The transition from elementary to middle school often includes a drastic decrease in reading literature and an intense increase in informational text reading. Students find themselves spending the bulk of the day reading from content-area textbooks. For this reason, some previously ravenous elementary readers can quickly feel like incompetent struggling readers when they enter middle school.
Elementary teachers can help with this transition by integrating more content-area reading into their daily reading block. The same reader skills and strategies applied to literature are relevant when reading informational text, too. However, it’s not an automatic transfer. Students need instruction on how navigate this more complex text.
This could be accomplished by using the core reading program/basal series, but that is not the only option. The fidelity of a core reading program does not mean reading every passage in the book. When the basal suggests an informational text for a particular skill, consider substituting it with a content-area passage. It’s not about reading all the texts in the adopted basal. Rather, it’s about following a scope and sequence of skills and strategies that move from simpler text to more complex. As long as the content-area text lends itself to the reading strategy/skill you’re targeting, then it’s an appropriate resource for the lesson.
Five steps to incorporate content-area texts.
- Before teaching a skill/strategy with content-area text, use a simpler text first. Since the chronological text structure of fiction is more familiar, it’s usually the common choice. This allows students to focus on the new skill/strategy.
- After initial instruction and practice, introduce the skill into their nonfiction reading. Identify content-area texts that lend themselves to this same skill/strategy.
- Plan the mini-lesson content, specifically the explicit instruction. Determine the key instructional points to make that will connect what students first learned in simple/literary text to its application in informational text.
- Within the same lesson, model the reading skill/strategy using the content-area text you selected. Demonstrate how your Reading Voice and Thinking Voice are navigating the text using a Think Aloud.
- Provide an opportunity for students to try the same skill/strategy using another excerpt of content-area text.
Within such a whole-class comprehension lesson, it’s likely you will not have plowed through much text in the science textbook…and that’s normal. Remember, when the content-area textbook is used in the reading block, the instructional focus is NOT the content; it’s the reading skill. During these times, the text is just a tool to teach this skill. The goal of any reading mini-lessons is to demonstrate how to execute a skill; it is not to “get through” a lot of text. Taking the time to provide this kind of explicit instruction prepares students for the abundant and independent content-area reading they will face for years to come.
Article originally posted May 5, 2017 and updated in March 2019.