Thursday, December 12, 2013

How to Find Great Informational Texts

Finding the right informational text can seem daunting, but it is possible and can be very rewarding for both you and your students. Sometimes you’ll find the right piece with your first internet search; other times it can be a very time-­‐consuming hunt. The key is finding pieces that your students will want to read either because they connect with what you’ve been doing in class or because they are topically interesting to them. So, here are some tips and resources. 

  • Get to know the New York Times Learning Network – written and edited by teachers, an
    enormous trove of lesson plans based on articles related to timely issues as well as commonly
    taught novels (be sure to check out their new “Text to Text” feature)
  • Set Google news alert for topic-­‐related key words
  • Ask your school or local librarian for ideas
  • Talk to your content-area colleagues to find out what texts they are using / topics they are teaching
Here are some quality resources that can cut down your search time (the codes next to each source indicate the grade level its content is most appropriate for: E=elementary, M=middle school, H= high school):  

  • NYT Learning Network -- the excellent new "Text to Text" feature pairs a literary text with a NYT article, along with discussion questions (M, H)
  • Newsela -- a service launched in 2013 that offers recent articles from partner media outlets (e.g., Associated Press) in multiple versions aimed at a range of Lexile levels, along with quizzes and discussion questions (E, M, H)
  • PBS NewsHour Extra -- text- and multimedia-based resources on current events (M, H)
  • CoreStand -- free service for teachers offering current events articles for elementary, middle, and high school students, along with templates for students to complete (HT @SEMSLibraryLady)(E, M, H)
  • TweenTribune (M, H) -- a wide array of recent news stories selected and posted by teens and tweens, working in conjunction with their teachers and professional journalists
  • CNN Student News (M, H) -- video news reports produced for middle and high school audiences
  • Time for Kids (E, M) -- current events articles, videos, and activities for elementary and middle school students
  • Kelly Gallagher’s AOW (H) -- links to recent articles and lesson plans used by Gallagher in his high school classes during the current school year
  • EnglishCompanion Wiki (H) -- a collection of articles and resources assembled by members of the English Companion Ning
  • Library of Congress (M, H) -- a vast wealth of primary source documents and teacher -created lesson plans
  • Delancey Place (H) -- this blog posts excerpts from an eclectic range of noteworthy nonfiction books on a daily basis
  • PsychologyToday (M, H) -- a reliable source for engaging articles of manageable length and reading level on a wide range of psychological topics
  • ReadWorks (M) -- a variety of articles, activities, and units, including lesson plans featuring paired texts, aimed at supporting reading comprehension in middle school students
  • ScienceDaily (M, H) -- a great resource for brief news articles on the latest science discoveries and research
  • ScienceNews for Kids (M, H) -- science articles on a range of high-interest topics aimed at middle and high school students, produced by the Society for Science & the Public
  • TeensHealth (M, H) -- student-friendly articles on health issues that affect them
  • Who’s Counting (H) -- current events analyzed from a math professor's point of view
  • Wired (H) -- articles on all things technology-related
  • Wonderopolis (M) -- informational resources focused on a "wonder of the day" featuring a wide range of topics
Please add your own reliable sources for great informational texts in the comments below. In our next post, we'll offer our suggestions for what to do with an informational text in order to set your students up for a rewarding interaction with it. In the meantime, you can download the above list of resources in a handout ready to share with your colleagues.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Great Ideas for Using Informational Text to Teach Literature

Finding and putting great informational texts into rewarding dialogue with the literary works we teach takes a lot of time and effort. But of course that does not stop ELA teachers from doing just that!

We think that work should be celebrated and shared, so here are some of the favorite literary and nonfiction text pairing ideas and strategies we've come across lately:

  • Danielle Clarke pairs articles about the trapped Chilean miners with Lord of the Flies: "I've gathered the stories of the Chilean miners into a word document, and we have wonderful discussions about the different outcomes between the boys on the island and the men stranded in the mine. I also have several other non-fiction articles that I've used to compare/contrast with LOTF. They are located in this document."
If you have created or found other inspired pairings, please share them in the comments!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanks for a Great Session at NCTE!

Thanks to our fantastic audience of engaged, passionate teachers who attended our session at NCTE today!

It was inspiring to see and talk to so many teachers who want to use informational texts to enhance their students' engagement with literary texts in rich and meaningful ways.

