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How to Prepare to Read an Informational Text: a Tool for Teachers & Parents

How to Read an Informational Text

This Spring we’re focusing on improving our comprehension of informational text. This may seem like a strange topic for science class, but even in science we use a great deal of reading and writing, so it plays a key role when you least expect it.

I teach middle school students – aged 12-14 – so they’ve all already learned about reading informational text by the time they come to my classroom, yet I was amazed at how many things they didn’t understand or appreciate about the process. It inspired me to write this post. I want to help parents and educators focus their student’s efforts while reading informational text.

Where do we start?

This blog post started with a question. I told my students that I wanted to spend a few weeks focusing on our use of informational text in class to help prepare them for a large standardized test coming up this Spring. For our first reading selection I choose an eight paragraph selection with many pictures on the topic of seismic waves (perfect for our ongoing Earthquakes unit). The question I asked my students was… what do I do before I start reading?

Take a moment to consider that question. What should you do with an informational text before you start reading?

Almost every one of my students said “read the questions.” A wonderful answer…. kind of.

I asked them what else we should do before we read the text (besides reading the questions)…. crickets. Silence. Awkward side eye glances between lab partners. More crickets. Silly middle school answers that they knew were bogus but gave a try anyway. Giggles. More crickets….. you get the idea.

I was surprised that my 12-14 year old students could only come up with ‘read the questions’ and nothing more. Obviously it’s been drilled into their minds to look at the questions ahead of time throughout the years, but sadly they’re missing many other important steps to help them focus while reading.

Tricking Our Brain

The most challenging part of informational text is usually the reader’s lack of interest or enthusiasm. More often than not, students are being asked to read something they don’t want to read. So we’re already fighting an uphill battle when we lay the passage in front of them.

That’s why I teach and use the following 5 step strategy with my students for their pre-reading process.

Step 1: See How Long It Is

Take a sneak peek and avoid the constant mental stress of ‘how much more do I have to read?’ Avoid the distraction by taking a look at the length of text right from the beginning. No more wondering how many pages are left, or whether or not there are big pictures, now you know and can focus on the text.

Step 2: Look at all the pictures

Before you dive into the reading go ahead and get your curiosity out of the way. Are there pictures? How many? How big? Does it shorten the amount of reading I need to do? Once your students have answered these questions have them take a few minutes to look over the pictures and captions in greater detail. With this task out of the way they’ll have one less distraction while they’re actually reading the article.

Step 3: Read the Title & Headings

What are you supposed to learn by reading this text? The title and headings will usually answer that question for you. Have your students read the main title and ask them what they expect the article to be about just based on the title. Next have them look over all headings and subheadings. This would be a great time to point out that the headings help us organize an article. For example, if a question later on asks them to talk about “how clouds form” and one of the headings was “the steps for creating clouds” they should know in the back of their mind to check that part of the text for evidence to support their answer first, before looking elsewhere.

Step 4: Key Vocabulary

Skim through the text looking for a vocabulary list, bold key words or a glossary. Students shouldn’t be expected to memorize these words prior to reading, but they should at least know how to pronounce them and have an idea of what they mean. This is also a great time to point out that bold words are usually surrounded by a definition within text.

Step 5: Read the questions

Last, but not least, your students need to look over the questions that will be asked of them when the reading is complete. That way they will know what topics to focus on during the reading.

Once these 5 pre-reading steps are complete it’s time to read. Your students will be more focused throughout the activity, which in turn will decrease the amount of time needed to complete this task and improve assessment results. Want to post this in your classroom or pass it out to your students to use in your classroom? Click here for a full size document of the image above.

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