Wednesday, April 18, 2012

informational text

Take a look at the Common Core Language Arts standards, which Minnesota adopted for ELA, and you will notice the focus on complex, informational text starting in the elementary grades and continuing through the end of high school. I was just in an elementary school helping some teachers analyze some NWEA MAP strand data, and it was clear that the students needed some more instruction in comprehension of informational text. When I ask students or teachers to list the types of text they read in a given week, once they start thinking of text in a broad sense, it's clear that most of what we read is not literary fiction. And we have different strategies when we're reading a contract for a new roof than we do when we sit down with Stieg Larsson's Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

So for this week's post, I'm going to focus on some great resources for teaching students comprehension strategies for informational text.

One of the key researchers for understanding how students comprehend informational text is Nell Duke. She wrote a great piece for ASCD called, "The Case for Informational Text," published a while ago but still very relevant. In the article, Duke (2004) suggests four things elementary teachers can do to start focusing on informational text:
  • Increase students' access to informational text.
  • Increase the time students spend working with informational text in instructional activities.
  • Explicitly teach comprehension strategies.
  • Create opportunities for students to use informational text for authentic purposes.
She goes on to describe ways to do each of these, but I'm going to give you some other ideas. I've already shared that ReadWriteThink is one of my favorite lesson plan sites, and I like this lesson developed for K-2 students around teaching students a 3-2-1 strategy, writing 3 things they learned, 2 things they found interesting, and 1 question they have after reading an article.

Have you seen Wonderopolis yet? It has some amazing informational texts on different topics, ranging from who invented the high-five to whether pirate ships have flags. Students love exploring this site, and it's great text to apply a variety of strategies as they are reading about the highly engaging topics.  This would be appropriate for elementary or adolescent readers and writers.

With informational text, the key is helping students read with a purpose. Students need help knowing that they should set a purpose for their reading, and then keep that purpose in mind as they read and take notes. We all know the three main purposes of text - to inform, to persuade, to entertain - and kids will likely be able to name these. But they also need help knowing how to read a particular piece of text for purpose. Letting them know ahead of time what they will be doing with the information is a good start. But, like everything, this takes lots of work for students to know how to do this independently. Here's a ReadWriteThink lesson plan that looks at setting purpose.

One thing about informational text that students need instruction in using are the text features. Students need to know how to use to their benefit the information from headings, captions, graphs and maps, bold words, and all the other great features of informational text. I've used the lesson plan loosely described at the Link 2 Literacy blog with some really great handouts to help draw the attention of students to text features.

One of my favorite strategies is the "Say Something" strategy when students partner up with a text and at set points in the text, each partner has the responsibility to say something about the text. They can ask a question, make a connection, clarify something, add to what's in the text, the point is that they stop and say something related to the text with their partners. I have found it to be very successful with elementary through high school students.

Have you signed up to get the weekly newsletter, "The Big Fresh" from Choice Literacy? I just love getting these and reading them on Saturday mornings. In their archives is a list of resources for nonfiction text, particularly as it relates to the CCSS. Of particular interest might be the link to the INK THINK TANK, which shares excellent nonfiction texts for students. I love the book trailers, which can help hook students on some of these excellent books. Along with that great resource are the Nonfiction Monday blogs, linked at Kidlitosphere.

Doug Fischer, who writes mostly about adolescent literacy, focused on Duke's work in his piece for ASCD, "Helping Elementary Students Read for Information." Fischer gives specific ideas for teaching strategies before, during, and after reading informational text. Speaking of Doug Fischer, he and colleague Nancy Frey have a great website at Literacy for Life.

Another go-to resource for me for adolescent literacy is, which has some great videos, and, even more helpful, links to handouts that accompany some great strategies for content texts.

How do you help your students read informational text?


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