Strategies to Evaluate Explanations in Texts

Instructor: Katie Maxwell

Katie earned her High Distinction BS in Secondary Education/ English in 2006 and has over ten years of experience working in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. As a nonprofit consultant Katie now provides clients nationally with curriculum design and development services.

In this lesson we will use the CER Framework as a strategy to evaluate explanations in historical texts. By using the CLAIM and EVIDENCE provided by the author, and the reader's own REASONING (CER), we can more easily choose the best explanation.

CER Framework

Imagine you are at a family gathering in the springtime. Your uncle brings up the mild winter, and a few other family members comment on the warmer than usual spring weather. A younger cousin interjects and says this is obvious evidence of global warming. The family begins to debate what has led to global warming: some feel it's due to the rising human population and overconsumption, another group feels this is the typical pattern according to geologic timescale, and yet another couple of people don't even think global warming exists!

Even among the wildly differing views in this conversation, everyone is using their own claim, presentation of evidence, and reasoning to provide an explanation for global warming. When we discuss an event with others differing views are common, as are contrasting explanations for what caused the event in the first place. Similarly, when we read a historical text, we'll find that the author may provide an abundance of evidence surrounding an event, and it's up to the reader to use this contextual information to evaluate all available explanations and determine the best one that answers how or why the event occurred.

The field of science frequently uses the CER framework to arrive at theories or explanations for issues like global warming. Within this framework, scientists find the best possible explanation by examining the 'claim' itself, identifying the available 'evidence,' and then using their own 'reasoning' to develop an explanation. We can use this same model to find the strongest explanation of an event within a historical text: Claim + Evidence + Reasoning = Explanation.

Let's practice working with a short piece of historical fiction. First, read the passage for understanding and to determine the main idea, and prepare a document for note taking.


Knox Passage


What Question Is the Text Answering?

This passage outlines Henry Knox's rise to become Secretary of War in the late 1700s. In so doing, the author provides a great deal of evidence on how and why Knox came to be selected for this position. When finding explanations in text using the CER Framework, you need to start by noting the question the text is answering. In this case, the text is telling us: 'How did Henry Knox become the US Secretary of War?' Record this question at the beginning of your notes document.

Finding the Claim

Following the CER framework, the claim is how the author answers the question. In order to make the claim a complete explanation, you also need to gather the evidence presented by the author. Based on your first reading, what would you identify as the claim, or answer to the question, 'how did Henry Knox become the US Secretary of War?' Based on the sequence of events and imagery provided, it seems the author claims that Henry became Secretary of War due to many factors, including his experience, strength, and perseverance. Record this claim next in your notes. Next, read through the passage again and highlight all the textual evidence you see that supports the claim.

Working with the Evidence Using Reasoning


Knox Passage Highlighted


Now that you've identified the evidence, you can use your own reasoning to think about WHY the evidence supports the claim and write a few summarized statements in your evidence section. Your evidence section might include summarized points along these lines:

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