Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Help Struggling Readers with a Chapter Book About Predators

By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

If you were asked a series of questions about struggling readers, how well do you think you'd perform? You can test your knowledge with a seven-question quiz by Education Week, but you should also keep reading to find out how you can help struggling readers with unique chapter books that contain elements of both nonfiction books and narrative texts. In today's post, I'll provide steps to engage your students with a chapter book about animal predators and suggestions to practice reading skills and build content-area literacy.

chapter bookPredators is a level Q chapter book in which your upper elementary students can explore details of a wide range of attacks made by different animal predators. Outstanding visual components and helpful nonfiction text features provide opportunities for you to involve students in making meaning while reading fascinating facts. The three-part fictional story that's woven throughout the informational content lets you teach standards of different text types and help students make real-world connections with just one book.

This leveled reader, as you'll find with other books in the Download Series, includes a fun quiz and a list of resources, such as magazines and websites, that students can use to deepen their exploration about the topic presented by the chapter book. You can use this book to model comprehension strategies, such as making inferences and activating prior knowledge, and provide opportunities for independent reading. Keeping reading to find out how!


Activating Prior Knowledge About Animal Predators

Spark interest in animal predators by showing students the cover of Predators and saying the following: This is the new book we will be reading. Does anyone know what a predator is? Can anyone give me some examples? Be sure to list their suggestions on the board or overhead, and then continue to introduce the book with the following script: I'm going to give each of you a copy of the book. When you have a copy, turn to the table of contents to see if any of your suggested predators are listed. Raise your hand if you see one that we listed.

Get feedback from as many students as possible and prompt them to open their reading and writing journals as you continue the discussion. Then ask, Did anyone see a predator in the table of contents that we didn't list? Give students time to write some questions in their journals about predators that they didn't recognize. Explain that using what they know and helpful tools in the text can help them answer some of the questions they have.

Teaching Kids to Use Nonfiction Text Features to Make Meaning

Informational text features are an extremely valuable tool that you should use to help your students make meaning. The vibrant and labeled photographs, along with the bolded words, will serve as assets to help your students understand the concept presented in this section of the book. Give a prompt to help students feel comfortable with discussing observations and making inferences about animal predators with a partner. After a few minutes, discuss the meaning of predators and prey and demonstrate how to use the glossary when encountering an unfamiliar word. Then ask, Which of the animals are using their tools on the prey? Have them write in their journals the names of tools that each animal uses to capture its prey.

Be sure to invite kids to ask questions that they want answered and get feedback on the predators that interests them. Write their questions on the board, so that your students can copy them in their journals. This is helpful way to help set a purpose for reading and to show students the importance of revisiting questions while reading.

Optimizing Narrative Content in a Chapter Book

As I mentioned at the beginning of today's post, the unique feature of this chapter book is the availability of narrative content throughout the information presented about animal predators. You can use each part over the course of several days in your guided reading lessons. Here's a summary of each of the three parts of the fictional story:

  • The first part of the story helps students learn to use context clues, make predictions, and explore cause-and-effect relationships that affect the fictional characters' problem.
  • The second part presents several instances for students to explore causes and effects while using context clues. There's also a good portion that helps kids discuss character traits and emotions.
  • The third part offers more opportunities for kids to understand traits of the fictional characters. You can help students further explore cause-and-effect relationships with a graphic organizer before, during, or after reading these sections.

You can have students create subtitles for each narrative text portion. This requires students to identify the main idea in each part of the story. Another idea might be to have students predict what the second and third parts of the story will tell them about the school animal fair.

Having kids read a part of the story as a play could provide a very engaging opportunity for your students to read with expression and show emotions of characters. You could be the narrator or select a student in the group to narrate, while other kids try their hands at acting or follow the text as it's being read. This is an excellent way to discuss emotions and how the student actors need to use their voices.

Ideas for Content-Area Literacy

Since there are twelve sections about different predators, you can decide how many class sessions this book can take while you're lesson planning. An activity that you can use to improve writing and content-area literacy while reviewing the information about predators requires a stack of cards that have the names of predators written on one side. Have each student take a card and reread the section in the book that pertains to the predator written on his or her card. Then have students write a few sentences about that predator, such as habitat, description of physical traits, prey, or unusual facts, on the other side of the card. Facilitate a discussion by giving each student an opportunity to share what they learned about their assigned predator. Have students take notes in their journal and use it a guide for later review.

You can turn the review of each student's information into a guessing game by having students take turns reciting the following prompt: I'll share what I have learned about a predator, but you have to guess its name. Encourage each student who uses this prompt to read the sentences they wrote and have their classmates guess the name of the predator they're describing.


Evaluating Effectiveness of Teaching

In order to assess the growth of your students, not only is it important for you to review students' work, you should also take time to evaluate your own effectiveness by asking yourself the following:

  • Did any student do extra reading or use some of the websites shared in the book?
  • Did any student make comments or show a desire to read more about today's topic?
  • Did all of the students participate in the activities I organized?
  • Do I need to rethink or restructure any of the activities? What would I change?

There are many ways to help struggling readers foster the love of reading with books from the Download Series. You can read Fostering a Love of Reading in Middle School for more insights about struggling readers in middle school. Don't forget to visit our blog again for more helpful tips that you can use in your classroom!

Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog.