Posted in Reading

Simplify Text for Struggling Readers #1

The trend in recent years has been toward mixed-ability classrooms, meaning it’s up to teachers to adapt material to meet the needs of students at many different reading levels.  Nowhere has this been more apparent to me than in my Intensive Reading classes, where a single class may include 8th graders whose reading level ranges from roughly grade 2 to grade 8.  If you’re reading this post, no doubt you know how challenging it is to differentiate for such a range of ability-levels, and you’re looking for a viable solution (translation: a method that does not consume all your personal time and mental energy).

Good news:  There are several ways you can modify texts, or find modified texts, to make them accessible to all students.  In the next two posts, I’ll describe the ones I use often and with success.

(By the way, these are FREE RESOURCES because…well, I’m a teacher, too.)

NEWSELA (newsela.com)

This resource contains thousands of informational articles, each written at 5 different reading levels.  Along with each article are vocabulary exercises (Power Words), writing prompts, and standards-based questions to measure reading comprehension.  The program automatically assigns the reading level that most closely matches their grade, but students can adjust it up or down to suit them.  That said, teachers can assign an article at a specific reading level.  Students must complete the article and activities at that level before they can access it at a different level.  If you have students who get text-to-speech as an accommodation, you’ll need to use the Newsela app or a browser plug-in to deliver it.

PROS:  Easy to set up accounts and classes using Google, Microsoft, or Clever.  Articles are available and assignable on multiple reading levels. There are even Spanish language versions of articles.

CONS:  Nonfiction articles only. Assignment level customizable only by class, not by student.

 

READWORKS (readworks.org)

Both literature (fiction and poetry) and nonfiction are available on this free site for teachers.  There are hundreds of articles available for grades K-12, searchable by topic, genre, and Lexile level.  Though most articles are only available at one Lexile level, Readworks is developing “Step Reads” which offer an additional level of readability.  Articles include a text-to-speech function; however most use a computer-generated voice.  Check out the eBooks, though, for engaging graphics and human-voice reading.  Each article includes vocabulary and text-based questions.

PROS:  Includes fiction and poetry as well as nonfiction, text-to-speech for articles and activities.  Easy to create classes, assign and track student progress on assignments.

CONS:  Limited supply of differentiated texts.

 

TWEEN TRIBUNE (tweentribune.com)

Offers many high-interest and topical news articles, each on four different reading levels.  It’s free to teachers and students with simple account/class setup.  New articles are added every day, and many include simple multiple-choice questions.  It includes an optional “student comments” feature you could use to encourage text-based writing.

PROS:  Engaging articles and graphics, all with a range of reading levels. Includes lesson plans that can be adapted for different grade levels.

CONS:  Nonfiction news articles only; quizzes test simple recall rather than deeper comprehension;  broken links made navigation frustrating at times.

 

In my next post, I’ll share tools you can use to simplify any text with a quick cut and paste!

Posted in Reading

Teaching Inference

One of the first reading skills I address each year is making inferences.  It’s the cornerstone of using context clues, identifying character traits and motivation, analyzing plot, theme, and more. In addition to its obvious necessity for reading comprehension, they’ll make inferences for science, history, and other subjects.

Now, most students are already able to make inferences.  They can read a friend’s body language and identify whether that friend is excited or distressed.  What many need to be explicitly taught, though, is the components used to make inferences—background knowledge (or schema) and evidence—and how to search for that evidence.

Inference

A graphic organizer like this one, created for my standard sixth grade class, encourages metacognition and helps students know what to look for when an idea is merely implied, but not readily apparent to them.  Believe it or not, the most difficult part of this assignment is usually teaching them to identify their own background knowledge.  That skill must be modeled.  It may also be necessary to prod their thinking with probing questions, like “How did you know?  What background knowledge do you have on this topic that help you make an informed inference?”

It is often also necessary to stress that an inference reflects the “most likely” scenario, and not just something that is remotely possible.  For instance, if I read a text in which a character appears fully dressed, wet, and it is raining outside and ask students to infer why the character is wet, inevitably, someone wants to suggest that “they fell in a lake” or “they went swimming in their clothes.”  (Sixth-graders are notorious for playing the “what if” game and seem to love to let their imaginations run wild on this one.)  While I praise their creativity, I point out that since the most likely reason is that the character just came in out of the rain, other response—no matter how creative—are not accurate inferences.  So, in addition to teaching them how to draw a conclusion using evidence and schema, they also need to weigh all the possibilities, choosing the one that is most likely.

In a previous post, I wrote about how I use pictures to introduce inferences to my students.  I also use several free online resources including this virtual pen pal activity.  I can also recommend this YouTube video by MrSato411.  Younger students might appreciate these interactives: Riddle Game or the PBS Detective Game.

So, start the year strong with a review of this critical reading skill, or use these resources to review inferences with students who are struggling to “read between the lines.”

Posted in Reading

Using Pictures to Teach Reading

Slide1One of the more challenging aspects about teaching reluctant readers is engaging them in their own learning. I get it. I am the world’s worst at bowling. When date night rolls around, and my hubby says, “We haven’t been bowling in a while,” I cringe and quickly offer alternatives to an activity that’s certain to end in frustration. On those rare occasions when I roll a strike, however, I am elated. I shout, I strut, I bask in my success… and, important parallel here, I eagerly agree to play again. Helping my reluctant readers feel the thrill of success—one that’s relevant to reading—encourages them to see themselves as capable readers and to commit to the learning process.

 
Reluctant readers, while not as proficient with text, are generally very good at reading other visual cues. Using pictures to introduce reading skills gives students a frame of reference to understand the basics of the skill, and it shows them they already possess the skills they need to master it.

 
Many reading skills can be equated to interpreting visual images. For example, I often use photos to introduce mood in literature. I show students a series of images and challenge them to analyze the mood conveyed by each. Once they’ve identified the mood (and their success rate is 100%), I challenge them to tell me why. They study the picture and name specific characteristics (the colors are dark, the weather is stormy, there’s a dark alley with a shadowy figure) that lead them to conclude the mood (dangerous). Now that I’ve trained the students to study small details to determine the mood, I substitute short text for the visual images. You can even use a one-paragraph description of the same image you just showed them, so they can see the connection between the visuals and descriptive text.

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I’ve used this method to successfully teach inferences, mood and tone, cause and effect, point of view, and main idea. It is the perfect way to introduce context clues, or use picture warm-ups to reinforce the concept of context clues in subsequent lessons. Not only do students find pictures engaging, they are also quite memorable. Years later, I’ve had students come to me saying how much they enjoyed–and learned from—those lessons. One former struggling reader confessed, “I don’t know what you did… but I’ve gotten A’s in English ever since.” Inspiring words for any teacher.

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