If you’re interested in these strategies, click the link below to download the full lesson plan!
Every time I started a new research project or even a new science or social studies unit in my classroom I nearly pulled my hair out in frustration! I’d introduce the topic, then give my students some reading material to familiarize them with the content. They’d immediately begin reading, some grabbed their highlighters and intently ran them over EVERY word on the page. Others broke out in a cold sweat, and, I’m ashamed to say, that on occasion I reduced a few to tears because they didn’t have any idea where to begin. After a few minutes we were all exhausted.
What I failed to do was provide my students with strategies that would effectively set them up for learning. I assumed that if they were capable of reading the material, then they could, in fact, absorb it and later apply it in a meaningful way when asked to respond in writing. But comprehending informational text is hard work! It requires several strategic or close reads to really grasp the content. And then organize it for the purpose of responding effectively in writing.
The strategy that really helped my students engage in the text was to create a summary of what they expected to learn, even before they learned it! By noticing the way an article or text was organized (text structures) they could actually come up with an overview of the material before reading. They began to pay attention to headings, photos with captions, timelines, and bold-faced or italicized words. Once we looked at these text features, I introduced a simple framework to summarize the text, using a variety of informative verbs. This really set them up for learning! Afterward, they were able to read strategically because they knew what key pieces of information to look for. Those students who loved to highlight skimmed and scanned for key words and important information based on main ideas within the text. As they began to recognize that all textual information is organized into main ideas with supporting details, it became easier to carry over this information into their writing.
This was a powerful first step in getting them to really dig in to informational text. Giving my students these strategies allowed them to read and comprehend material from a wide variety of sources on numerous topics. It even gave them the confidence to approach material that was a bit above their reading level, because they knew how to break it into manageable pieces.