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November 2013 | Volume 71 | Number 3
Tackling Informational Text
I read War of the Woods: The Pacific Northwest Logging Argument by Terry Miller Shannon (Zaner-Bloser, 2011) with my 3rd grade students this past year while they studied and wrote argumentative pieces. My students struggled daily with the complexity of this environmental issue. They made valiant efforts to empathize with all sides by imagining they were the children of loggers in fear of losing their jobs or imagining they were the children of environmentalists devoted to protecting the habitat of the northern spotted owl. They wrote about possible solutions, such as trying different logging and post-logging restoration methods or creating biozones in the logging areas. This book kept students engaged and prompted fabulous discussions and debates. My students learned that there are many sides to each argument and that our decisions as humans can have lasting effects on the environment and our fellow humans.
—Suzy Zietlow, teacher, Discovery Charter School, Columbus, Wisconsin
As their final full-class reading assignment before they graduate, the seniors at Delsea Regional High School read The Last Lecture (Hyperion, 2008), Randy Pausch's book about the lecture he gave at Carnegie Mellon after receiving a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Its simple prose and profound message about the importance of pursuing one's dreams and seizing every moment is dramatically relevant to these fledgling adults as they get ready to leave the protective bubble of Delsea. The book is the foundation for the senior memoir that every senior creates. The students love the book without exception!
—Piera Gravenor, superintendent, Delsea Regional School District, Franklinville, New Jersey
My 3rd grade class completed a cross-curricular unit about the importance of access to fresh water. Among the many books we studied, two stood out. We read the novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2011) based on the true story of one of the "lost boys" of Sudan, torn from his family by civil war. This book presents an emotional account of the hardships of limited access to water. We also read One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss (Kids Can Press, 2007). The accessible text and brilliant illustrations drew my students to this content. In just 32 pages, Strauss describes the water cycle; plant, animal, and human needs; accessibility; and the necessity of saving fresh water. Students were able to integrate their new knowledge from One Well and their empathetic inspiration from A Long Walk to Water as they created digital public service announcements about protecting our water, which they presented to their families and school members.
—Kimberly Wagner, teacher, Saint Edmond's Academy, Wilmington, Delaware
One of the statements on the anticipation guide that my students discuss before reading To Kill a Mockingbird alludes to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, so after reaching the point in the book at which racial tensions are keenest, we read Dr. King's speech. In small groups, students then discuss whether they think people today are judged by the content of their character or the color of their skin. As students discuss the speech, they are also discussing one of the universal themes of the novel. At the same time, we study the elements of effective text-based arguments in preparation for the students writing persuasive essays supporting their opinions. The result is authentic literacy that the students enjoy, see as relevant, and use as a catalyst for further reflection and writing.
—Laurie Hagberg, Academic Success Program coordinator, Oaks Christian School, Westlake Village, California
I designed a simple animal research project using the book Why? by Lila Prap (Kane-Miller, 2009). The text asks "why" questions about various animals (for example, "Why are zebras striped?") and provides several humorous answers for each question, as well as the real answer with additional explanation. After reading the text, the students choose an animal (the more unusual the better) to ask a "why" question about. They then write humorous answers to the question, as well as a short paragraph with the real answer they discovered through their research. The students illustrate their text, and we combine all their contributions into a class book. The students enjoy revisiting and rereading their book all year.
—Erica Grove, instructional coach, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Indiana
Jim Murphy's The Great Fire (Scholastic, 2006), which describes the 1871 Chicago fire, keeps my 5th and 6th grade students on the edge of their seats, feeling tense as the fire spreads and anxious to know what will happen next. The vivid descriptions make it easy for students to imagine being at the scene and to empathize with the victims of the fire. The students are also learning many comprehension strategies, including asking good questions and making predictions. The high-quality photographs, illustrations, and maps enhance the story and make it even more real. This text connects well with such science topics as heat, electricity, fire, and weather. The maps and newspaper references integrate easily with social studies lessons.
—Erin Whalen, teacher, St. Peter School, Fulton, Missouri
In preparation for an extended lesson on the history of South Africa, my 7th grade world geography class studies excerpts from Nelson Mandela's famous speech at his 1964 trial in Rivonia. Mandela's words, especially his statement that he is prepared to die for his cause, hit home with these 13-year-olds. To provide context for our analysis, I often begin by presenting images from South Africa's past: a "Whites Only" sign, scenes of townships, and black citizens carrying identity cards. The images help students understand Mandela's speech. By studying this informational text, students begin to generate questions and construct a framework for understanding the history of South Africa. Each year, I watch them become deeply engaged in this short unit on struggle and justice.
—John Padula, social studies teacher, Boston Public Schools, Massachusetts
I have used Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression-era photograph known as "A Migrant Mother" as a way for students to analyze visual art as informational text. Students view the photograph and then use visual thinking strategies to analyze the image and to relate it to the Great Depression. This has been a wonderful way for students at all levels to access informational text and to document their thinking.
—Susan Riley, arts integration specialist, Westminster, Maryland
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