Working with nonfiction texts can be a challenge for students and teachers. Many nonfiction texts contain higher lexile levels and higher levels of complexity. Maintaining a sense of focus for struggling readers may determine the comprehension success of the text.
When I assign a complex nonfiction text, I approach the text using the following steps.
- Setting a purpose. Since struggling readers sometimes have a difficult time understanding why a certain text is being read in class, it is important to set a purpose for reading. Setting a purpose helps students focus on the “why” behind the reading. When students have a clear focus, they can power through obstacles that may get in their way such as unfamiliar words, text structure, and text length.
- Chunking the text. Dividing the text into manageable pieces helps build confidence and endurance. In a two-page article, I divide the text into a minimum of three chunks. Of course, the number of chunks is dependent on the length of the text and the age of the students. When a text has clear divisions, such as headings and subheading, this is an easier task. However, it is important to provide students with specific reading strategies to help them understand what to do during a chunk of reading, what to do at the end of a chunk of reading, and how to proceed to the next chunk of reading.
- Adding movement. With the struggling reading, as well as any reading engaging in a challenging text, I like to give students the opportunity to move at the end of a chunk of reading. The type of movement used, and the purpose of the movement, may change based what students are asked to do with the text as well as the type of readers reading the text. For example, I may add movement to help students with comprehension, or I have students participate in a reading activity designed for deeper analysis.
There are multiple uses for this activity. I mentioned this activity in an earlier post, but I recently used this activity as a during reading activity. The activity is basic, but it does get students up and moving while they are reading.
At the end of a chunk of reading, students are asked to identify textual evidence that supports the overall purpose for reading the text. Students write a piece of textual evidence on a sheet of paper and then they fold the piece of paper into a paper airplane. The class is then divided in half. Half of the class lines up on one side of the classroom and half of the class lines up on the other side of the classroom. The students fly their airplanes to the center of the room, and then they choose an airplane to take back to their desks. At their desks, they read the piece of textual evidence and discuss it in a pair or in a small group. The students proceed to read the second chunk of text. At the end of the second chunk of text, they repeat the process. The activity continues until all three chunks of text have been read.
At the end of the reading, each student will have a piece of paper with three pieces of textual evidence to match the purpose of reading. A class discussion of the evidence may then occur, or students may be assigned a writing prompt. The activity prepares students to look for evidence and analyze evidence of their peers. When writing, all students, regardless of their reading ability, will have textual evidence to use in responding to a prompt.
This activity can be modified in many ways. Instead of textual evidence, students could draw pictures summarizing key points. Students could also answer basic comprehension questions, or they could answer (or develop) higher-order thinking questions.
Providing students with the opportunity to stand during reading, gives them a chance to think about what they have read. It also gives them an opportunity to refocus on another chunk of reading by breaking up the monotony of a being seated while reading a challenging text for an extended amount of time. It also helps reduce stress and anxiety a struggling reader is faced with leading to a more positive and successful reading experience.
My son loves legos. If given the option to do anything, he would spend all day building, creating, and diving into the imaginary world associated with all things legos.
A pile of legos will make many kids happy. Manipulating various shapes, colors, and textures of blocks excites students from kindergarten to middle school to adulthood. Providing students with the time to use their imagination and creativity to build something and associate it with learning allows them to engage multiple senses and areas of the brain sparking synaptic connections increasing the cognitive experience of students in the classroom.
There are several ways to motivate students to read and to perform necessary tasks associated with reading comprehension and analysis. Giving students opportunities to work with legos before, during, and after reading adds a kinesthetic and visual component to the process.
One activity that can be used during reading is to provide each student, or table groups of students, with a bag of legos. During the before reading process, students should chunk the text. Preferably, teachers would choose a text that is already set up with heading and subheadings to make the sections of the text visible to students. After students read a section of the text, time would be given to the students to pause and create a lego representation of what was read. The skills involved may range from focusing on simple details to analyzing arguments through inferences and tone. The lego representation could be completed individually or as a team. When all teams have completed the task, a table group gallery walk could take place for each team to see the work of other teams. The hands-on approach to visualization offers time for mind-body connections to be made associated with a text or reading skill.