All of the materials we shared and mentioned during the session are posted on the NCTE Connected Community website.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Favorite Info Text Ideas from "Ripped From the Headlines" @NCTE

We just attended a great session presented by Katherine Schulten (@kschulten) from the New York Times Learning Network and New Jersey high school teacher Sarah Mulhern Gross (@thereadingzone) at NCTE.

Favorite ideas:
  • Use short bursts of informational text in connection with literary texts
  • "Times Topics" pages to find news, commentary, and archival articles on particular people, events, issues, etc. (example: Times Topics: Malala Yousafzai).
  • New "Text to Text" lesson plan format pairing informational texts from the NYT with commonly taught literary texts
  • Weekly "Poetry Pairings" connecting classic and contemporary poems with an informational text from the NYT
  • "What's Going on in This Picture?" -- students practice using evidence to support conclusions drawn about a visual text
  • 15-second vocabulary videos made by students to demonstrate definitions of words in creative and often funny ways
  • Have students plug vocabulary words into search box to see multiple uses of the words in a variety of informational texts
The bottom line: Use these resources to enhance your teaching of literature by integrating informational texts into your existing units. The Common Core does not mean giving up great literature!

Looking forward to presenting reading strategies for engaging students in informational texts in dialogue with literary texts. The first step is finding great pairings, like those featured above. The second step is to easing your students into negotiating these sometimes daunting and unfamiliar texts. Join us Saturday at NCTE at 1:15 in the Hynes Convention Center in Room 301 (I.38).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Using Informational Text to Teach Literature at NCTE!

We are looking forward to presenting strategies for creating rewarding connections between informational texts and great literature at NCTE in Boston this weekend.

Our session: "I.38: Incorporating Info Text Into the Teaching of To Kill a Mockingbird" is on Saturday from 1:15-2:30 in Room 301, Level Three, at the Hynes Convention Center. Add it to your personal convention planner via the NCTE website or the NCTE app.

For a sneak preview, download our presentation materials. At the session, we will be giving away flash drives with sample materials from Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird.

We hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sample Units for Using Informational Text Now Available

For our first volume, Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird, there was so much great stuff, we couldn’t fit it all into the book! It was tough to pick two chapters to leave out of the print version, but we had to cut the volume in size or face an unreasonable sales price.

The good news is we can share these materials with you immediately online. You can use them as you see fit (even before the publication of the print volume):

R. A. Craig: Common Diseases of Farm Animals

Claudia Durst Johnson, “Interview: A Perspective on the 1930s”

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and reactions. Let us know what works for you (and what doesn’t). Let us know your favorite sections and questions. And let us know of any ideas you have for how these units can be updated or expanded. If you like what you see, you can pre-order the full volume, which will be available in March 2014.

If you're attending NCTE, please attend our workshop on Saturday at 1:15pm, where we will be sharing strategies for finding great informational texts and making rewarding connections between them and the literature that you teach.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird

We are pleased to announce the publication in March 2014 of Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird. This volume is the first in a series we are writing for Rowman and Littlefield designed to allow teachers to integrate informational text into the classroom in a way that enhances, rather than takes away from, the study of literature.

Each volume in the series contains a variety of high-quality informational pieces tied to a frequently-taught anchor literary text. The informational texts are historically specific in their relation to the primary text, provide background to help students contextualize the work, or relate topically or thematically to the literary anchor text. 

Each informational text is presented as part of a comprehensive unit. The informational text is prepared in a student-friendly format, annotated with reading strategies and questions, and teachers can copy the articles for student use in the classroom (we have secured permissions). Units also include extensive vocabulary exercises to meet the increased emphasis on vocabulary acquisition in the Common Core, open-ended and multiple choice questions to prepare students for high-stakes testing, discussion and writing prompts, graphic organizers, scoring rubrics, group projects, and multimedia links. These readings and activities will not just provide background information for the anchor literary text, they will help your students put these texts into rich, rewarding dialogue that will enhance their critical thinking skills as well as their understanding of the literary text.

Meeting the demands of the Common Core State Standards requires time and effort. Our series is designed to help. The resources we have assembled and the activities we have prepared will make it easy to adjust and adapt to the Common Core while reinvigorating your teaching and your students’ engagement with To Kill a Mockingbird and with each of our anchor literary texts.

Stay tuned to our blog and follow us on Twitter as we share information from our first volume.  Always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions.