Building Background Knowledge Using Newsela with Elementary Students

Complement novel studies by building students' background knowledge on a topic using Newsela articles
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About This Strategy

Building background knowledge about a topic or theme that students will explore more fully when reading an upcoming novel helps students gain exposure to the topic or theme as well as engages them in the topic or theme. In this strategy, students select Newsela articles to read that are related to the content of a novel in order to complement their knowledge about the topic. Then, they share their new knowledge about the topic or the theme with their peers in small groups via either a Newsela Connector role during a Literature Circle or Book Club or using tech tools to convey their learning to the entire class.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning:

  1. Create a Newsela Text Set around the topic or themes in the novel that students are currently reading if there is no existing Newsela Text Set that fulfills the research needs of the students.

    • Create a Newsela Class Text Set that relates to the topics or themes in the novel that students are about to read by selecting "Text Set", "Your Text Set", and selecting "Create New Text Set" in Newsela.

    • Label the text set in a way that will be easily recognizable to you and your students; for example, "Amal Unbound - Background Knowledge."

    • Consider creating multiple Text Sets that will reflect different aspects of the novel, such as one Text Set on the themes that students will explore in the novel or one text set on key topics in the novel.

  2. Expectations & Timeline

    • Determine how many articles students will be required to read within each Text Set in order to successfully complete the assignment.

      • For example, a teacher might ask students to read 2-3 articles from the assigned Newsela Text Set about Pakistan to find out about the setting of the novel "Amal Unbound."

    • Delineate the amount of time given to students to complete the task.

    • Communicate with students the accepted models of cooperative learning during the activity (pairs/triads/small groups). See the example of the Cooperative Learning Chart in the Resources below.

    • Provide students with a tracking document where they would document the articles read and the information learned (digitally or manually) that is pertinent to the content of the novel based on the initial information, such as: a book preview, a title, a book cover, or a writer's biography. Students will add new topics to their research as they progress in reading the novel. Refer to the example of the Brainstorming Map (completed over time).

Student Preparation:

  1. Explain to students that they will be diving deeper into certain aspects of the novel that they are currently reading in order to explore topics or themes that might not be evident in the novel itself.

    • For example, students could explore the setting of the novel in more detail using Newsela articles and then relay the content learned to the rest of the class.

  2. Explain to students that they will relay this knowledge to their peers in their Literature Circle or Book Club. To learn more about Literature Circles or Book clubs, refer to the Literature Circles/Newsela Connector information in the Resources below.

  3. Show students how to access the Newsela Text Set(s).

  4. Review task and cooperative learning expectations as well as the timeline. See the example of the Cooperative Learning Chart in the Resources below.

  5. Introduce to students the acceptable methods of tracking their learning. See the examples of tracking documents in the resource section below.

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Have students explore the articles within the assigned Text Sets on Newsela to identify articles that peak their interest.

  2. Have students read and annotate Newsela articles of their choice (individually or in groups).

  3. Have students discuss and record any information that they see pertinent to the understanding of the chosen aspect of the novel using the tracking/note taking documents (see example in resource section below).

    • Students will pick the topics to explore as they progress through the novel. The first assignment could include exploring the setting of the novel. More topics to research will arise during the process of reading the novel.

  4. Have students document their findings using the tracking documents and/or using Google Slides, Canvas, or SWAY. Keep in mind that new topics of interests will be generated during the process of reading of the novel as students discover new topics to explore. Be flexible; continue adding students' suggestions and create new Newsela Text Sets as needed.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Have students present their findings either verbally (during Literature Circles, Book Club discussions, etc.) or using Google Slides/SWAY or Canvas to another group and/or the rest of the class.

  2. Have students who were listening to the peers presenting their Newsela connections write an exit ticket to document what they learned in the process.

Recommended Newsela Texts or Text Sets

People with Autism

  • Essential Question: How can we support individuals with autism so they feel accepted by the society?
  • Grade Level: 4th - 5th
  • Content Area: Social Studies, Science
  • Novel connection: Rules by Cynthia Lord

 "I Am Malala" by Malala Yousafzai

  • Essential Question: How can children change the world?
  • Grade Level: 5th, 6th, 7th
  • Content Area: ELA, Social Studies, Civics
  • Novel connection: I Am Malala by Malala

Natural Resources

  • Essential Question: How can humans utilize natural resources to their benefit?
  • Grade Level: 4th - 7th
  • Content Area: Social Studies, Science, ELA
  • Novel connection: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kakwamba

Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Considerations

When selecting novels for students, consider including titles that tackle issues of diversity, tolerance, and acceptance. Make sure that a variety of cultures and perspectives are reflected in the novel selection.

To learn more about selecting texts, consider reading the Required Reading Reconsidered strategy in the BetterLesson Lab, and to learn about current quality novels reflecting diversity, consider visiting ProjectLit at @ProjectLITComm