By Beth Richards, Literacy Interventionist, Reading Recovery Teacher, Guest Blogger
We’ve all found ourselves standing in the book room, shuffling through baskets of books, trying to find just the right text to use in our guided reading group or 1:1 lesson. We open the texts and do a quick turn through the pages, getting a quick feel for the storyline, and looking up the words, searching for high-frequency words and vocabulary that we feel our kiddos can handle. We grab it, stuff it in our workbag, and take it home to do the planning. We craft what we feel is a successful lesson—and yet, the next day, it totally bombs. How can this be? Where did we go wrong?
There are so many careful considerations we need to make when selecting instructional texts for students. In this blog post, using the Joy Cowley Early Bird title, King of the Table, we’ll look the 5 essential things to think about when pairing students with books.
- Background Knowledge and Vocabulary
- We always need to think about what our readers can bring to the table. What have they experienced? What have they done, seen, or read that will help them make this a successful text interaction?
- Fountas and Pinnell (1996) remind us to ask ourselves, “Are the concepts in the book familiar to children, or can they be made accessible through the introduction?” Students will be more successful with concepts and themes they have previously been exposed to.
- “Experience determines how neurons in the brain connect, organize, and reorganize.” (Lyons, 2004)
- Language Complexities
- Early readers are still developing their oral language skills as they learn to read. We should consider whether the language of a text is manageable for students or too far outside the structures they currently control.
- If the language is difficult, we have some options prior to using the book. We can read the book in its entirety to students prior to their reading of it. This allows the students to hear those structures in advance, which may make them more prepared when they encounter them during scaffolded reading. Structures can also be rehearsed as part of the introduction.
- Finally, we always have the option to support students in the moment, jumping in to assist with complicated language structures.
- Figurative Language/Humor
- It seems every animated children's movie has one or two lines of humor geared toward adults. It goes completely over the kids’ heads but gives the adults a chuckle. As students learn that language can be manipulated or may not be literal, they may need support to navigate those areas.
- Engagement and Enjoyment
- “Research in neuroscience has proven that what children learn is heavily influenced and organized by emotions and that emotions color how information is received, assembled, interpreted, and understood.” (Lyons, 2004). We want our students’ experiences with texts to be enjoyable and engaging to help them continue to build a literacy processing system. We can do that by selecting texts we know they will love, texts with familiar characters, common themes, and exciting or silly adventures.
- The “Work” of the Text
- What are the students learning to do as readers? What are they attempting and practicing to help them grow as strategic readers? Clay reminds us that “the teaching goal is to settle these new things into the integrated networks of knowledge that this child already controls.” (2016) There need to be areas in the text to support these opportunities for learning and practice.
For early or emergent readers, there are additional considerations:
- Does the text contain enough known high-frequency words that can act as anchors to help the child navigate the text? This is an important consideration for readers at levels A–E, but not the only one that needs to be made.
- Does the picture support match the level of the text? In levels F and lower, the pictures should be extremely supportive and intentionally detailed to help early readers think about the storyline and what would make sense. At levels G and up, the pictures should become less frequent and less supportive.
- Examine the layout of the text. For readers in levels F or below, changes in font size, spacing, text on both pages, longer texts, and pictures above or below text may be a new encounter for students and require additional support to navigate.
Hopefully, by keeping these considerations in mind when selecting texts, we can avoid wasting our time spent searching the book room, digging through piles of books, looking for the "just right" text. Using these considerations when selecting a text will lead to better experiences, for both students and teachers alike!
Beth has been teaching for seventeen years. She has taught kindergarten, third, and fourth grades in Wisconsin. For the last six years, she has been a literacy interventionist and Reading Recovery teacher and loves spending her days helping her students develop and share her love of reading.