Do your 2nd-8th grade students struggle with determining what is important when reading informational texts? Are they unsure of what to underline and annotate? I remember one fifth grade student saying, “Well, I underlined the whole text because it was all important!”
- Make sure there’s a VERY CLEAR PURPOSE for reading & determining what is important.
Here are a few sample purposes –
Purposes Related to Specific Content
- How was the scientist Norman Borlaug innovative? Why was this important?
- What have we learned about Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, that we never knew before? Why might this information be “exciting” as the author states?
- Why might we consider Mary Fields extraordinary?
- How should we be prepared for severe weather? Why?
Purposes Related to Skill Building
- What is the author’s purpose in this text? What details in the text make you think so?
- What is the author’s main idea? What details in the text support this main idea? (Okay…as clear as this one is, it’s still hard. You might consider liberating your students by providing the main idea – see my recent blog entry on this.)
- Introduce the PASTA ANALOGY to help students think about what might be important and what might be less important.
To introduce the pasta analogy, this is a quick conversation I had recently with a small group of students:
Have you ever made pasta before? (Pause. Students nod their heads.) So to make pasta you have to boil it in water until it’s soft, correct? (Heads nod.) And then you eat the pasta, correct? (Usually, students continue nodding their heads.) Wait! Don’t you have to drain the water first? You don’t want to eat the pasta with the water, right? (Students shake their heads emphatically.) The pasta is what’s important to eat and digest, not the water. It’s the same way when you are reading to determine what’s important. There are pasta words or phrases that we want to eat and digest and then there are water words that are less important.
You can figure out what words or phrases are pasta by thinking about your purpose for reading. Today we are reading to find out how the scientist Norman Borlaug was innovative. Remember innovative means to introduce or use new methods or a new idea. So we are only reading to locate details—or pasta words & phrases—that help us understand how Borlaug was innovative.
This is an easy introduction to the skill of determining what’s important as well as to the strategy of close reading. As the students read each sentence, they stop to think, “Are there any pasta words in this sentence, words that help me think about my purpose for reading?” As I confer with students, I refer to the purpose for reading and ask them, “What are you learning that might help you understand how Norman Borlaug was innovative? What are pasta words or phrases in this sentence that might help you?”
Below are artifacts from lessons I’ve given recently – when I introduced the pasta strategy and engaged students in underlining/annotating text OR in lifting pasta words from the text and listing them on notes.
The image above is of a 5th grade student’s annotated text – when locating “pasta” or details that helped him/her think about how Norman Borlaug was innovative (purpose).
For this lesson, the students were reading in a text about weather and one of the main ideas in this text was that we need to be prepared for severe weather. We identified pasta or key details related to this main idea. The image above is of the purpose for reading and the shared writing of “pasta” details we did together. The image below is one student’s “pasta” notes taken during guided practice.
Of course, this always leads to orally summarizing or composing and then writing in response. Students use their annotated texts or their lists of words/phrases to orally respond to the purpose for reading – with a partner, to practice saying aloud sentences they will write, and to write.
BTW – An educator stopped me one day and told me he was using the pasta analogy with first grade students reading above grade level!
If you want to read more about this, check out Chapter 7 “Determining Importance in a Text” in my book Close Reading of Informational Texts. I provide sample lessons and a rubric-like-continuum for assessing students’ codes.
Hope this helps.