stopping random lists of facts (or small groups to support standard 2 with informational text)

we know that all teachers have seen the reader who creates long lists of facts when reading an informational text. you know what we mean…it looks similar to this page of notes from a student who has dutifully jotted down “important” facts and details from his informational text:nonfiction literal notes 11_5you get the idea. long lists of facts copied straight from the text. but who cares? what are kids supposed to do with these facts? store them in long term memory just in case they’re ever on jeopardy and this just happens to be one of their categories??

the real work, the work we’re teaching toward in anchor standard 2, isn’t to make long lists of facts, but to take these long lists of facts and analyze and sort them to come up with bigger ideas within the text.

what can we do for our students who are having difficulty getting past listing the facts and never really getting to the big ideas? our whole class teaching supports students with strategies to help them meet anchor standard 2 for informational text and of course there are charts around the room that scaffold the work we’ve done in our whole class teaching, but small groups are the place where we can give kids the extra support they may need to make the leap from facts to ideas.

identifying readers who need this small group support:

  • our conference observations and supporting notes can give us valuable information about who may benefit from a group to support this work.
  • we also use performance assessments created to assess standard 2. we look at these performance assessments across a continuum to help group students appropriately.
  • notebook checks are another way to decide who may benefit from extra support in a small group to target this standard. we usually call these “gallery walks,” a chance for students to show one another a page in their reader’s notebooks (in this case, a page of their nonfiction notes from that week or the last two weeks) that they are particularly proud of. during the gallery walk, we’ll take photos on our iPad of each student’s note page so that we can go back later to look at it more closely. we sometimes use this as an assessment (especially when we do the gallery walk at the end of a bend in the unit or at the end of the unit itself), but it is most often used to inform our planning for small groups and conferences.
nonfiction notes

an anchor chart to support students in nonfiction note-taking. when we do a notebook check, we’re hoping to see evidence of these note-taking structures. if students are using them, they’re less likely to be listing facts without at least an over-arching topic, and, hopefully, a main idea.

** you may use one of these ways to group students or a combination. we believe what’s most important is that you are making your decisions based on an assessment.

supporting standard 2 in a small group:

  • step 1:  choose a shared text that is at the independent reading level for all students in the group. we always model what we do before we start reading or ask students to do this. this is important because we know that readers need to synthesize all they know about reading. we don’t want students to only preview the text on the day we teach that lesson. we want them to preview the text every time they read (if that’s a strategy that helps them), and add on new strategies so that they have a repertoire of strategies that they combine to help them understand what they read. our goal for students is to use a variety of strategies independently, and sort of automatically, so that they’re able to comprehend their reading.
  • step 2: read a section and model how we collect important facts and details. we do this by thinking aloud about what we’re doing.  it might sound like, “this section is titled…the author must be teaching me about…i think this is an important detail because…”
  • step 3: think aloud as we look across the facts and details we’ve collected to come to an idea. we’ve had success using the phrases,
    • this part is mostly teaching me that….  OR
    • “the author the author wrote this part to teach me how…”

**you may have your own phrases that work well in guiding your students towards the main idea. we try to avoid “this part teaches me about.” because we’ve found that the word about guides students towards naming topics rather than ideas. for example, “this part teaches me about whales’ hunting,” versus “this part teaches me that (or how) whales use many body parts to help them hunt.”

  • step 4: once we’ve modeled our process, we start to release responsibility back to the students, gradually… we might start this by giving students a main idea for the next section and asking them to find the key details that support this idea with a partner. this pushes them to analyze each detail they choose and ask themselves some questions before they decide if it really is a supporting detail. they should be able to say, “we think this is an important detail because….”
  • step 5: after kids are able to find details that support a given idea, the teacher can decide what the next course of action is. here are some suggestions:
    • have students read the next section and collect key details and ideas. then they can  work with a partner to look across the facts and details they collected to decide which are the most important. lastly, they can identify a main idea together that is supported by these details.
    • OR the teacher can highlight or identify key details in some way. students can read the section independently and identify a main idea that the highlighted details support with a partner.
  • step 6: students can try this work independently which releases further responsibility to them. when they’ve had a chance to practice this work independently, we like to do a final performance assessment to see if the teaching has stuck and determine what the next steps are.

**note: we wouldn’t do all of these steps in one day. we would plan this out as a series of small groups across a week.


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