Demystifying Informational Text

Follow the Common Core Road

Nonfiction and nonfiction and nonfiction . . . oh, my! The Common Core State Standards call for a 50/50 balance of literature and informational text by Grade 4. Why? Well, for one, the requirement follows NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) guidelines. But also consider that 96% of websites are expository (Dr. Terri Beeler). In order to be prepared for college and careers, 21st century students must have command of factual reading.

The good news is you're not as far from home as it may seem. Many of the strategies used to teach reading through literature apply to informational text as well. The Common Core college and career readiness standards for literature and informational text are the same: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, and Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity.

The Common Core landscape is a new land for many. But fear not! There are no witches or flying monkeys on the path. Dorothy learned to navigate through Oz, and you will too. Just integrate more informational text into your existing reading and language arts block. Follow the Common Core Road to prepare your students to master English language Arts.

Key Ideas and Details

Dorothy did not travel through Oz alone. She and her friends worked together and supported one another. Jigsaw (Elliot Aronson) is a cooperative learning strategy. It requires each student to master a portion of the content (or a segment of the text) and then teach it to the rest of the group. There are many variations. Teachers may have students make a presentation or create a graphic representation to demonstrate understanding.

Craft and Structure

Oz was full of strange sights, new people and befuddling words! New ideas go hand-in-hand with new vocabulary. Once students master decoding skills, limited vocabulary poses the greatest challenge to at-risk students and English language learners (Dr. Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette). Students need at least ten exposures to words before they "own" them.

But, we need not use wicked worksheets! First, have student teams select Tier 2 and Tier 3* words from informational text. Then, get them learning together. They can:

  • Snap, clap and spell the words.

  • Create word walls.

  • Do word sorts and then analyze the words for mastery.

  • Take the Synonym Challenge! Assign segments of a passage to pairs of students. Challenge each pair to make a t-chart listing the word from the text on the left, and a synonym on the right.

  • Incorporate Jigsaw for an impressive review.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

The characters Dorothy encountered in Oz reminded her of her friends and family in Kansas. This connection helped her draw upon prior learning when making decisions and utilizing resources. Our students have the privilege and challenge of unlimited access to information. It is essential that they learn to analyze, evaluate and assimilate information to what they already know.

Metacognition, thinking about thinking, is a key 21st century skill. Students must be taught how to create and use the "hooks" in the brain to organize and scrutinize data. Venn diagrams, KWHL charts and other graphic organizers allow students to manipulate concepts. Sorting and organizing pictures, words, or sentence strips on pocket charts allow students to visually categorize and quantify the ideas they consume.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

Listening to a lecture did not lead Dorothy back to Kansas. Understanding took her home. Understanding does not come from passive intake of information. The focus needs to shift from recall to evaluation of a broad range of reading material.

Students must engage in discussions that stimulate critical thinking. Plus, we know that students learn more from peers than from adults. So, collaborative learning experiences will expedite synthesis.

Think-pair-share is another cooperative learning strategy. Students silently contemplate a question or concept. Next, pairs of students share their thoughts with one another. Finally, through class discussion, journaling or another activity, the pair shares what they have learned.

We know from brain-based research that instruction is more effective when we take reading comprehension activities well beyond the book page. Get students moving, speaking and listening, manipulating objects, and writing. There are many unique multisensory tools for teaching text comprehension that are ideal for facilitating deeper learning and collaborative interactions

So to wrap up my extended metaphor (and my musings on ELA in the land of the Common Core): follow the Common Core to the end of the "learning rainbow". Yes, you may face a few bumps along the way or be sidetracked by a scarecrow. But guess what? If it was easy to do, it wouldn't be worth the effort. And remember, you're not on your own in this!

*Tier 2 words are frequently used words that are necessary for understanding text. Examples: connection, simultaneous, contemporary. Tier 3 words are specialty words, such as content area terms, that are used infrequently. Examples: agriculture, equilateral, species.