Review by Vanessa Aranda, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2018

ThinkCERCA

Well-structured lessons encourage deep analysis, thoughtful writing

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3–12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (13 Reviews)

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Pros: High-interest texts can spark classroom discussions, and the CCSS-aligned critical reading framework provides helpful feedback tools for teachers.

Cons: Lessons/texts could be more timely. Further options for collaboration and discussion among students would make the platform more lively.

Bottom Line: This is a ready-to-go, research-backed resource that focuses intently on CCSS-aligned and AP-level critical reading and writing skills.

It's tempting to see ThinkCERCA as a Common Core silver bullet -- especially if you're using the full subscription -- because it's such a thorough resource. Teachers can arrange for whole-class access to the site during the school day or, if possible, assign students to read specific articles as part of a flipped classroom. In either scenario, teachers can pull individual students to meet with while the rest of the classroom attends to their assigned work. While the pre-selected texts and questions are time-savers for any teacher looking for well-constructed prompts aligned with standards-based texts, managing timely individualized feedback for more than one class may prove cumbersome.

Either version of the site's offerings supports a weekly routine of assessing students' reading. However, the program is not prescriptive and can be modified to be used in conjunction with your own lessons and extensions as often as you choose. ThinkCERCA's engaging articles serve as good support for thematic units in language arts, social studies, math, or science. The articles could serve as springboards for excellent whole-class debates, small-group discussions, or timed essays for high school AP-level courses. Additionally, if you're using the full subscription, students could print their essays and score their peers' work, meeting in small groups to help each other and encourage better writing.

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ThinkCERCA is a web-based literacy program that scaffolds the development of critical thinking and argumentative writing skills for students in grades 3-12. The CERCA acronym (Claims, Evidence, Reasoning, Counterarguments, Audience) represents the site's structured approach to teaching critical thinking and argumentation, and both unpacking these elements in readings and using them in students' own writing is key to the site's learning experience. While reading one of the program's numerous text selections, students can click answers to stimulus-based multiple choice, type in responses to short-answer questions, highlight sections of text, develop graphic organizers, and make claims about what they're reading. They're then prompted to support these claims with evidence from the text, explain their reasoning, and address possible counterarguments. Throughout, students are encouraged to use audience-appropriate language as they write, and can reference a dictionary as well as a rubric to make sure their work is on target. ThinkCERCA lesson sets each connect a text with some performance of understanding, whether it's creating a summary or completing a dynamic graphic organizer to form an argument. From there, students can draft an essay that teachers can score online.

The basic, free version offers just one type of lesson with multiple-choice assessments. ThinkCERCA's full, paid version is far more robust, with a host of extra features like more in-depth "applied" lessons, data dashboards, writing benchmarks, and rubrics.

Full Disclosure: ThinkCERCA and Common Sense Education share a funder; however, that relationship does not impact Common Sense Education's editorial independence and this learning rating.

ThinkCERCA can help teachers integrate CCSS-aligned, cross-disciplinary reading and writing instruction into their classes. While it aligns well with the critical thinking direction of advanced placement courses for high school students, the text and questions can benefit students at any level and in any subject. The program's selection of high-interest texts spans a range of subject and reading abilities. Additional scaffolding tools, such as audio of the text and visual prompters, are available on certain texts. ThinkCERCA does the grunt work of gathering, curating, and organizing many high-interest nonfiction readings that would otherwise prove challenging -- if not impossible -- for most busy teachers. ThinkCERCA also includes adjoining assessments with each text for individual, small-group, and whole-class assessment.

While the free version offers a taste of the program and provides some useful texts and multiple-choice assessments, the Premium version is where ThinkCERCA really shines and gets at the heart of the program's approach to reading and writing instruction. The handy argument-organizer tool walks students through lessons in the research-backed CERCA format. The reading and response windows appear side by side in a logical, dynamic, and user-friendly layout. Students can reference a dictionary as well as a rubric at any time. Teachers can differentiate via the types of questions and texts students receive, but variable complexity within each text is currently missing and would be a big benefit.

ThinkCERCA fills a critical void in the world of online reading and writing instruction, and really digs deep into substantive textual analysis and well-structured writing. Still, there's potential for even more. For instance, teachers may want to support collaborative learning among students of varying abilities. A built-in tool to encourage online collaboration utilizing a "more capable peer" approach could help facilitate this, and such a tool would be a solid addition. It'd also be nice to have text-leveling to increase accessibility, and to expand the available texts to more timely selections. As it stands, ThinkCERCA provides teachers and students with an exceptionally well-developed program that's a bit formulaic, but backs up that formula with actual results. On this point, it's worth noting that ThinkCERCA has undergone three different research evaluations, each demonstrating student growth over control groups.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The texts cover a wide-range of topics but aren't timely. The built-in dictionary and the ability to go beyond multiple-choice quizzes to structuring arguments help students dig into texts.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Standards-aligned, cross-disciplinary texts support close reading practice while inviting debate and discussion. Students follow a research-backed process for working through texts, learning to read closely and to structure arguments.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Teachers have a robust dashboard, and ready-to-go lessons and units. In-text definitions, rubrics, and some audio and visual prompt cues help scaffold learning. Adjustable reading levels would be nice.


Common Sense Reviewer
Vanessa Aranda Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 13 reviews) (13 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Dev F. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
The Global Learning Collaborative
New York, United States
A Gift from the Common Core Aligned Writing Gods!
Think Cerca is really a gift! It is an amazing website that seems to really understand the intricacies of teaching and provide teachers with an awesome level of support need to navigate the teaching waters. Cerca is an acronym for Claim, Evidence, Reason, Counterargument, Audience. While the acronym may seem fairly unimportant, as a teacher, it provides me with the knowledge that the focus of the Common Core shift is at the root of the ThinkCerca instructional focus. ThinkCerca provides students ...
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