Using short informational texts can be a powerful instructional tool, but it’s not always clear exactly why we should use them…or how!
I want to start with a note about the value of using authentic texts with young readers: there are so many different types of informational materials in the world—from brochures to directions and recipes, to blurbs and biographies—and students need to be exposed early on to real-world informational text in the classroom. In the small group setting, teachers can guide students during close reading and supported re-reading of short texts, and differentiate instruction based on students’ individual needs.
Using these types of short informational texts gives teachers three powerful instructional strategies:
- Focus and target instruction
- Provide opportunities to practice reading informational and authentic text
- Prepare students for the types of texts they will find on the new assessments
Focus and Target Instruction
Why can using short texts help teachers to focus and target instruction? Current expectations for elementary students include the ability to read, then compare and contrast multiple texts on the same topic. Kids also need to be able to read several texts on the same topic, synthesize what they’ve learned, and then be able to knowledgeably share that information orally or through written projects.
This kind of comparative reading can be done efficiently in small groups if teachers use short content area texts. These texts don’t have to be long in order to provide information on various aspects of a topic—a short, focused text can offer a young reader plenty to absorb. And, this practice of using multiple short segments of content material is common when doing research all the way through the college level.
Plenty of Practice with Informational and Authentic Text
Why can using shorter informational text prepare students to read on the Internet and other digital media? Most websites (like news sites, or this blog) organize their content in brief segments. To read Internet content is to absorb key concepts in short bursts. Similarly, content-focused chapter books in the elementary grades often provide two- to four-page chapters on various aspects of a subject. (A book about an animal might have one chapter about what the animal eats, another about where it lives, and so on.) And yet each of these chapters is actually a short, focused reading. Teaching with short texts helps prepare students for the kinds of reading they will encounter on the Internet or in chapter books.
Why do short texts help prepare students for assessments? Because students will be expected to read, re-read, and demonstrate comprehension of short texts that:
- are complex and at grade-level
- present a variety of text features
- use academic vocabulary (that students must learn in context)
- are sourced from a range of media and text types
Because the informational texts are filled with content intended to build knowledge, they are organized in short segments; these may be reading a subheading and the section on a topic, or a single chapter in a longer book. That is how a reader naturally reads, studies, and learns content material. These texts can be very complex and provide opportunities for teachers to work with students in small groups with authentic texts. The informational texts can provide reasons to read closely, to be read and re-read.
The old adage, “good things come in small packages,” truly applies to using short, informational texts as a part of powerful small group instruction.