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Seek magazines with short nonfiction passages
March 1, 2019
Collect short passages
The kind of reading students do for standardized tests is often very different from the experiences we provide in the classroom. It’s not necessarily different in content or genre or even vocabulary. It’s different in length!
The passages students read for standardized tests are one-sitting readings. These passages are short enough to start and finish in one sitting, but long enough to generate a half-dozen inferential questions from. Many of our classroom resources are NOT this short. In the secondary language arts curriculum especially, we tend to focus on novels and longer texts that take days and weeks to complete.
Students juggle many tasks on the state assessment. Not only are there multiple choice and open-ended questions that follow the reading selections, but students must also write extended reading responses. This requires students to read, comprehend, and support their written ideas with specific text references.
One way to help students with this type of crunch-time reading and writing is to give them more opportunities in class to read shorter pieces–short stories, short biographies, nonfiction passages on content-area topics, poems on content-area topics, etc.
These publications offer short passages on various topics and in a variety of genres. For example, there are biographies and content-area poems and imaginary narratives and nonfiction and sci-fi. Click on the titles below for an excerpt from Cricket magazine so you have an idea of what you might expect.
If students are used to reading and discussing texts with peers over multiple days, they may struggle to read with the stamina and concentration required for an on-demand, state test. Here are some of my favorite sources for one-sitting-reading passages:
- If you have saved old copies of Weekly Reader, Time for Kids, Scholastic News, Scope, pull them out. These magazines are just what you need. Photocopy the page or two for the whole class. (NOTE: These articles often come with post-reading questions that require students to think inferentially.)
- The Week is a weekly online newspaper that rewrites articles on a student level. It’s got all the traditional sections–news, opinion, sports, entertainment, comics, etc. There is a version you can purchase through subscription, but a lot of the content is free.
- This Web mix includes numerous links to sites containing informational text.
- Each weekday, the publishers of Tween Tribune scour the Internet for news stories that will interest students in grades 1-12. The articles are sorted into age-appropriate categories–Teen, Tween, Tween Junior–and then organized by topics (e.g., fashion, national news, etc.). All articles are also available in Spanish.
Provide genre variety
In addition to shorter texts, expose students to a variety of genres and modes. The assessment doesn’t just include traditional essays and articles. It utilizes numerous informational text formats. Look to expose your students to:
- How-to articles
- Q&A interviews
- Nonfiction/Content-area poems
Magazines are a great place to find short, informational text passages in a variety of formats. Try this list of magazines to find some just right for your grade level.
Note text features
Often these different formats include text features (e.g., subheadings, sidebars, graphics, lists, footnotes, etc.). Point out the value of these tools to your students; text features are intended to help the reader. They often include additional information beyond what is stated within the body paragraphs. Be sure students are reading them and gathering as much knowledge about the topic as possible.
NOTE: If a standardized test includes text features, there is usually at least one question geared toward the information highlighted within those text features. If students “skip” the text features, they are missing some valuable details.
I saw the idea of collecting short passages and wanted to let you know how I’m doing just that with my 5th grade class. We have started using Scholastic News in our room. (It was half-price if you wait till January to start!!) These are test-length articles on current events and topics of interest, followed by comprehension questions and usually a map or graph to interpret. I am hopeful this practice will help my students develop the skill of going back to a text and searching for a response…an area in which our students seem to struggle.
Carrie Miller–5th Grade Teacher, St. Stanislaus Kostka School (Michigan City, IN)