Monday, December 21, 2009

Reading Procedural Text

This year, I decided to spend some extra time with procedural text. How-to texts, directions, instructions, whatever you want to call them--these are going to be the backbone of students' future reading lives. Not all of my students will pick up novels to read for pleasure when they are adults. But they will all need to read and understand directions in one form or another.

So, for the past week, my students have been immersed in how-to text. I've gone to tic-tac-toe choice menus for reading homework, and one of the favorite activities was to make a recipe with a parent and bring in the recipe to share. (Not the food, I emphasized to the students. The recipe!) We've looked at their similarities and differences, and students shared their experiences. I'm trying to be more conscious about bridging home reading and school reading, and I wanted students to recognize the wealth of reading opportunities they had at home. We heard some beautiful stories of parents taking the time to put treasured recipes on paper--and other stories of students who reminded their parents of the need to follow the recipe!

We also tried to follow directions together--with mixed results. Let me just say that origami is not my strong suit. I found these directions and printed them out for students to try. I wanted to draw students' attention to the features of how-to text: a list of materials, pictures, steps. Then, I thought, we could all have beautiful snowflakes to share.

Well, it didn't turn out that way. As it happens, Step 5 in the directions is tricky--so tricky, in fact, that we just couldn't do it. And what started as a reading lesson turned into a writing lesson. How did the writer let us down? What information did we need that we did not have? It also underscored an important lesson of procedural text. While directions may look dull and boring, they have an unseen drama that only unfolds when the reader jumps in and tries to carry them out. Will this turn out the way it is supposed to turn out? (If you're looking for a good set of directions, try these. They are similar to the first set, but have slightly different steps.)

Because I wanted students to try their hand at narrative directions, we also read a text about how to make a lay-up, and then went to the gym to try it out. I knew that the students would have more trouble with the narrative directions, directions that were organized as a paragraph instead of a numbered list.

I was right! They didn't read these directions as closely as they should. But what makes a better life lesson? Not reading the directions well and answering some questions wrong, or not reading the directions well and failing to complete the task? Well, judging from the expressions of my students, they learned more from realizing that they needed to read the lay-up directions with more care. Tomorrow, they'll have the chance to translate the narrative directions into steps and try again. They are excited to be working with how-to text...and I am excited to see their learning!

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