We've been studying informational text in my English class. Each year, students struggle with this type of nonfiction. They struggle for two reasons: poor comprehension skills and a lack of interest in the genre. Informational text is challenging and boring, which isn't a good combination at all for struggling, inattentive readers! Diving into reading passages with multiple-choice questions isn't going to help. What I've discovered is that students know what informational text is. They know the purpose of it as well. But how in the world do we as educators get them to read and understand it?
After introducing the genre, we focused a lot on the text features and organizational patterns of informational text. Once students understood the parts and different structures, I figured that they were ready to start reading! Instead of full length passages, we started with short ones. Last week, they created an overview (visual summary) of a passage they were assigned. These topics varied. Some of them read about bicycles, while others read about the history of french fries. Other topics included tsunamis, bears, and the Olympics. They read the passages and identified the organizational patterns. I even had them choose a text feature they felt was relevant and add it to the overview. In addition, students were instructed to write an interesting detail they learned from the text. They presented these overviews to the class by themselves. It went well, and the students enjoyed sharing their thought processes with the class.
Overviews with a Group
Group overviews are very similar to the individual ones. Kids just work in a group! You assign each group a short passage, a poster board, colored pencils/markers, and whatever else you think they need to be successful. My requirements were for them to read the passage, identify the organizational pattern making sure to underline the key words, summarize the passage using the correct organizer (Venn diagram, web, etc.), and include an interesting detail. I give each group 20 minutes, and they work until I call time! Each group takes turns presenting. The audiences watches as each group presents their overview of the passage they were assigned.
These activities help increase kids' enjoyment of reading. It also helps them focus on the text instead of worrying about multiple-choice questions and grades. I love informational text because it teaches you. I express this to my students constantly! The more nonfiction you read, the more you learn. It packs our brains with knowledge!
After several days of exploring short informational passages and how they're structured, then it's safe to pull out lengthier texts and questions. Students should be ready to read and analyze the text. They'll fill comfortable making attempts to interpret the meaning of the text features. It may take a little longer for them to determine the organizational pattern, but that's alright. I've always believed that learning happens in the struggle! Provide them with the scaffolding they need and keep moving forward. Teaching informational text does have to be difficult!