeful talk (Nichols, 2008) encourages students to elaborate on their ideas (Linden & Wittrock, 1981) and to develop their overall understanding of a text. Further, evaluating the MVP within the whole of a text supports broader, research-based comprehension strategies (Dymock & Nicholson, 2010; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000) such as summarizing. Since the MVP strategy focuses on extending students' ideas about what they have read, it is intended to be used with a text that is familiar to them.

Using the MVP technique assumes that students have acquired a literal understanding of what they have read; this foundation is essential if students are going to begin to evaluate or critique specific phrases and summarize ideas within a text (Pressley & Block, 2002). Without a basic understanding of what has been read, it would be very difficult for students to explain why certain phrases were significant or why a particular part should be considered the MVP of a text. Just as it would be difficult for a person to decide who should be the MVP of a sports team if they didn't watch at least a few games, so too would it be challenging for students to pick the MVP of a text without first understanding the text's basic meaning.

At its essence, the MVP strategy provides specific criteria for teachers to use as they engage students in providing evidence for why a particular phrase is valuable — even integral — to a text as a whole. Students engage in critical thinking and have opportunities to practice condensing and explaining their reasoning based on three criteria (one for M, one for V, and one for P). As a teaching technique and reading strategy, the MVP designation also serves as a mnemonic device, reminding students what they should look for when determining the significance of phrases within a text. A phrase that is the most valuable must be one that either links to the main idea (M) or contains vivid language (V). It could also qualify as most valuable if it is a “phrase that stays” with a student (P), meaning that it is a phrase that adds to a reader's prior knowledge and builds understanding. These three criteria are intended to help students organize their thinking; they are further delineated in Figure 1.

Using the MVP criteria, students are guided to provide a brief explanation for why a phrase is significant or deserving of an MVP designation. If a specific part of a text meets the M criteria, it means that it is connected to a text's main idea and is thus valuable to the text as a whole. This, of course, assumes that students have already ascertained the main idea of a text and prompts them to extend this understanding. In other words, if a student believes a specific phrase should be considered the MVP, they would be expected to offer at least one reason and to articulate the connection between that portion of text and its main idea.

The V stands for vivid, meaning that the way a particular phrase is written creates a clear mental image, enhancing comprehension of text overall (Pearson & Duke, 2002). This vivid guideline encourages students to bring attention to both semantics and syntax; in doing so, they practice becoming close readers of text. Additionally, this phrase might be one that students wish they had written (Johnston, 2002) or one that has compelling language and vocabulary. A vivid sentence could also be one that students appreciate in terms of its craft, rhythm, or lyrical qualities. Indeed, the V criterion directs students to take a step back from a text's literal meaning and to reflect on sentence structure as well as the meaning of specific vocabulary.

The P stands for a “phrase that stays” with a student because it adds nuance to the way a concept or idea is understood; in other words, it adds to a reader's developing schema (Rumelhart, 1980). Thus, it is coined as a “phrase that stays” and deserves a spot in the running for MVP. In explaining what new knowledge students have gleaned from this particular phrase, they are required to activate their prior knowledge (Block & Pressley, 2003) and synthesize ideas.

In order for students to learn to how to use the MVP strategy, a teacher must first explicitly model how to think about each of the three criteria separately. Indeed, when teaching this technique, each of the three criteria (M, V, P) should be taught as its own lesson, modeled by a teacher, and then repeatedly practiced by students. Ideally, a teacher would spend at least a week modeling each of the M, V, and P criteria with different kinds of texts.

After students have had multiple experiences using each of the three criteria separately and skillfully, they are ready to practice thinking about all of the criteria at once. In other words, the MVP strategy is only ready to launch as an integrated whole after each criterion has been explained exclusively and practiced over several lessons. Further, in order to work effectively, the MVP strategy should be practiced after students have become acquainted with a particular text's literal content and with its basic themes.

To get an idea about what a lesson using the MVP technique might sound like after students have learned how to use it, an excerpt from a first-grade classroom conversation is included below. This conversation was recorded after the teacher had already spent a month explicitly modeling the strategy (and by teaching each piece separately); she had also spent another month helping students to practice using all of the MVP criteria during guided discussions about texts.

Further, since the MVP strategy is intended for use after the initial reading of a text, this classroom excerpt was recorded during the second reading of the text, after students had already read it once and had discussed aspects of its literal meaning. Thus, students were well prepared for a conversation using the MVP strategy, which targets students' higher-level thinking skills such as critiquing and synthesizing information within a text that they already understand on a literal level.

The purpose of this classroom excerpt is to illustrate what a lesson sounds like when the MVP strategy is used by students; all names used are pseudonyms. The following conversation is from a first-grade classroom as the teacher led a discussion about The Great Kapok Tree(Cherry, 1990):


Who wants to share the phrase that they think should be given MVP status? Vanessa?


When the frog says… something like, “We're gonna be homeless if you chop down the [great kapok] tree.”


Oh, yes, OK, here, I found that page. Everyone see [points to page]? It says, “You will leave many of us homeless if you chop down the great kapok tree.” OK, Vanessa, convince us that this [phrase] should be the MVP of this story.


The frog says that the animals could be homeless. That's sad. The man should listen. Or he gonna be the one that made people homeless and… why would he want to make animals homeless?


Good, Vanessa. So, how are you thinking about that? Remember to look at the chart and decide if it qualifies because it falls into the M, V, or P category.


M, because it is a reason that the tree is important and why it shouldn't be cut down. The main idea of this book was that the tree was special and it shouldn't be cut down by the man.


Yup, I think so. When the frog points out that the animals will be homeless, the man might feel bad about hurting others and won't chop it down. Does anyone else have a different MVP? Liam?


