Middle school students love reading fiction. They enjoy the invitation into a new world, the connections made with characters, and the moments of self-knowledge and self-awareness that stories provide.
But what about reading for information? I believe that if informational text is thoughtfully selected for middle school readers and opportunities for personal connection, reflection, and creativity are provided, students may discover that informational text is also exciting and relevant. It too has the ability to invite them into new worlds, to connect them with others, and to enhance their self-awareness.
I’ve had success organizing informational reading stations as destinations and having students create passport stamps as exit cards. Seeking information becomes an adventure for students, and passport stamp documentation is a personal reflection and souvenir from the experience.
How I Set Up the Reading Stations
Curating texts based on student interests: Just as a traveler carefully selects items to pack to ensure a smooth journey, teachers can thoughtfully select informational reading texts that connect to the students who will read them. When young teens see their interests reflected in their classroom reading experiences, they are motivated, prepared to take ownership for their work, and more likely to see their work as relevant to their lives.
In order to understand my students’ interests, I invest time in building relationships during individual reading conferences, when talking with students during reading workshop time, and while students are collaborating on projects with small groups. I listen to the stories they share with me and their peers about their lives and interests: Two boys in third period have just started a small online business; two girls in first period love listening to opera music; three students have lizards at home that they love.
When it’s time to select texts for reading stations, I draw on my knowledge of my students’ interests and passions.
Matching standards and selected texts: Travelers invest time in researching sight-seeing opportunities. For me, the time spent researching high-interest, well-written texts from reputable sources that match content standards creates a valuable reading experience for students.
As an example, I started creating one reading station lesson with Common Core Standard 7.9 for informational text: “Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.” For my lizard owners and other animal lovers, I found two age-appropriate, engaging articles about the benefit of having a pet in your life as the means for my students to practice this skill.
Research and preparation can take time, but they’re worth it when you are able to find engaging texts. Once all of the text and standard connections are made, I’m ready to prepare my reading stations around the idea of travel. The experience of reading fiction can transport readers to new places, and I want to provide a similar opportunity for my students when they read for information.
Incorporating the idea of travel: Each station is identified as a destination, a place where the students will spend time and have a personalized experience with informational texts selected with their interests in mind. Students have one week to travel through the stations and independently explore the informational texts and the standards connected to each one.
I provide a Google Doc template where student share their personal connections and questions as well as their assigned skill practice with each reading. They begin at a destination of their choosing and travel at their own pace while exploring the different topics and skills provided. I incorporate travel-oriented words with the directions for skill practice and reflection, too, because I want to continue the idea of exploring new texts with the different activities.
Passport Stamp Exit Cards
Travelers collect passport stamps documenting their travels—my students design their own passport stamps to document their experiences with texts. I provide a blank box in the bottom righthand corner of each response space on the Google Doc, and after the students complete their work at the reading destinations, they design their own stamp as a creative, personal exit card that addresses in some way the questions: What did you learn? What resonated with you? What could you connect to while reading?
The students demonstrate personal connections and understandings gained from the texts using words, color, and images. This reflection serves as a creative formative assessment of their learning, and when the students make personal connections to their reading, they’re also giving me further background about their interests, which helps me the next time I do station rotation.
This documentation of informational reading experiences provides students with an invitation to respond to learning in a personal, creative way and shows them that seeking information really can be an adventure.
With their personal passport stamps at the end of each reading journey, the students now have a souvenir from the reading experience. And who knows? Maybe this journey through carefully curated information will give them a new love for reading nonfiction, too.