George Lucas Educational Foundation
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One of the biggest complaints I hear about Common Core is the push toward informational texts. This is often accompanied by the complaint that we are no longer allowing students to read for the sake of reading. Just yesterday, a teacher said to me, "I wish we could read novels. With all these informational texts, kids are losing the love of reading."

Minutes later, I went to Facebook and noticed my friends sharing articles. I hopped on Twitter and noticed the same trend. They weren't just sharing the articles, either. They were geeking out on the ideas. We are naturally inclined to find information fascinating -- to the point that we have to share it out to the world. Nobody on Facebook is getting a grade for it. They're sharing an article because they found it relevant.

As a classroom teacher, I want to see that same level of excitement as students engage with informational texts. The following are eight strategies to make informational reading fun again.

1. Student Choice

When I first taught reading, I allowed students to choose novels during silent reading time. I made a huge deal out of the genres that were available. I asked students to develop a personal taste. However, I didn't allow students to select their own informational texts. This was odd, given the fact that every student had at least one interest that he or she was passionate about. If I had simply asked, "What information do you want to find?" rather than "What do you want to read?", I would have been able to help students fall in love with informational texts. Now, as a journalism teacher, I begin with student choice and the natural desire to find information.

2. Think More and Work Less

Often when a student gets frustrated with informational reading, it has less to do with reading and more to do with the work required. When students read one page and answer nine text-dependent questions, they get frustrated by the work. When teachers ask students to practice strategies mentally (such as thinking about clarifying questions rather than actually writing the questions), students spend more time reading. This, in turn, leads to reading endurance.

3. Keep the Strategies Flexible

Close reading isn't a bad thing. However, too often close reading becomes a lockstep procedure rather than a flexible strategy. Students focus on whether they are doing the process correctly instead of thinking about the information in the text. I've seen students stare at a poster worrying about what color they are supposed to use when highlighting a text rather than thinking about the accuracy of information and the bias of the source.

4. Personalized Practice

Informational reading becomes more fun when students feel like they are improving as readers. This is why I ask students to look at the standards to identify which areas they have mastered and which areas still require improvement. Before reading, students select two strategies that are strengths and one that is a weakness. Instead of the hurried, frantic race of a pacing guide, students are given the time to practice a reading strategy until they have mastered it.

5. Solve a Problem

Outside of the classroom, one of the most common motives for seeking out an informational text is the desire to solve a problem. Too often, though, students are simply answering text-dependent questions that do little more than test comprehension. What if we started informational reading with student inquiry? What if we allowed students to see informational texts as an integrated part of research? When this happens, informational texts become challenging and relevant to an actual context. That, in turn, makes the task of reading fun again.

6. Make Something

One of the best parts of teaching photojournalism is that students get a chance to use the information for making something new. This could be research for a podcast, facts for a video, or information for an article and editorial. Similarly, when I taught all subjects in a self-contained class, students often read informational texts as an integrated part of project-based learning. The reading remained fun because it was a vital part of what they were creating.

7. Embrace Technology

Too often, students are asked to read informational texts in a way that doesn't reflect the current context of our world. They highlight photocopied articles or take notes on textbook chapters. When teachers embrace technology, students can find more specific informational texts that fit their interests.

8. Don't Shy Away From the Conflict

Teachers do a disservice to students when they treat information as inherently neutral. Informational reading becomes fun when students see the conflict inherent in any informational text. They should be examining the bias of the language and analyzing the social, political, and economic forces at work in an author's argument. As they think critically about the conflict in a source, students see informational reading as the inherently dangerous act that it is.

There is no guarantee that every student will love every text. However, I have found that these eight strategies have helped students regain the inherent love of informational reading.

How do your students approach informational reading? Please tell us about it below in the comments section.

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Lee Kelso's picture

John, thank you for your article!!! I feel I could write an essay or book on what I feel you are encouraging.... which is, or at least the dots that are being connected inside of my head, is that you are gently promoting, 'free thinking' on the part of the student.

The thought came to me while reading your article, is, "the devil is in the details" and if we are going to overcome our fear of the devil, if one has any of these fears, the best way, is to get into the details and as you shared, in 8. "don't shy way from the conflict." In fact, I could go on to elaborate that, that is why we have so many conflicts, in society, is that we don't look at the details as closely. This speaks to the topic of lawyers as well but, overall this whole idea of examining details, is changing, to a great degree and is a gradually process.

I see that humans, are wired to learn, first, and not so much to be corralled into a classroom, just to be taught, and told this is what you have to know to live and function in society, and the design which is really antiquated, mainly speaks to why students are perceived as being bored, frustrated or are just plain bad students.

Maybe I am speaking already to the choir here as I have not gotten to know you through your writing, and I will look more at your blog as I have this aspiring teacher inside of me attempting to get out.... I feel that we all do, it just may differ in degrees, as everything is in degrees.

