Reading Informational Texts Using Folded File Folders: "What Sesame Street Teaches" by Neil Postman

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SWBAT track and discuss their learning about "Sesame Street" after reading Neil Postman's essay "What Sesame Street Teaches."

Big Idea

Beginning with what students know creates a context for reading and understanding challenging informational texts.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Context

How should ELA teachers approach informational texts?

This question informs the lessons in this unit, which emphasize approaches to teaching informational texts in the context of literature study. Rather than replacing or superceding the study of literature, I see informational texts as ways to amplify literature so that students see it as relevant to their lives.

Thus, rather than a shift away from both the literary canon and contemporary imaginative texts, the CCSS offers teachers a unique opportunity to embrace innovative approaches to teaching both informational texts and the imaginative literature that led us to teach English.


Reading Informational Texts Using Folded File Folders: "What Sesame Street Teaches" by Neil Postman

40 minutes

To start the lesson on critical reading of Neil Postman's "What "Sesame Street' Teaches," I gave students a piece of typing paper and asked them to fold it into a file folder. Next I said, "Listen to this song. It will give you the subject you'll use to label your file." 

Play the "Sesame Street" theme song. 

Ask, "What's the topic?" Students will quickly identify "Sesame Street" as the topic. 

Step 2:

Give students three minutes to write all they know about "Sesame Street" on the outside of their "folded files." 

One student said, "I don't know anything." 

I responded, "Write what you've heard." I suspect the student was fishing for a way to get out of the task. Don't let that happen. Modify the prompt instead. 

Finally, allow a few students to share something they know about "Sesame Street." I did this while waling around the room and passing out papers. I am able to do this because I have my room organized so that I can move around rather than remain standing at the front of the room all period. I like to mingle w/ students and position myself close to them w/out invading their personal space. 

The student example in the resource section illustrates one student's thinking about what s/he knows about "Sesame Street." Seeing the details suggests a very cursory understanding of the show, but know that s/he's thinking about the show as "teaching lessons" tells me her prior knowledge will serve her well when she reads the Postman essay. Folded File Folder Student Example

Step 3:

Tell the class you're going to read the essay "What Sesame Street Teaches" to them and then you'll ask them what they learned, what new ideas they encountered. The essay is from Neil Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death and has been anthologized in college composition books. I first encountered it in The Purposeful Writer. "The Purposeful Writer" Screenshot

Next, read the essay slowly. Carefully pronounce words like intuitively (par 1) and assuaged (par2).

I paused to tell the students they may mark on their copy of the essay and to consider underlining words they don't know or that are new to them. In a later lesson, I'll show students how to incorporate these new words into their quick writes, which are a good place to practice vocabulary because the quick writes are for generating ideas and experimenting. 

After reading the essay, ask students to open their folded file and make two columns: on the left, write: "What I learned from "What Sesame Street Teaches.'" And on the right, put "What I Think about Postman's Ideas." 

The student example (2) shows one student's thinking about what she learned from the essay. Folded File Folder Student Example (2) I'm glad she gets the point that Postman claims "Sesame Street" doesn't teach students to love school unless it's like "Sesame Street." However, I wish the student were more interested in the essay. 




No Neil Postman? No Worries: Folded File Folder Portabilty

5 minutes

At the end of the period, I tell students the Folded File Folder close reading strategy is one I use to help them see what they already know, which, in turn, will help them approach other texts with confidence. 

I encourage them to try folded file folder when they are asked to read an essay or passage from a text book in other classes, just begin with the title and go from there.