The following blog post is part of a blog series called "Comments on the Common Core," written by Eye On Education's Senior Editor, Lauren Davis.
The Common Core State Standards call for big increase in the amount of time spent on informational texts. This is a huge shift for teachers who are used to focusing on fiction. In my last post, I discussed some sources of nonfiction and informational texts. Here are some strategies for helping students navigate those texts.
- Teach students to discover and understand a text’s structures and features. Ask students why an author would use a certain element or visual. It’s not enough for students to understand the information in a graph (e.g., the graph shows that 75% of students like chocolate ice cream). They should try to determine why the graph is included in the first place and how it helps support the information in the text.
- When possible, incorporate academic vocabulary into your lessons (along with the content-area vocabulary). For example, depending on the text and your students’ level, you might be able to introduce academic terms such as bar graph, icons, glossary, index, and subheading. Doing so will teach students the material and also teach them how to talk about the material in the future.
- As you do with literary texts, teach students to do close readings, and show them that it’s okay to have to reread something if they don’t understand it at first. Use think alouds to show how you question a difficult text as you read.
- Teach students how to figure out the meanings of unknown words. Teach context clues, and help students understand when they can and can’t use them. Sometimes, an author doesn’t provide enough clues, and readers need to check word meanings in a dictionary. Sometimes the authors of informational texts define words in a glossary.
- Use visuals. Graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams, cause-effect flow charts, and timelines will help students analyze the information in a text and compare two texts.
- Teach the different organizational methods an author might use (cause-effect, problem-solution, etc.) as well as the key words that help readers determine structure. For example, a time-order essay might include sequencing words such as first, next, etc.
- Include prereading and scaffolding activities that help students with “words and concepts that are essential to a basic understanding and that students are not likely to know or be able to determine from context” (Coleman and Pimentel, Revised Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts in Literacy, K–2, p. 8). However, be careful of prereading activities that summarize the text or reveal the major ideas of the text. Such activities may make it harder for students to discover ideas on their own.
- Have students discuss the text and write about it. Writing helps students work independently through their thinking about a text (Coleman and Pimentel, p. 9).
- Ask text-based questions, and show students how to go back to the text for answers. When students respond to a question, make sure they say how they got their answers. With elementary students, you can ask, “How did you know that?” With older students, you can expect them to cite specific words from the text to support their ideas.
How do you plan to teach informational texts? What books or articles are on your list for this year? Leave me a comment.
Check back on October 24 for How to Design Open-Ended Assignments to Meet the Common Core
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