K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Daniel Lunk
Date created
March 2011
Flash Video
This video copyright ©2011. Terms of use

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In this video, classroom footage and teacher interviews address best practices in teaching with informational text.

This video is one in a three-part series about teaching with informational text. The other videos include:

The videos are associated with the article “The Power of Nonfiction: Using Informational Text to Support Literacy in Special Populations.”


Jennifer Coffey (00:08)
I would tell teachers who wanted to use this approach for the first time to just do it. I mean, find out what kind of things they want to talk about, what kind of topics that they wanted to discuss, what goes along with their curriculum, and then find as many nonfiction stories or informational stories as they can to go with it. And try to get a good balance between fiction and nonfiction. Now, some things, they may find they’ll do all nonfiction stories, and that’s fine too, I think. But just to make sure they do some nonfiction and some informational text because the children really seem to enjoy it, and it really helps, I think, develop their vocabulary and their knowledge base a little bit better.
Karen Caroscio Allen (00:49)
Before we read let’s take a look at the pictures again, especially down there at the map. Okay, so you’re making — Alrighty there’s an “I wonder” — if they are located in Italy. You don’t necessarily need to write that one, but we’re thinking that. Questions really happen all the time, as we’re learning now. Alright, so go ahead and read. Do not forget the little part down there at the bottom, the caption down there next to the map.
Karen Caroscio Allen [in interview] (01:16)
In the beginning when we first show a nonfiction text, unless they are a nonfiction reader, they’re really scared of nonfiction. They would rather choose fiction, because it’s fun, it’s easy, they’re used to it. So, once we introduced the concept of nonfictional text or informational texts and showed them their features, and broke it down, they’ve really started to enjoy it more, so their engagement is higher. We are seeing more kids choose those texts because they’re not scared of it anymore. They enjoy it. They like learning.
We started this year using the book Stellaluna to talk about summary as a skill. And from there — that was about bats, and we decided as a class that we wanted to learn more about bats. So we talked about where would we go to learn more about bats, which would be informational texts. So I pulled a nonfiction book about bats out, and we talked about how it looked different, how it sounded different, than the first book which was Stellaluna. So doing a paired reading on the same topic was an easy way to show the kids those different parts. They really pulled it out. They discussed — we do a lot of partner talk. They kind of developed understanding of it on their own, and then in the class we talked about it also.
Sheri Wieczorek (02:27)
Sometimes we’ll do a whole-group, read it together, and then break up into groups, as to what objectives I want each group working on. You know, my high group: I want you inferencing or analyzing this part, and then get it all together. So we do whole group as well as small group.
Sheri Wieczorek [in class] (02:43)
Good job!
Karen Caroscio Allen (02:44)
Our lesson today was about questioning. And what do questions help us do?
Students (02:52)
Understand stuff. Help us figure out what we’re reading.
Karen Caroscio Allen (02:57)
Help us figure out what we’re reading.
Karen Caroscio Allen (02:57)
Understand the meaning of the text, the information we’re getting. Good.
Jennifer Coffey (03:04)
To identify quality informational texts, I try to look at the vocabulary words that are in there, how they’re presented in the story, if they’re highlighted, if they’re bold. That way the children will have an easier way to look at them and figure out the words that they don’t know. I like to look at the pictures, if it’s good detailed pictures, I like to use those books. If they’re real pictures, which most of them are, that’s really the best. But mostly if it’s a good layout, has a good table of contents, and has some good, bold vocabulary words with some good pictures, is most of the books I like to use.
Karen Caroscio Allen (03:37)
We have a chart where the headings are, “I completely understand this word,” “I’ve heard this word, but don’t know what it means,” and “I have no idea what this word means.” And we’ll start with a list of vocabulary words and the kids will put them where they fit for themselves. And then as you go throughout the book, or the week, or whatever you’re doing for that length of time with those vocabulary words, they develop those vocabulary and they go gradually to — hopefully — to the ones “I understand this word.”
Jennifer Coffey (04:04)
So of the challenges I have found using the informational texts is sometimes I have to look at the words in it, the vocabulary, and do more research sometimes, to figure out some of the words they’re saying, maybe why they call it that. Because the children will ask a lot of questions, “Well why do they call it that?” “Well where do they get that from?” You know, sometimes I will have to research and figure out exactly why they may put those words in there, or what exactly the words mean, or why they chose that. And sometimes I’ll research even to go further than what the text might go. They’ll have more questions than what’s in the text. So I may have to really research other books to use, more informational texts. We’ve gotten on the internet and done different research projects off of an informational textbook. So, yeah, we’ve done that several times.
Karen Caroscio Allen (04:51)
What is a question that you have, right now, about this text? Or this event? Go ahead and write it down.
“I’m wondering…” What? What are you wondering?
Lay them out.
What you’re going to do, is as we’re reading this text, I want you to think about: are you finding the answer to your question?
Karen Caroscio Allen [in interview] (05:36)
Really, I haven’t touched a textbook in many years, and this is the first year I brought textbooks back out. But, the reason is, we’re doing Literacy First, like I mentioned, and in Literacy First we have a whole-group read-aloud time period. So, you’re trying to teach your reading skills, whether they’re nonfiction or fiction, based on what your kids need. So, you have to find appropriate texts to go along with that skill. We’ve searched every resource we have, so our resources here happen to be textbooks. We’re using them that way, but we’re using them more as a single reader, not a textbook that you’re going from page to page, or story to story in. So it’s just using them as another book.
Karen Caroscio Allen [in class] (06:12)
Why did they mention fifty people injured and eleven people killed, when twenty-one people were killed and one hundred fifty people were injured? So turn back to that newspaper.
Student (06:27)
Like the Titanic.
Karen Caroscio Allen (06:28)
Just like the Titanic. I love the connection you make! I don’t even have to make it. Explain.
Student (06:35)
Because a lot of people died. They didn’t make it to the ship. But in the newspaper they said — I think it was less people died or more people died. I’m not sure.
Karen Caroscio Allen (06:44)
Yeah, in the newspaper it was less. Why? Do you remember?
Student (06:47)
Because the information doesn’t travel that fast.
Karen Caroscio Allen (06:49)
Student (06:52)
Meaning that they can’t get the exact number.
Karen Caroscio Allen (06:55)
Right, so let’s look at the date on this newspaper.
How many of you still have a question that’s not answered? What does that make you want to go and do?
Students (07:05)
Go find out.
Karen Caroscio Allen (07:05)
Go find. Go find out the answer. Go find another book. Go find it on the internet. Is that going to make you a better reader? Yeah. Does that make you gain more knowledge? Okay! So why do we use questioning? To find out information. To make us smarter, curious.
Sheri Wieczorek (07:31)
Of course with the Standard Course of Study changing, all these other regulations that teachers have, you can’t just get your information out of a textbook. It’s impossible. If you want the children to be successful and you want them to learn something. Because you really want them to have that “ah-ha” moment and the engagement, instead of just, “Okay, here’s your textbook. Read these pages, answer these worksheets.” They’re not going to get anything out of it. So, leveled readers and nonfiction is definitely how I teach science and social studies.