Nonfiction text features lead the way to comprehension. Start the lesson by activating prior knowledge of nonfiction text features, as covered in the previous day’s lesson, by asking students how paying attention to the title, headings, pictures and graphics help you think about what you already know. Since only a few hands go up and some students seem reluctant to share, I ask them to turn and talk with a neighbor about the purpose of nonfiction text features and everyone perks up. When I ask for specific examples, many are now willing to share. One response I received was that “these features help you remember facts from other things you’ve read or seen.” Allowing this type of peer interaction builds confidence. In my classroom, it is not hard for students to find someone to talk to as desks are arranged in groups of four or five.
The time has come for a real world application of our knowledge of the purpose of nonfiction text features. We do this by skimming through the article “Archaeologists:History's Detectives” (found in Read for Real: Nonfiction Strategies for Reading Results, 2005) looking at the title, headings, pictures, and graphics to decide what it is about and what we may already know about this topic. Once again we stop to share thoughts with a partner. I only allow a very short time for this because the comprehension strategy I am about to introduce will do so in greater attention.
We come to the conclusion that it is about the work of archaeologists, that it is lengthy and includes LOTS of details. A quick survey reveals that about half the students have interest in exploring the article and, if given the opportunity, the other half would read something else. This gives me the perfect opportunity to let students know that in the following week we will take part in a mock archaeological dig on the school grounds that will be led by a real archaeologist. As I knew would happen, even this news was not enough to get everyone interested in the topic. But that too was fortunate, in an odd way, for I got to talk about something every student faces (yes, even the adult ones!). How do you stay engaged with a text you are reading because you have to and not because you want to? By this time the students are well aware of my motto, which is prominently displayed on a banner in the front of the room: Reading is thinking! On the first day of school they had to fathom out its meaning and came to the conclusion that if you are not thinking about what you are reading than you are not really reading. So I was quite pleased that a student responded, “I better find a way to keep my mind on this article and not other stuff.”
Luckily, I had just the thing. We use the UNRAVEL strategy for just such times as this. It is an anagram for a process of finding meaning in a text:
U – underline and read the title, subtitles, headings, and subheadings
N – notice pictures, maps, charts, diagrams, and captions
R – remember to number the paragraphs
A – are the key words (bold, italics, underlined) circled?
V – venture through the text. Highlight important work. Take notes and summarize in the margins or on stickies.
E – examine confusing parts of text by rereading ad using fix-up strategies.
L – look back and check when answering questions.
Through explicit instruction, I take students through the process of unraveling the article by projecting it on the whiteboard and marking up the text. Eventually they are able to apply this strategy with independence and we continue to use it throughout the year. For this assignment, I do not provide the students with an electronic version because I need to see that they are annotating the text appropriately. An example appears here. For some thoughts on boosting participation view here.