Reading a Technical Report

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SWBAT distinguish the differences between a technical report and an expository writing piece.

Big Idea

21st Century Learning includes the skill of reading reports for information and directions. This lesson gives students their first experience in reading technical reports.


5 minutes

Authentic sources are available to teachers and students on the Internet and I'm finding that I use the textbook less. Unfortunately the reading levels of internet reading are too high for my students ability or the reading is more technical than I need it to be. I have begun teaching students how to read technical reports. The Explore sections allows students the opportunity to distinguish between types of reading by making posters and comparing the purposes for reading.  In the Explain section, my strategy is to use Sentence Starters to analyze text written by peers. This allows the students to get a feel for how technical reading "feels" different. 

One reason technical reading is hard for students is the use of math. I teach the students that numbers are very powerful communicators. I show students charts and graphs and ask, "Which is easier for you to understand, the text or the graph?" Typically the graph is easier and I show them how to read the graphs on technical reports before reading the text. In the Expand section, students are looking at a report presented to Congress. My strategy is to have the students report what they understand as opposed to answering questions

The beauty of this strategy is that not all children will understand the same thing. Through collaboration and analysis of the text, students talk about the reading and work on understanding parts together. I wander around the room collecting repeated questions and I listen for misconceptions. In my lesson planning, I include lessons to teach important concepts and ways to help alleviate misconceptions.  

In the Evaluate section I use summary writing. The summaries are used to spark real life applications as students discuss who can use the information reported in the technical report. 


10 minutes

With the advent of Next Generation Science Standards, reading Science reports has become an important strategy for understanding information and building scientific literacy. Technical report reading is vastly different from the type of the reading of most students.  I deliberately take the time to introduce the students to technical reading in the beginning of the year and refer back to this lesson throughout the year.  

I started teaching technical reports as a way to educate my students and their parents to my class called STEM (Expand Section). 

My questioning strategies include developing student thinking about the purposes of reading in general. My intention is to help alleviate the threatening feeling of the words "technical reading". I ask, "Why do we read?" Student answers include: for fun, to get information, steps on a project, etc. 

My next strategy is called Poster Learning. I entitle the poster paper Fun, Information, and Steps for a Project. This gives the kids a large visual reference they can easily read from almost anywhere in the classroom. 

Groups of students walk from poster paper to poster paper writing responses.  Examples have included: Fun novel, comic book  Information internet, encyclopedia. Steps for a Project:  On-line manuals.  

Each group spends a minute  at the poster. When they return to their seats, students read the chart papers and share common answers and unusual answers.  The class agrees to specific characteristics of types of reading. 

I then explain to the class that they will be reading a technical report. I ask,  "Does anybody know what a technical report is? Does it sound easy or hard? Why?" With their responses, the class discusses where technical reading would fall on the posters they have created. 

Nancy Volt has a nice description in Technical Reading. She has written a fantastic lesson plan that you may want to use with your class. 


20 minutes

This sets the background for the exploration of different types of reading to determine the purpose of reading technical reports. I use a Spark Prior Learning strategy to capture prior experience in expository reading. Beforehand I ask the Language Arts teacher to give me a couple of expository exemplars from student writing.

I have several student Technical Reports saved over the years and I use them for comparison. All of the writing is completed by 8th graders so the reading is easier. In addition, when a peer shows the ability to create the writing, it seems more doable to the intended student.

My next strategy is Sentence Starters. Students compare the style of a student written expository piece with the style of a technical writing piece. I use the fantastic rubrics developed by the Elk Grove, CA Unified School District. The district has linked the ELA reading and writing standards on one document. Using the Info/Exp Rubric (7th-8th) Document Source: Elk Grove Unified School District, Elk Grove, CA, I organize the learning by using the CCSS rubric sub-headings Focus, Organization, Evidence Development, and Language (audience). I alert the students to these sections as a way to help organize student thinking. Take a look below and identify the CCSS headings topics in the sentence starters.  I use the words in the writing rubric to help students read the technical report.  By linking the reading and the writing rubrics, some students begin to think about writing from a reader's evaluative perspective. 

This lesson "feels" difficult for the students and I support their emotional response to the word "technical" by pairing them. In addition, I want to help students learn from one another's ideas. I give copies of the exemplar Technical Report and a copy of an expository exemplar. Students read the two pieces. The Sentence Starters strategy helps students analyze the reading.

Sentence Starters

  1. I noticed the style of both formal writing pieces include ______________________.
  2. The focus of the expository writing is different than the technical report because  ___________________.
  3. The technical report is organized by ________________________.
  4. The expository writing is organized by ______________________
  5. The expository writing is intended for ___________________.
  6. The technical report is intended for ______________________.
  7. The evidence presented in the expository writing is _____________________.
  8. The evidence presented in the technical report is ______________________.
  9. Both reports develop _______________________________.
  10. Neither report has _______________________   language.