I think, yeah, getting homeless is bad, but at least they [the animals] would be alive. If they didn't have oxygen, they wouldn't be alive. That's worse. The tree was important because it has oxygen and the animals will die without it. That's worse than being homeless so should be MVP. Also, oxygen is science. So it is also a phrase that stays because it teaches us more about science.


Good, Liam. Uh-huh. So, you think the phrase… let me find it [turns pages of book to find the sentence with “oxygen” in it]. Oh, here it is! Listen, it says, “Oxygen! If you cut down the forests, you will destroy that which gives us all life.” That one?




OK. Janet?


The title.


Just the title? “The Great Kapok Tree.” Why just the title, Janet?


Because the animals, they all tell the man about how great the tree is. The whole book is about how great the tree is. That's in the title. The title has the main idea. So, it has the M.


OK, that works. Good! Thanks for bringing that to our attention. Does anyone want to share a line or phrase that would fit into the V category because it creates a vivid picture for us or because you like the way it sounds? Carlos?


When the book says that the tree is “full of miracles.” I like that sentence because it makes me think that the tree is magic and, like, it glows. It can't really be a magic tree, but it is a special tree and that is what the book is about. The tree kind of brings miracles for the animals, like food and shelter.

In this excerpt, after Vanessa puts forth a sentence that she argues meets the M criteria, Liam adds to what she says by pointing out that another sentence better qualifies. He provides his own evidence about how “The tree was important because it has oxygen and the animals will die without it. That's worse than being homeless.” In pointing out how his choice for MVP qualifies more than Vanessa's choice, he is practicing the skill of comparing and contrasting another person's (in this case, Vanessa's) point of view. He then explains his choice and provides evidence for his thinking.

“The teaching tip in this article adapts the traditional concept of an MVP into an analytical strategy which stands for the most valuable phrase within a text.”

Liam subsequently builds on his idea by adding that the same sentence fits another MVP criterion: that of a phrase that stays (since it deals with scientific knowledge, a distinct topic separate from the main idea of the text). So, during this conversation, Liam has practiced many subskills related to reading comprehension (i.e., providing evidence when summarizing as well as activating prior knowledge and applying ideas within a text).

Conversations like this—which facilitate talk about texts—also render students' thinking visible (Block & Israel, 2004; Hattie, 2009). Thus, this process gives teachers additional information about how students are coming to conclusions about ideas within texts. At the end of the conversation, the teacher directed students to the V criteria, prompting them to think specifically about vivid language. At that point, Carlos added his thoughts about the phrase “full of miracles” and described the way he interpreted it, calling attention to the word “miracles” and how it conjured up a magical image of a glowing tree. Although he doesn't explicitly state it, Carlos is alluding to the concept of a metaphor. Further, hearing this comment, a teacher might then be able to gauge that her students are ready to begin discussing figurative language such as metaphor.

The widely adopted Common Core State Standards demand deep comprehension of challenging texts; one way to encourage this is to teach students, at an early age, how to analyze words and phrases related to the overall significance of texts. The MVP strategy works to accomplish this and supports students as they think about written language and prepare to explain why one phrase is salient (and thus deserves the label of MVP). An additional side effect of this strategy is that students are given the opportunity to cite evidence for their thoughts and express opinions about an author's craft.

To be sure, as students gain practice using the MVP framework, they become accustomed to verbalizing their thinking and to using specific criteria as reference points. They also become more skilled at providing evidence (in terms of citing specific phrases or sentences) for their opinions. As students get more comfortable with the process of determining the MVP of a text, they are more likely to then use it during their own independent reading.

While most people think of the label MVP as Most Valuable Player, students who have practiced the MVP strategy featured here will also begin to think about this label standing for most valuable phrase, facilitating their analysis of texts. In doing so, students may even develop a deep appreciation for a different kind of MVP—one that promotes them to find meaning, value, and purpose in language overall.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

  • Block, C.C., & Israel, S.E. (2004). The ABCs of performing highly effective think-alouds. The Reading Teacher, 58(2), 154–167.
  • Block, C. C., & Pressley, M. (Eds.). (2003). Best practices in comprehension instruction. In L. M. Morrow, L. B. Gambrell & M. Pressley(Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (2nd ed., pp. 111–126). New York, NY: Guilford.
  • Dymock, S., & Nicholson, T. (2010). “High 5!” Strategies to enhance comprehension of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 64(3),166–178.
  • Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Johnston, P.H. (2002). Choice words: How our language affects children's learning. York, ME: Stenhouse.
  • Linden, M., & Wittrock, M.C. (1981). The teaching of reading comprehension according to the model of generative learning. Reading Research Quarterly, 17(1), 44–57.
  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction(NIH Publication No. 000-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Nichols, M. (2008). Talking about text: Guiding students to increase comprehension through purposeful talk. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.
  • Pearson, P.D., & Duke, N.K. (2002). Comprehension instruction in the primary grades. In C.C. Block, & M. Pressley (Eds.),Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (pp. 247–258). New York, NY: Guilford.
  • Pressley, M., & Block, C.C. (2002). Summing up: What comprehension instruction could be. In C.C. Block, & M. Pressley (Eds.),Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (pp. 383–392). New York, NY: Guilford.
  • Rumelhart, D. (1980). Schemata: The building blocks of cognition. In R.J. Spiro, B.C. Bruce, & W.F. Bruner (Eds.), Theoretical issues in reading comprehension (pp. 33–58). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Literature Cited

  • Cherry, L. (1990). The great kapok tree: A tale of the Amazon rain forest. San Diego, CA: Voyager Books.

Strom, Carolyn. (2014). Designating the MVP: Facilitating Classroom Discussion About Texts. The Reading Teacher, 68(2), 108–112 doi: 10.1002/trtr.1287


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Dr. Joanne Meier
Dr. Joanne Meier
February 14, 2014
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