A variation of this activity could emphasize lego colors. In this variation, students are provided with specific lego colors. Each color could represent a specific reading skill or concept. For example, groups could be charged with creating a visual representation of a particular section. Green legos could represent main details of the passage and red legos could represent inferences based on the details. The overall visual would symbolize the text. Another example could be based on colors and numbers. Blue legos could form the base of the visual and represent the topic sentence. Yellow legos could be added to represent details, and black legos could represent descriptive words used throughout the paragraph. The activity can be extended to include lego people and objects. The options are endless.
While legos may be intimidating to some teachers, the novelty students experience makes the activity worthwhile. The levels of cognitive engagement are various as are the levels of high-level thinking opportunities.
October is one of my favorite months of the year. Halloween with my kids is one of the reasons despite the loads of candy they receive. This is why I love Costco and the small containers of Play-Doh they offer so parents have an alternative to candy and what they offer to trick-or-treaters. There is another reason I love those small containers of Play-Doh….
Reading nonfiction texts may not be the most exciting task for middle school students. Add to this task long periods of silently seated work and repetitive highlighting and annotating, and teachers will find students at all levels of reading fleeing away from reading engagement. Of course, there are times when reading silently is necessary. And, there are times when highlighting and annotations are important. In fact, I have led several workshops on close reading and effective highlighting reading strategies. However, if the process becomes stagnant, readers, especially reluctant readers, will become complacent and reading gains may be limited.
I recently shared a reading strategy that involves tactile movement performed during reading of a nonfiction text. Adding movement activities to lessons does not always entail having students get out of their seats. Some teachers shy away from having students stand and move due to time constraints or interruptions to the flow of a lesson.
For this activity, I chose a nonfiction text that could be easily chunked. Since this text was meant to involve close reading strategies, the text was limited to two pages. The text features included subheadings, which were clearly marked and placed for a natural stopping point for students. I handed out Play-Doh to each participant and gave them specific instructions as to what to do and what not to do with it. Since this was the first time using Play-Doh, class routines had to be set and taught. The amount of emphasis needed for routine instruction depends on the needs of the students .
Participants listened to the first chunk of reading. At the end of the first section, participants were informed to sculpt anything that could represent what they read. They then discussed with their partner pairs their connections. After the second section, they sculpted something connected to inferences that could be made. After the third section, they sculpted something connected to the author’s tone. The goal was to increased the level of thinking of each section and to prepare students for a writing response.
When students connect visually and tactilely with a text, the levels of understanding deepen. Rather than have students highlight and annotate, students are creating, visualizing, and discussing the text. The basic strategies of close reading are present, but the approach is novel.
I have always enjoyed reading. I love escaping into a fictional world and letting my imagination soar. Similarly, I love escaping into professional reading and letting my creative juices flow into planning the next lesson or PD session.
Summer is my favorite season of the year for so many reasons. As an educator, I enjoy the weeks of playing with my family, travelling to places here and there, exercising in the great outdoors, and camping in the woods or on the ocean beaches. The other part of summer I love is reading. Of course, I can read at any time of the year, but I particularly enjoy reading outdoors. Reading outside can take on many different forms. My kids and I love to go the library and then take our books to the local coffee shop to divulge in the pictures and content of what we have just selected to explore. We do this throughout the year, but the summer allows us to sit outside the coffee shop rather than inside.
A goal for this summer is to take reading outdoors to a new level. Since we love reading, love to exercise, and love nature, it makes sense to combine these three loves. After walking along one of the beaches, it is common for us to plop down on a blanket and enjoy a chapter or two. Once we have finished swimming in our pool, or during a snack or rest break, we like to read a few pages of the books we are in the middle of. Before we are finished playing at the local park, it is necessary to hydrate while sitting on a bench with a book in hand.
