Rigorous Reading Resources

Do you need a resource to help you initiate a conversation about COVID-19? The story of Typhoid Mary and what happened in America about 100 years ago is a great way to get started. Mary Mallon’s story parallels much of what is happening today. Additionally, the resource, "Typhoid Mary," is written with rigor built-in so your students will also be learning reading strategies to help them become more proficient readers and learners.

Readers will read Mary Mallon's story and complete print-and-go worksheets included to support readers' understanding of the text. Collaborative activities, including a mock classroom trial, allow readers to thoroughly explore the responsibilities of the public during an outbreak of an infectious disease, i.e., social distancing or staying at home, etc.  Additionally, all forms you need to organize a classroom trial are included. This resource will work well in your remote learning classroom. Using ”Typhoid Mary” will not only be informative about the subject matter, it will also help you teach strategies to aid comprehension. Now to talk more about this rigorous reading resource.

Rigorous Reading resources provide students with information about the subject matter as well as how to tackle difficult text and break it down into manageable pieces to increase comprehension. What elements does a resource need to accomplish this? Here are 4 steps used to create the rigorous reading resource “Typhoid Mary.”

First, the resource must have a pre-reading activity that gets kids interested to find out more. The main idea is to get kids to commit by stating an opinion. It doesn’t matter what they choose as long as they make a choice. Once they do, they are participating! Good start!
There are many ways to create a pre-reading strategy. They need to be simple and take no longer than 5 or 6 minutes. An agree/disagree list of 5 statements, about the general theme of the story, is an easy way to accomplish this. A short class discussion about the choices will set the stage for the story.


Second, vocabulary activities are mandatory. They introduce readers to words they may not know. It is discouraging and confusing for struggling and even more proficient readers to not understand the vocabulary. They often will not stop to find a definition, but continue to read on with little understanding or worse, they just give up altogether. “Typhoid Mary” has vocabulary puzzles and an activity to demonstrate the use vocabulary words in sentences.

Third, “Typhoid Mary” has during-reading or focusing questions as well. Each page has a question or two to require the reader to reflect on what they have just read. Struggling readers tend to read on and on without any reflection whatsoever. This always results in poor comprehension. The questions embedded in text of ”Typhoid Mary” help the reader to focus on the important message in that section of the story. The questions also make great classroom conversation starters.

Lastly, culminating activities are so important to emphasize the salient points of what readers have learned. “Typhoid Mary” has several concluding activities, one is a very special concluding activity, a classroom trial.

Students create a mock trial to assess the culpability of an asymptomatic carrier of disease. The trial can take a few days or longer. There are suggestions to make the trial shorter if needed. Everyone in your class can participate.  Each role should be played by a group of students who work collaboratively to complete the documents.  Each team receives a document outlining the responsibilities of their role (prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, jury and witnesses) to be acted out in your classroom trial. There are documents to guide the students playing each role and help them accomplish what they need to do i.e., build a case, write questions,  prepare to defend their theory, list facts that weaken the opposition's case, assess the evidence and come to a reasonable, well thought out conclusion.  






Lessons from “Typhoid Mary”

1. People need to wash their hands with soap frequently to keep germs from spreading.

2. People need to keep their living space clean and use sanitizers.

3. Poor sanitation causes disease to spread.

4. Infectious diseases can spread very quickly.

5. People who are infected need to take precautions not to infect others.

6. People who are not infected need to take precautions to protect themselves.


Lessons for each Role

Readers use perspective to build a case. Reader use higher level problem solving skills to prove their point of view.

Prosecutor and Defense Attorney

1. Determine a theory of what happened and construct a strategy to win your case.

2. Collaborate to write good questions.

3. Explore  witnesses' possible answers to both prosecution and defense questions. Be prepared to rebut testimony that will diminish your argument.


1. Collect witness lists and be sure each witness called is on that list.

2. Do not allow lawyers or witnesses to demonstrate unacceptable behavior.

3. Make decisions to keep the trial running smoothly.

Jury Members

1.Take notes during the trial.

2. Collaborate to determine a fair verdict.


1. Re-read the part of the story that talks about your character.

2. Use interpretive skills to determine what your testimony will be.

3. Answer questions on the witness stand.


If you are ready to teach your kids some great comprehension skills using this timely topic, click here.