• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Balancing Information and Literary Texts

Page history last edited by kieran.ohare@... 10 years, 1 month ago

Balancing Informational and Literary Text


One major shift identified by EngageNY in the transition to Common Core instruction is a focus on informational text.  What are the implications of this instructional shift for teachers and students?



This page will address the following questions:

What do I need to know about teaching nonfiction?


First and foremost, reading lessons should be based on a clear understanding of what good readers do. There have been three decades of research into the processes of proficient and struggling readers, resulting in a large repertoire of classroom practices that are effective in helping students read well. 


One of the best articles to read to get started is “Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension” by Neil K. Duke and P. David Pearson.


Duke and Pearson’s article summarizes research that shows that good readers:

  • Are active
  • Set clear goals for their reading
  • Generally preview text and make prediction about what is to come
  • Ask questions as they read
  • Determine what information is important
  • Draw from, compare and integrate their prior knowledge as they read
  • Monitor comprehension
  • Visualize


Regardless of the text used or the standards that the lesson is intended to address, all reading lessons should be based on an understanding of what good readers do and support students in engaging in these practices.


How can I help students become active readers of nonfiction?

One resource for teachers who want to improve their teaching of reading is a book called “When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do,” by Kylene Beers. 


Beers identifies a series of “dependent reading behaviors,” such as:

  • Does not try to relate what is being presented in text to what is already known
  • Has trouble recalling information from a text
  • Does not recognize when comprehension is not taking place
  • Has a difficult time creating questions about a text


Adult students vary greatly in terms of their educational backgrounds, but those students who do not consider themselves “readers” or who had trouble with reading in school, may exhibit some of the behaviors Beers identified.  A major emphasis is to help students understand that good readers are active readers.  Some simple steps to take to encourage active reading:

  • Help students build and activate background knowledge.  When students are asked to read about a topic they know nothing about, they may quickly become bored and “tune out.”  When introducing a topic that is likely to be unfamiliar to students, it’s a good idea to build background knowledge in some way.


  • Leading a class discussion to find out what students already know and allow them to “pool” their knowledge


  • Looking at maps or charts developed by CUNY Staff Developers


  • Looking at pictures in activities designed by CUNY Staff Developers



There is more information about building and activating background knowledge in the section of this wiki called “Building Background Knowledge in the Disciplines.


How can I construct reading lessons that will encourage students to be active readers?


There are several practices that you can build into lessons to encourage active reading:


Give students a purpose for reading. 

Putting a guiding question on the board and asking students to look for a particular kind of information guides their reading and can “steer” them towards the most important information in a text.  This practice also introduces the idea that good readers usually read a text with a question in their minds; something they are hoping to learn.  One time-honored teaching protocol that helps students set a purpose for reading, and also provides a way for them to monitor comprehension, is KWL.  KWL stands for "What we Know," "What we Want to know," "What we Learned."  You can find a information about how to use KWL here.  A sample KWL chart that you can print and use in the classroom can be found here.


Have students read longer texts in chunks or sections to facilitate comprehension monitoring. 

You don’t want to wait to get to the end of a six-page short story to find out that students did not understand, or were confused about, a basic premise.  Dividing a text into sections and having students stop at certain points in their reading and jot down what they’ve learned or briefly discuss what they “got” from the text will help you, the teacher, monitor students’ understanding.  It will also reduce the “cognitive load” on students, since they are dealing with smaller chunks of text and information.  This practice also models the habit of stopping when you don’t understand.


Teach summarization.

One ability that good readers have, and that students must master to become proficient nonfiction readers, is the ability to summarize.  Adult students often have trouble selecting the most important information in a text.  They may focus on vivid details that support a point, rather than identifying the main “message.”  Asked to highlight, they may highlight everything. Below are some tips and resources for teaching summarization:


  • Begin with shorter, simpler texts and have students summarize one paragraph at a time Valerie Andersen and Suzanne Hidi provide information on how to do this in their article "Teaching Students to Summarize;"
  • Discuss with students what a summary is and its purpose;
  • Model the process of underlining or marking text as you decide what is “important.”  The TEAL guide for adult educators includes a process for teaching students to find the main idea paragraph by paragraph;
  • Have students distinguish between effective and less effective summaries, and work in pairs to evaluate the effectiveness of teacher- or student-written summaries.  This link includes examples in English and Spanish;  
  • Use graphic organizers or templates as a way to scaffold students in writing summaries.  One example of template that can be used to help students write summarize, along with other effective ways to teach summarizing can be found here;
  • Many teachers like to use the GIST strategy with their students.  Click here to find a lesson plan involving GIST.


Introduce strategies relevant to the type of text being taught.  

It may seem obvious, but to buy in to the idea of strategic reading, students need to see that it works.  Matching a text with an appropriate strategy, and modeling that strategy with the text they are reading, is therefore essential.  Below are two links to reading strategies introduced for social studies texts.



