Thursday, December 13, 2012

Going back, back, back to the text

This year, I'm really focusing on helping my readers to return to the text to find answers. Intermediate readers often have a once and done philosophy--"I've read it, I'm done, let's move on." But returning to the text is often essential for deeper reading and thinking tasks.

How does this skill develop? Like summarizing, it's not something that we can just tell students to do. There are two main ways to help students learn to return to the text. The first way is to help them navigate through a text, so that they realize they can find answers efficiently. The second way is to give readers meaningful literal tasks that require them to return to the text.

Navigating a text
This is the first page from a collection of
Problem and Solution texts.
As soon as we start with nonfiction, I coach students to find their way through a text. At first, this is very directed. "Put your fingers on the second heading," I'll say, or "Use your pencil point to touch the third paragraph under the first heading. What word do you see?" It's easy for me to see who is using the headings and who is not.

After a first silent read of a text, I also like to have readers partner-read a text by sentence. Many struggling readers do not notice sentence and paragraph boundaries. When they read sentence-by-sentence, these boundaries matter! "Hey, it's my turn!" a partner will say indignantly.

What if you only have texts that don't have headings? Use different texts for instruction. For example, many popular Seymour Simon books have neither headings nor page numbers nor captions. These are fine to have in my classroom library, but not very useful for instruction. It takes a long time just to get everyone (literally) on the same page.

Finding words in a text
Readers often scan for specific words in a text. Simple vocabulary activities can be engaging and help students to become better at finding specific words. In the activity above, readers had to make predictions for how a word might be used in the text "Research Stations of Antarctica". Notice that I gave them the definitions.

Before they read, students had to make a prediction for how the words would be used. "Dormitories" was a word that they had learned in a previous text, so many predicted that the text would show that researchers or scientists sleep in dormitories in Antarctica. "Souvenirs" was a new word. Many students predicted that students would take rocks or ice back to their homes as souvenirs of Antarctica.

After reading, students went back to the text to find how the words were actually used. (I gave students the choice of whether to do this as they did their initial read, or whether they wanted to just read first and then look for the words; most students chose the latter.) Some of the words were in bold print, while others were not. It was fascinating to listen to them talking with each other about how to find the words! In some cases, they needed to read the sentence containing the word and the previous sentence to figure out how the word was used.

This activity is good for intermediate readers because there is a clear goal, and because they can judge their success (Did I find the word or not?) fairly easily. This provides a foundation of searching skills for students to use as they encounter more difficult tasks in text.

Other updates
Introduction to Text Structure: I've posted a new collection of text structure texts. This includes five texts about chinstrap penguins, five texts about peregrine falcons, and two assessments. My "Text Structure for Young Readers" PowerPoint is also included, along with a study guide that includes all of the texts in the PowerPoint.

Writing a Summary of Nonfiction: This PowerPoint is available free once more. (It is also included in Paraphrasing and Summarizing Lessons.) I took it down a few months ago in frustration at how my free things have been showing up re-posted under other people's names on docstoc and authorstream. However, I've gotten a few emails inquiring about it, so I'll give it another try. Case in point: My entire Understanding Text Structure PowerPoint is on Prezi, with new graphics, under someone else's name. Sigh.

Spelling: New spelling units are done. If I've been sending them to you, drop me a line at and I'll send them your way.

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