Explicitly teach the academic vocabulary word “EXAMPLE” as a way to discuss what an author is doing to explain or describe a concept. Take a moment to read the following. What do you notice the author doing as far as using examples?
Look closely and you will see. Magnets can be found on a can opener. The magnet attracts, or pulls, a lid off of a soup can. A push or a pull is called a force.
There is also a magnet in a refrigerator. It pulls the metal in the door to make a tight seal.Do you know how?
Now this is not a great text, but what is the author at least doing to try to help the student understand the force of a magnet? The author has provided two examples of household objects that have magnets and described what the magnet does (attracts, pulls). The examples serve to create a concrete picture of magnets in our every day life as well as what magnets do.
In the rest of this text, Magnets Work! (from McGraw-Hill Wonders, 2nd grade curriculum) the author uses an abundance of examples. As noted earlier, the author gives two “examples” of household objects that have magnets that “pull”– a can opener (the electric kind) and a refrigerator door. On the next page of this text, the author lists examples of objects magnets will attract and will not attract. On the following page, she gives an example of a toy that has magnets in it (a train) and in the last section of the article, an example of a new type of transportation (another train) that employs the use of magnets. Not once does the author state, “This is an example,” though. Instead the reader has to recognize this.
Why teach this explicitly?
When we are asking students to identify main ideas versus supporting details and the difference between the two, teaching phrases like “the author is giving an example” liberates students from simply repeating what they read and helps them see the difference between a main idea and one type of supporting detail (i.e., an example). Instead, the reader can say, “The author is teaching me that magnets are a force that push or pull and the author used two examples of magnets in my house to show me that…”
Understanding the role of examples in describing and explaining while writing informational texts and persuasive/argument texts is helpful to students. An “example” is a “go to” way of elaborating on or explaining a topic or idea.
How do we do this?
Try your best to define “example” for students. Here’s the definition from http://www.merriam-webster.com – something or someone chosen from a group in order to show what the whole group is like. I think this could be modified into a kid-friendly definition.
Practice listing examples of examples. In November, I was teaching a small group of second grade students with this text about magnets. When I asked them to identify examples of places or household appliances in which they can find magnets, they hesitated. When I asked them what I meant by the word “example,” they shrugged. I was caught off guard, but knew right away we had to stop briefly to discuss this before we could go on —because the rest of the text is filled with examples! I was at a loss for how to “define” this word on the spot, but pulled out a dry erase board and for less than two minutes, we listed examples of things –like examples of pets and examples of clothing. They caught on–but still struggled with examples of household objects identified by the author back in the text. They’d need more exposure to this concept.
Make an anchor chart with the word “example,” it’s definition and examples of examples :). Author’s examples pop up everywhere. Students will begin to notice and become “example alert.”
Lately (well the last few years) I’ve been thinking about how we can name the types of details that authors use in non-narrative text as a way to help students understand what they are reading and this came up when I was teaching one day. Just wanted to share.