Kids love informational texts, especially when the topic meets one of their interests, and especially when there are lots of colorful pictures! But getting kids to read the texts closely enough to get the most out of them can be the challenging part! There are two things that can help here – focusing on text features / structures, and close reading.
When you want to focus on the text features, a page with several short articles, illustrations, and other graphics works great. For close reading, a single, more in-depth article seems to fit the bill. And anything with an easily recognizable structure – one of the specific structures that kids study – will work for studying text structures.
Focusing on Text Features and Text Structures
Identifying text features is a good place to start because graphics and illustrations seem to be naturally engaging. To practice identifying features, you can use a specific article that you plan to read or even a selection of magazines, but don’t stop with just identifying the features.
The next step is for the kids to make use of these text features to gain information. For this, you’ll need one article that is both interesting and at a good reading level for your class. Then, choose one or two features to focus on. Photos with captions and charts or graphs are always good choices.
Looked at closely, photos often provide details that are not mentioned in the text. Ask students what information they can find in the photo to add to what they learned from reading.
Charts and graphs are great for detailed information too, and they often add a math connection. And, it is easy to create good compare and contrast questions based on information from even a little chart.
For text structures, you’ll have to decide whether you want students to look at a whole article or just a paragraph. Sometimes it is easier for kids to determine the structure of a single paragraph, especially if they are still learning the differences between the various structures. Some articles have more than one text structures, and some use structures that are different from the basic types kids usually learn. So, unless your kids are ready to move on, be selective about the passages that you choose for text structure questions.
In addition to identifying text structures, kids can also use the structures to answer questions. They can be asked to compare two items discussed in the article, find the cause of an event, tell what happened before or after, or list descriptive details. All of these questions require the kids to focus on one particular structure.
With close reading, of course, you want the kids to go into more depth with their reading. Some kids balk at the idea of re-reading an article (especially for the third time!) but if given a specific task to accomplish on each reading, they soon get back into the text. After each reading, kids can mark up the text with one particular goal in mind, too. After the first reading – mark main ideas and supporting details. After the second reading – mark important vocabulary words and unknown words. After the third reading – mark as needed for any follow-up assignment.
Using questions that get progressively more complex with each reading gives students a reason to go back a second or third time and read for what they might have missed, or to “read between the lines.” For me, it works better to prepare everything for all three readings ahead of time; that way you can sort out your questions and fit them in with whichever reading fits best.
One great thing about informational text – there’s so much great stuff out there! You can always find something that will interest your kids or that will fit in with what they are studying in one of their other classes.
Here is a FREE sample informational text resource; this one is a close reading activity for the fall election season with everything needed for three readings. In my Teachers Pay Teachers store, you will find more close reading activities and also informational text activities with magazine-style reading pages, like the one about Pluto in the pictures above.
Guest post by Sharon Fabian, from the Classroom in the Middle blog. Sharon has spent over 20 years teaching English, reading, and other subjects to middle school students. She loves having more time now to create and write about resources for teachers – especially materials for teaching reading, vocabulary, and writing to students in grades 4 through 8. Here is the link to her store, also called Classroom in the Middle.