As students read over the two types of reading, I go from group to group, working to help students look over the reading to determine what they can understand.Many students blow off the data tables and charts. The vocabulary can be very difficult in technical reports. My strategy is to allow the students the opportunity to work as a team to support their learning of new words.  I want the students as they learn together so my strategy is to jigsaw paragraphs.

 Technical reports use statistics to analyze information. To support my students in understanding what is read, I keep the same pairs and ask them to identify statistics reported. I allow them to paraphrase the sentence in which the statistic is reported. My students are in tables of four and complete a Think Share with the group. I ask two pairs to share sentences with one another. Then groups share answers. We record the answers for future reference. I review answers when the students are asked to read a technical report later in the year to allow the important spark of prior learning, as students try to understand a new concept. 


15 minutes

I start with a technical report that is of interest to students, STEM REPORT. This is a report to Congress outlining the reasons why STEM education is important. I use this report to build authentic interest.  This report is about their lives as students, a well as their futures as members of the workforce. The information is interesting to most of my students because they see a potential arugument. After reading the report, they want to defend themselves as learners. 

I start the conversation with, "How do you think American students perform when compared to other countries? Why?" My intention is to offer a before and after strategy. I want them to compare their ideas to facts in an effort to make an emotional connection to the information. Students write down their answers and hand them to me.   

I put the students in groups of two and give them one copy of the STEM REPORT. Students have a highlighter. My close reading strategy includes annotating statistics and interpreting graphs. I reference the charts used in the Explore section and explain that technical reports have two differentiating reading factors. They use statistics and they use mathematical models in the form of graphs and data tables to help the reader understand important information. 

I use the steps suggested in Technical Reading by Nancy Volt, but in a different order. Students begin by skimming over the report and look for charts and data tables. During skimming, students determine what they feel is the most important chart to analyze.  They choose Figure 1 NAEP Math Scores and Table 5 TIMMS Scores by Grade/Country.  

To model how to read graphs, I direct-teach NAEP Math Scores by projecting the graph and showing students what the colors mean.   

I do not give students the questions I feel are interesting to answer. My strategy is to tie the reading to what they think. I give them the following sentence starters.

  1. I'm surprised by..... 
  2. Someone might think that an interesting fact is .......
  3. I noticed......

Students look for statistics in declarative sentences. For example, the Summary includes, "In a recent international assessment of 15-year-old students, the U.S. ranked 28th in math literacy and 24th in science literacy."

I like Nancy Volt's Mind Map idea, but I don't want students to read all 38 pages. I want to teach them to skim for personally interesting information. Under the heading, US Students Compared to Other Students, my students highlight a year or a grade. Some students get interested in the heading Math and Science Teacher Quality.  By the time we get to college statistics they are less interested. 

Finally students use the new information and re-answer the question "How do you think American students perform when compared to other countries? Why?" This time I ask them to use something they read in the report to defend their answer. 

My strategy is to have them compare what they thought they knew to what they learned. In addition, I want them to use what they learned to defend a respose. My intention is for them to "feel" how using statistics legitimizes answers.

I hand back their initial answers. I ask the question, "Which response is stronger and why?" Typically students explain how their use of statistics and charts made their response stronger. The lesson was student-centered and they learned through their own hard work. With an interesting report, an organized strategy for reading, and the flexibility to look for themselves, students guide the learning. The beauty is, I didn't direct teach a thing. They learned it for themselves.  


10 minutes

To evaluate student learning, I use a summary Writing strategy.  Students use the new information and re-answer the question "How do you think American students perform when compared to other countries? Why?" They write a 5-7 sentence summary answering the question.  I explain that they must use examples from the narrative to support their claim. 

Students compare what they thought they knew to what they learned.  My intention is for them to "feel" how using statistics and numbers legitimize summary claims. I hand back their initial answers. I ask the question, "Which response is stronger and why?" Typically students explain how their use of statistics and charts made their response stronger. 

With an interesting report, an organized strategy for reading, and the flexibility to learn for themselves, students guide the learning. The beauty is, I didn't direct teach a thing. They learned in groups or by themselves.  

I like to have groups of students share their summaries with the rest of the class. Frequently the students find the same information important and I say, "I noticed you all wrote... Why is this important to you?" This furthers the depth of the interpretation of the material. To end the discussion I ask students to discuss, "Who do you think would use this information and why?" This question promotes a discussion centered around how technical reports are used with real life applications.