History texts often follow events in chronological order.  Asking students to read, summarize, and write summaries of important events on a class timeline are a great way to have students process the information in a history text, simultaneously developing content knowledge and literacy skills.  CUNY Staff developers have created an activity involving a timeline located here.


Social Studies: Using Charts to Organize Information

While some history texts may have a chronological structure, others may compare and contrast two cultures, eras, or issues.  This link to the CUNY literacy site leads to a lesson in which students read a text that compares the cultures of Europeans and Native Americans in the colonial period, then fill out a “Compare Contrast” chart to summarize key points for themselves. 



Construct lessons that give students the opportunity to reread, process and “use” the information in a text in another form.  

Below you find two strategies for constructing these types of lessons.


Taking Notes in a Graphic Organizer

Certain tasks or assignments guide students to look for the main idea of a section or find important information and put it into their own words.  The process of paraphrasing important information is key to effectively comprehending nonfiction texts.  Having students fill out graphic organizers is one of the best ways to get them to identify key information and put it into their own words.  This activity created by CUNY staff developers includes an example of students filling out a form/function chart about parts of a cell.  


Write questions about a text

Writing questions for other students to answer is a great way to have students learn from nonfiction text.  Click here (Science) or here (Social Studies) for a description of a classroom activity called ReQuest, in which students write questions about a text they have read as a study strategy.  



How can I help students to see themselves as academic readers?


In his book “Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines,” Doug Buehl makes the point that students must not only learn the how of reading complex nonfiction texts, but also develop a sense of themselves as readers of historical or scientific texts.  Buehl writes of “discourse communities,” groups of people who are “insiders” when it comes to domains such as music history, medical science, etc. 


To help students develop as disciplinary readers, Buehl recommends that teachers focus on disciplinary-specific questions—questions, for instance, that a historian might ask—to help students tackle complex nonfiction texts.



  • To learn more about the disciplinary-specific questions that scientists ask, go here.


How can I help students to develop an awareness of themselves as readers and students?


While it’s very helpful for teachers to understand the research on reading development, students also need to understand what “good” reading is.  Many adult students do not have a clear understanding of the habits and “mental moves” of good readers.  Adult students often think they should remember “everything” in a text.  They may have trouble distinguishing an author’s main idea from an interesting detail.  They may have experienced frustration and lack of focus, and they may have developed the idea that they are not “good” at reading. 


While it’s true that students may have memory or learning difficulties that cause them to struggle with language, vocabulary and decoding, it’s also true that students’ misconceptions about reading may be part of the problem. A student who thinks she is supposed to remember “everything” will end up being overwhelmed and confused.


The lesson below is intended to help students think about what it means to be a “good” reader.


Where can I find informational texts to engage adult students?


Current Events/Issues


  • The New York Times in Plain English is a great resource for adult education teachers—selected New York Times articles rewritten and simplified and browsable by topic.  You can access it by clicking on this link.


  • The New York Times Upfront by Scholastic is a collection of articles, including archived articles that summarize key events in U.S. history, with a middle school reading level that does not “talk down” to students.  If you have a New York Public Library card, you can access the archives, but there is a website and much can be downloaded for free.  You can access the website by clicking this link.


  • The Change Agent, created for, and written by, adult students, is a publication brings together graphs, cartoons and images along with sophisticated student-written texts and texts that analyze current issues.  This great resource for adult education teachers, can be accessed online here, where you can download and print PDF's of current and past issues. 



Social Studies/History


  • Grolier Online.  If you have a New York Public Library card, you will be able to access this database which is a kind of encyclopedia for middle school students, but has a wealth of texts that can be used in the adult classroom on a wide variety of “school” topics.


  • HistoryforKids.org. As kid-like as some of the images may be, History for Kids contains short texts on key eras of history which are interesting, rich and readable.


  • Awesomestories.com.  Like History for Kids, Awesomestories.com provides short texts on a variety of history-related topics, although the texts on this site are designed to be much more interactive than some others.





  • The New Book of Knowledge Online.  If you can access this database, you’ll find a rich resource of texts on science topics that are a great reading level for our students.


  • Brainfacts.org provides short, interesting articles about learning, memory, sleep, and brain development, and an appropriate level for adult students.  You can access it here.  



Should I only teach informational texts?


No. While the Common Core emphasizes informational text, students must still read and comprehend literary texts, and the literary texts included on Common Core assessments will be different from the texts included on the GED 2002 test in several ways:


  • Literary texts on Common Core-based assessments are often from earlier eras. 


  • Draw some language from the actual standards and include the appendix with their list.


  • Literary texts on Common Core-based assessments will be more complex and nuanced and require more sophisticated reading techniques.


  • Literary texts on Common Core-based assessments  he developers of the Common Core Learning Standards have focused on “classic” literary texts of earlier eras.


  • Click here to see the literary text list included in the Common Core standards.  It is sortable by Grade Level, and should give you a sense of what is expected of students at certain grade levels.


  • Helping students understand such texts can be challenging. 


  • Pointing out ways that fiction is different from nonfiction. 





Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.