At the end of the year, when we talk about everything we have read during the course of the year, my students are always amazed at how many books they have "consumed". Then if we add in research we have done and videos we have watched, the information they have learned gets bigger and bigger. Last year, I started having my students record that information on "Text Consumption Recording Sheets". We started with whole group books and then by a student suggestion we added them to guided reading. Eventually we realized we could use them for center work and even with videos that we watch to build background knowledge.
By the time we got to PARCC testing, my students had a whole notebook of these sheets. We used them to compare and contrast different books we had read and check back on our understanding. Towards the end of the year, we even did some re-reading of books we had already read. Then we added new details we learned using colored pencils or markers so that they could visualize how re-reading texts helps them to learn new information.
These sheets are very simple, but they help my students to work on a variety of skills and standards with each book, article, story, poem, recipe, or website that they read. Or any videos or songs that they watch. Since these worked so well for me, I decided to share them at my Teachers Pay Teachers store as a simple freebie for the 2017/2018 school year. I hope they help your class as much as they helped mine.
Five Strategies for Teaching Informational Texts to Students with Little Background Knowledge
Informational text is one of the hardest types of texts for many students to comprehend. This is particularly challenging for students like mine, in title one schools, who lack in background knowledge. These students struggle with informational text often simply because they lack background knowledge. These students do not visit museums, watch documentaries or have access to as many educational toys. These students do not look at newspapers or watch the news on t.v.
So when you start reading a book about glaciers with kids who live in the desert and have never seen more than 1/4 inch of snow or reading a book about flightless birds who have never been to a zoo or even a farm, the students have no background knowledge on the topic to connect with. Without these connections, students who read the words are not understanding the words. So how do we help these students to better understand informational text? Here are 5 strategies I use:
1.) Bring in background knowledge BEFORE you read. Most of the time we can read a book and know if your students will have background knowledge on a topic. If you are unsure, a simple K-W-L chart will help you know if your students will have the background knowledge to understand the book you're going to read.
Once you know what your students are lacking, you can fill in those gaps with videos like the Magic School Bus, field trips, experiments or even real world experience like baking bread. This year my class baked bread to help my students understand what yeast does.
2.) Pre-teach important vocabulary words. Especially with English Langage Learners or limited English learners (who often are native English speakers that have only had experience with a single non-standard English dialect), preteaching vocabulary is very important. Students can often sound out words in books and have no idea what that word means. Because they don't want to sound "stupid" and ask what that word means, they just won't ask and thereby won't understand what they read. To stop this phenomenom, I ALWAYS pre-teach vocabulary words. I choose key words from the text that will help students to understand what they are going to read. Then we brainstorm what the meaning of these words are using a variety of word strategies, including cognates, parts of speech, and context clues. Sometimes the students stumble on to the correct definition of the word. Other times, I have to give them the definition. Either way, students have thought about and discussed these words BEFORE they read. This primes their brains, builds additional background knowledge and gives them the vocabulary they need in order to understand the text they will be reading.
Once I have finished pre-teaching this vocabulary, I post all of the words onto my word wall for students to reference at any time while they are reading this book (or any other book).
***Product note: Suggested vocabulary for pre-teaching can be found in all of the Novel Studies available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. There is also a section in my Self Selected Informational Book Studies for pre-teaching vocabulary.
3.) Teach students to use informational text features. "Mrs. Raki, do I have to read this?" is something I often have to hear while students point to captions or charts provided in informational books we read. We need to teach students about these text features. They need to know that not only do they need to read them, but that each different kind of text feature will provide them with different information. My class recently went on a "scavenger hunt" for text features through a variety of old Science Weekly magazines I had. Students worked together to find different examples of each text feature and glued them onto chart paper to make text feature posters.
Now, every time we read an informational book, I ask them "What text feature is this?" If they don't remember, we refer back to our posters. Then we talk about what that feature will do for us as a reader.
4.) Use informational text as read alouds. It's easy to get into our favorite novels and picture books for read alouds. However, informational texts can be just as successful as a read aloud. This is particularly true if you use the book as a "think a loud". "Oh I see the caption for this picture says..." or "This diagram shows us more details about how..." Use informational read a louds as a way to model for your students how to read and understand informational books. Additionally, informational texts as read alouds build background knowledge, vocabulary and pull in students who are not interested in "storybook reading". Of course this isn't to say we never use novels or picture books for read aloud. Instead, it would be great to read a fiction and a non-fiction back to back. For example read Mr. Popper's Penguins and then read a National Geographic book about Penguins.
5.) Find topics that students do have background knowledge about. Even students will limited background knowledge have interests in non-fiction topics. Find out what topics intrigue your students and find books on them. Often students love books on weird, icky topics like "Why do people burp?" or "What are boogers made of?" Students might also love to hear a read aloud on a book about the making of their favorite t.v. show or video game cheats. The point is to draw in their attention and stretch their background knowledge and vocabulary.
Whatever strategies you use, it's evident that teaching informational text is important for our students. Reading informational text is the type of text that we read 75% of the time "in real life" so it needs to be a larger part of what we read in the classroom too.
There are so many great websites out there for Elementary students that I decided to put together some Top 10 Lists for websites to use in the upcoming school year. For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting lists of sites to use for various subjects. And feel free to leave a comment with any additional sites that might help everyone with this week’s subject – Reading.
1.) Storyline Online - This great website has famous actors and actresses reading quality children’s fiction. You get to see all of the pictures, just as if you were listening to a live read aloud. This is a great way to expose students to quality read alouds – perfect for ESL students and low income families who may not have access to English books being read aloud.
2.) Mighty Book – This website has great, animated stories for kids to listen to. This is also a great way to expose students to quality read alouds – perfect for ESL students and low income families who may not have access to English books being read aloud.
3.) Between the Lions – This website is based on the PBS show Between the Lions. It has great stories, with the words underneath. for students to watch. There are also games based on these stories.
4.) Bitesize – This UK based website has fabulous reading games and lessons on a variety of topic. The KeyStage 1 site has lessons on phonics, spelling, alphabetical order, and rhyming words. The KeyStage 2 site has lessons on deductions, poetry, dictionary and finding information.
5.) We Give Books – This website is owned by Pearson Foundation, and has hundreds of e-books available for kids to read for free. In addition, the foundation donates books to kids in need around the world for all of your time spent on this site. You can sort the books by content and age appropriateness.
6.) Andersen’s Fairy Tales – This website has links to Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, games about the tales and information about the author himself.
7.) Time for Kids - Real life reading is the most important type of reading. Time for Kids provides kids with reading about today’s current events. There are real life articles on topics that interest children.
8.) Reading Planet – Kids Books’ Authors – This website gives information about all of the best kids’ authors and illustrators. The information is written in interview format, which is a great for introducing kids to different reading formats.
9.) Giggle Poetry – Read and Rate – This site has hundreds of poems for kids to read and rate. It’s a great way to get kids excited about reading!
10.) Elementary Place – This website has many topics that interest kids. For each topic, there is a story where kids get to make the decisions, there is also an activity and a list of books about that topic.
For more resources to integrate technology into your classroom, check out my Technology Integration Kit. You can also check out these blog posts:
Top 10 Writing Websites
Top 10 Math Websites
Top 10 Science Websites
Top 10 Social Studies Websites
Websites to Teach Typing Skills
Websites to Create Videos
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