I feel too, based on our current design of the system, that is gradually changing, and I am mainly speaking of the West, and there are many wonderful people inside of it, so I am not attempting to assigning blame to anyone, but it has been operating in such a manner that tells children what to think, (parents do this inside the home, the media and society, does this at large as well) and I know this is a very old and common point, that has been discussed from many perspectives, but in context to your article, many students have been labeled as problem students because they have not taken so much interest or completed the work assigned on a given subject.

Kids have more under the hood than they are allowed to express. This video speaks to this and the studies are out there that speak to the various conditions surround the issues at hand... and using your words to not "shy away from the conflict."

You may be familiar with Sir Ken Robinson and if not I highly recommend listening to him for all of the educators who may stop by and read your post.

Thank you again John and keep up the good work! :)

stelemthinker's picture
Primary elementary teacher in Colorado

I teach first grade, too. When we are reading informational texts, we use different voices when we read different parts of the text features. It helps call the kids' attention o components of informational texts that will help them get more out of the reading as they become more proficient readers. Bold type words get a deep Papa Bear kind of voice. Captions get a robot voice. Labels get a mouse voice and so on. Sometimes, we read the glossary first and try to guess what the subject of the book is based on what they know about the words and definitions we read. (I hand them the book with the glossary open so they can't read the title yet.) My first graders eat up non-fiction. I often hear them using the voices in what they read.

smshaw's picture

Thanks for the information. I'm currently trying some of these strategies. I always spend several weeks having students read non-fiction and then apply their knowledge in our Fairy Tale Trials. A lot of these strategies will really help me out. I'm a little timid about facing conflict though, do you have any middle school geared ideas to approaching conflict?

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

I love this post! I've had a different experience in grades 1-2. I have found that my students eat up the informational text. Yes, they love a great narrative, but I've done a few things to ensure this love of information. I have used Scholastic points and our book budget to beef up our lowest levels of informational text. Publishers have increased the amount of lower level informational texts due to the Common Core. The benefit is that ALL of my students have engaging informational texts to choose from on their reading level. Through the Reading A to Z website, I can download an ebook or printable book on a particular topic and have it in 3 different reading levels. So for example everyone is reading a rocks and minerals book close to their just right reading level. I spend my extra minutes during snack, or waiting for a special to begin, or between lessons talking about interesting information. This last week it meant sharing an article and short video about the new rocket which landed upright after flying into space. I had to paraphrase the article, but they saw me getting excited about informational text. Afterwards, my students finished snack very quickly and rushed over to some space books on a display shelf. I believe the key is for our students to see our own excitement over informational text and provide them opportunities to explore what excites them.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Stelemthinker, I love your idea to use voices for informational text. It is sort of the Bill Nye approach to reading. Bill Nye's approach is my style. I use silly voices, make faces, move around the room often to make learning fun and engaging each and every day. It reminds me of the time I read a page from a dictionary to some 2nd and 3rd grade students during snack. I read it with expression and various voices and they were enthralled by my reading. Go figure. :)

Cgoddard's picture

Hi, Mr. Spencer. I found your blog today in search for more information about adolescent literacy. Just the title itself made me want to read your blog! As a teacher, I find informational texts hard to teach with the Common Core craze, too. I also find many students struggle when being assessed over nonfiction genres. I wonder why this is. I think it is a great idea to allow students to have a choice in reading texts that are of their interest. Unfortunately, we get so busy teaching the assigned books or stories that we do not make time to teach using texts that interest our students. I think this plays a major factor in a student falling in love with reading. Informational texts can be overwhelming with so much new information, so choosing topics that interest the student is a great way to draw them into reading! I completely agree with your ideas about cloze passages. It seems like they are used all the time. I see my own students struggle to make sense of them, because they are so focused on the missing word that they miss what the passage is actually about. I think you are exactly right about the need for student inquiry. We often present informational texts to students with no purpose other than assessment. By having them make inquiries about things outside of the classroom, they are more likely to enjoy the topic and gain more from the text. Thanks for sharing your post! I plan to share it with my teacher friends!!

Trolive's picture

This was a great blog post about keeping informational reading fun. Earlier, I read an article about how our mundane reading assignments can completely negatively mold a student's outlook on reading. I think that this is entirely true. Oftentimes, I understand what I want student's to gather from the text, and I gauge their understanding of those concepts by asking questions or creating diagrams when in actuality, this is creating a negative student outlook. I think that using technology to research the topics was a great idea! I read a reply to this post about a specific website on research topics and the students using their iPads to research things. This would work great for students who are intrinsically motivated by using technology, which most of my students are. I definitely learned a lot from this post. Thanks for sharing!

danilee511's picture

Great ideas!

I am actually in a "politics in reading" course right now, and we just talked about how CCSS has led to an increase in informational texts in the classroom. I know that when I was a kid, being forced to read informational texts would have pushed me away from reading. However, if I had felt like I had more choice in what I read, it would have been better.

Two of your points that I found very intriguing were (1) when you said that allowing children to pick their informational texts was helpful, and going along with that (2) asking them "what information do you want to find?" as opposed to "what do you want to read?" I think this helps put students in the mind frame that we read to learn, and it makes reading more exciting.

These were all great ideas! Thank you for sharing!

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