Creating these moments prioritizes exercise, venturing outdoors, and reading a good book. These are experiences my kids will take into their adult lives as habits are set early. Creating a love for reading does not have to be a chore. Allowing kids to be creative outdoors while exercising does not have to feel forced. We embrace and value these three activities reinforcing each other with positive experiences the mind craves. The positivity increases the learning environment of my children. I wonder how this might be reflected in the classroom…. I know there is a way to embrace this experience and replicate it. I curious on the ideas people have to use movement, nature, and reading during the school year.
Vocabulary instruction is a rewarding and difficult task for teachers at all levels. There are several ways to teach vocabulary. Since students all learn at different rate and levels, multiple strategies are needed to appeal to students. It is important not to rule out strategies because what works for an ELL student may be beneficial for an honors student. The words both sets of students are studying may be different, but the mental process may be very similar.
I often have students make mind-body connections while studying vocabulary. I even encourage students to do the same outside of school when they encounter words they don’t know. As we are in the final preparations for our state testing cycle, we are reinforcing academic vocabulary with our students and having them form body pictures with the word in mind. The idea is that the pose they create will help them remember the word when they encounter it in the future in a text or on the test.
Another strategy I love to use during the warmer seasons is the vocabulary walk. I’m sure I have blogged about this in the past, but it is a fun strategy that helps to break the doldrums of the classroom setting. Recently, I practiced this strategy in my classroom. I had students split into groups of three. Each group was given an envelope. The envelope contained several words, some vocabulary and some adjectives and verbs. As a class, we exited the building and headed outdoors. Each group spread out and one person was selected to take a single word out of the envelope. Each member of the group had 30 seconds to come up with a sentence for the word as the entire group walked together. I gave a signal (this could be a whistle) for groups to stop and a different person in the group was charged with pulling out another word from the envelope. Each member in the group had about 30 seconds to come up with a sentence using both words. This activity continued until all words were used. As more words were pulled from the envelope more time was needed to construct the sentences.
Once we headed back into the classroom, each group was given the chance to share what it thought was the group’s best sentence. This activity uses repetition and movement as a way to reinforce vocabulary concepts.
Taking notes can be a bore. Students will often groan when mentioning part of the class period will be used to take notes, but taking notes can be exhilarating. It is hard to imagine using the words notes and exhilarating in the same sentence. Another word that can create a buzz…in a negative way… is vocabulary. Taking notes on academic vocabulary can be energizing! In fact, some students in my classroom actually get excited when I mention we are going to take notes on academic vocabulary.
One activity that I like to use is called the Hot and Cold Vocabulary. In this activity, I begin by hiding the first vocabulary word around the room before students enter. Usually, I attach it to a student desk or chair. I tell students to begin the activity by trying to locate the first word. Students search their close proximity to find the word. This begins to excite them. After the word is found, we add it the note section of their vocabulary section.
For the second phase, I ask a student to leave the classroom with a watcher (who watches the student). Working together, the rest of the class hides the next term in the room. When the student returns, the class performs an action. For example, we might start clapping. As the student moves closer to the object, we clap faster/louder. As the student moves away, we slow the clapping down or stop clapping altogether. Once the student finds the word, we add it to the vocabulary section.
Depending on time, this process might be repeated multiple times. Following this activity, we explain the words in more depth, or we begin reading a text. Since the students are engaged mentally due to the physical movement, they following activity is usually quiet and met with deep concentration.
There are several studies that have surfaced making connections between reading comprehension or reading fluency and movement. In addition, there is research that makes connections between cross-lateral movement and academic achievement. In the attached link, several cross-lateral movements are included. Cross-lateral movements are easy to do and take little time to complete, so for those who are concerned about time in the classroom and fear that movement activities might detract, these exercises may be appealing.