AP CCSS college readiness David Theriault ELA English Language Arts Literary Analysis Literary Terms Literature Pedagogy Presentations Reading Theme

Why SCOUTing A Book Will Have You Close Reading Like A Champ

Five years ago I told the head coach of my son’s flag football team that I could run the offense and we would win. I had never coached football before. I never played in high school or college. But I can research and reverse engineer any problem and find a solution. Creating an effective flag football offense was a problem begging for a solution. The Gators had a blast that season, we scored a ton.

Gators 2010

Thanks coach Logan, for trusting me. 

Part of our success was scoring near the goal line. According to the rules you couldn’t run near the goal line, you had to pass. So I did my research and realized we needed to do two things: one we needed to run a shovel pass, and two we needed a tight formation that would act as blocking, even though no blocking was allowed. So I created our Kamikazee formation. It worked well. In fact, after retiring from coaching flag football last spring, I posted our Kamikazee playbook on Slideshare.

SlideShare 10,645 views

Looks like it’s working for other people too.

Now this isn’t the first time I’ve stepped into a new role and tried to create a system for success. When I first started teaching AP English I had no mentor. I was the only AP English Composition teacher at Mayfair High School and they had never had more than eight students pass the test before I started teaching there. I remember pouring over old tests, creating vocabulary lists, creating test question stems so that my students could create their own AP tests and see what the test makers were doing. This was the same year the first internet web browser was released.

I quickly discovered that good acronyms were crucial. There is so much information your students need to remember than a few powerful acronyms can really save the day. Now I know what you are thinking, David is there such a thing as a bad acronym? Why yes, yes there is.

Here is the KWL chart “upgraded” to address 21st century learners:


Seriously? Seriously? Who is going to remember that when they need to remember that? How is that memorable? How is that topical to the task? Whenever I try and come up with an acronym I try and make it memorable and fitting to the task, something like taking a photo T.R.I.P. Using that acronym will help clean up your photo skills. 

Cleaning up any misunderstandings after reading a piece of nonfiction, is why we use S.O.A.P., in an AP class: Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose. But SOAP still doesn’t have that ring to it, and it didn’t help my student with the task they struggled with the most: close reading.

So I tried and tried again to come up with a clever acronym that would help my students successfully beat that AP test by attacking the text with a close reading strategy. Now I’m not a big fan of close reading, I like connected reading strategies much better. But, our honors and AP students need to understand close reading so I proceeded to try and create an acronym that they could use as a toolkit with any reading. The closest I ever got to a good acronym was USAROCS (USA! USA!) I can’t even remember what it stood for, but it was kinda lame from the beginning. My co-worker (and friend Annalise, was playfully teasing me about it the other day) Then one day it hit me.

The act of close reading is like the act of SCOUTing a team before you play them. Or perhaps SCOUTing the opposition before you go to battle. You look at all elements of your opposition and then you develop a winning game plan, or as we English teachers call it: a winning essay, or maybe a winning presentation.

The SCOUT process became the backbone for my most viewed blog post: Let’s BRAWL- Throwing Socratic Seminars Out Of The Ring.


BTW it took me a while to come up with B.R.A.W.L. (Battle Royal All Will Learn) but coming up with a good acronym is important. People like the BRAWL because it helps students not only close read, but it helps them generate their own questions about their reading. All of this is done using the SCOUT method. You can click on the word SCOUT in this post to learn more about the process and see it in action, but if you don’t have the time I’ll spell it out for you here:

Specific [specific words, details etc…]

Comparison [metaphors, allusions, analogies etc…]

Organization [sequential and spatial ie contrast and repetition]

Unusual/Unique [what doesn’t fit, what’s unexpected]

Theme Examples [quotes, actions, motifs etc….]

There’s a SCOUT handout here that details just some of the authorial techniques that students can SCOUT, while looking for patterns and connections that an author used to reach their audience, to achieve their purpose, to communicate a theme. (if you have suggestions for the handout, please let me know)

Now the most basic way to handle SCOUT is to either assign it in groups and use it on a poem or short piece of writing on your whiteboard and then have each group use on of the SCOUT letters to tie the authorial technique with the authorial purpose.

SCOUT Whiteboard

Or you can have students take SCOUT notes. My co-worker Sean Ziebarth is having his students use SCOUT on all of the intercalary chapters of The Grapes Of Wrath.

Another friend Dan Ryder who teaches HS English in Maine enjoys using the SCOUT technique with his students. Dan does some “wicked” stuff. Sean Z and I have an ongoing dream that one day we will get two plane tickets to go watch Dan teach for a week.


Dan has done some super cool stuff by mixing sketchnotes, SCOUT and one of their core AP novels True Grit. Stuff that I would have never thought of doing.


His students have used SCOUT in many different ways including analyzing poetry which was a part of a bigger task that ended up in their student blogs.

Dan Ryder

Check out the student’s blog post

So cool.

So I decided I need to do something creative with SCOUT since Dan and his students were rocking it. I took my visual Three Whys assignment and decided to apply it to A Tale Of Two Cities.

So I used this slide deck to explain to the students that I wanted them to find an important argument in A Tale Of Two Cities and then to find one of each of the SCOUT elements that were examples/evidence of this argument and then to create a memorable slide deck to tie the whole argument together. I used one of the greatest Westerns of all time.

I did NOT want them to use any bullet points to explain their ideas, nor did I want a bunch of text on their slides. It is impossible to read and listen to words at the same time. So I wanted them to explain the argument using a mix of quoted material from the book (that they kept track of in the SCOUT notes) and images that represented how that quoted material fit into the overall argument. Here are three examples:

Touching work by Eden

Amazing motif by Christina 

So why does S.C.O.U.T work?

  • It’s easy to remember.
  • It describes the action happening and the end goal.
  • It fairly comprehensive.
  • It’s a transportable system.
  • It’s adaptable to different goals and creative responses.
  • You can eliminate and add to the terms for each category.
  • It’s been successfully used by different teachers at different schools.
  • It’s free to use, modify, re/mix.

The slide presentations above were so cool to see in class. You could tell the student really understood what the author was trying to do and then SEE what the student created in response. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you, or your students, create something cool using the SCOUT technique, please share it with me.


PS: I get this question all the time: “Hey David, can I use _____” in my class or presentation? Well, just like all of my stuff SCOUT and any SCOUT handouts, lesson ideas etc… is covered under


So use it for free in your class and trainings, re/mix it to your hearts content, but don’t use it in a published book that is for sale, without contacting me first. While it might be nice (for my bank account) to put stuff on Teachers Pay Teachers and make money on it, I have learned and used so many ideas from my fellow teachers at FVHS and beyond that it just wouldn’t be right to charge for something that I made up or re/mixed. Hope this helps your students in some way. #bestwishes




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