Choosing Informational Classroom Text

The good news about informational text is that there is LOTS to choose from. The problem is deciding which informational articles will work best with your class.     
Catching the kids’ interest is always half the battle, so choose an article that relates to something they already have an interest in or one that ties in to their interests in some way. I also suggest looking for articles that will lend themselves well to activities that you want to use as follow-ups. Consider: 

  • Is this a topic that students could do a little research on? 
  • Is the topic something that they could write about?
  • Would it be a fun topic for students to create game questions about?   
3 pics   

Here are some of my favorite kinds of informational text articles to use in class:   
Sports: Kids love action, and so many kids love sports stories. Sports stories still seem to appeal especially to boy readers, which is a good thing since, in the middle grades, boys make up a large proportion of reluctant readers. 
For a wider appeal, try a story about an unusual sport. Or try a sports report in a school paper about a recent game. This would be great for teaching compare and contrast. Students could use statistics from the article to compare the two teams.
Weather: Extreme weather events can generate exciting true stories. There are many articles written especially for students about blizzards, tsunamis, and other types of severe weather. Also check weather or science websites for articles or for short videos to accompany your article.
For a follow-up activity students could look into local weather reports. They could also write their own article about things they like to do on a snow day, a summer day when the temperature is extremely high, or a windy day in the spring.
Space. An article about space travel or the planets is great to pair with a fiction article. Students can look for the differences in the organization of the factual article and a narrative sci-fi story. Space articles are especially good if they relate to something the students are learning in science class, and their science teachers will appreciate the reinforcement.
Historical Artifact. Try museum websites for an interesting article about an object from the past. Sometimes one small object can catch students’ interest in a topic that was too abstract to hold their attention in history class. An interesting follow-up might be to have students write about a modern-day object that they think will be in a museum someday.
Unusual Tie-In. For kids who can only seem to get interested in one thing, for example football, try an article than ties in with their favorite subject in some unusual way. For example, an article that is mainly about the economic plight of a small town might catch their interest if it told about the effect on the town when a factory that produced football jerseys shut down.
How-To. How-to articles are a popular favorite, and they also teach the very useful skill of following written directions. Try searching the internet for food or craft websites that offer free directions for making a craft or a snack recipe. Or pull the directions from a popular old board game and use them as reading material.
For a hands-on evaluation of their reading have students actually make the craft or snack or play the game. With board game directions, students may find that, even though they have been playing the game for years, there are rules that they never knew about.
A Fun Angle. Look for articles that present a fun angle on a school subject. Even a student who just doesn’t like math might enjoy reading about an art project that they could do using tessellations. A kid who thinks history is just dry facts might have fun reading about the craziness at a Renaissance fair. And a report about a local soap box derby might be news that kids would be excited to hear, even though it includes a little math and science.   
Informational texts provide quick practice that reinforces any reading skill. In addition to compare and contrast and following directions, informational text articles are great for identifying other text structures such as cause and effect and context clues. History or science related articles may include cause and effect relationships that students can find, and almost any informational article is a good choice for studying context clues.   
If you are interested, here is a free informational text activity, Let It Snow, Let It Snow! It includes one page of informational text that is set up like a magazine page, one page of multiple choice questions, and a graphic organizer. 
Let It Snow - Info Text   
Classroon Middle ThumbnailSharon Fabian, from the Classroom in the Middle blog, is a retired middle school teacher with experience teaching English, reading, and a variety of other subjects. She loves having more time now to create teaching resources – especially materials for teaching reading, vocabulary, and writing. Here is the link to her store, also called Classroom in the Middle.

5 Fun Word Games for Vocabulary Practice

Say hi to our wonderful guest blogger, Alicia Christian, aka The Elementary Professor!
Vocabulary practice is something teachers are always trying to increase.  Now with more reading in the content areas, it has become critically important for students to have a well developed vocabulary to both understand a subject and to increase fluency while reading about it.
But what can we do to give students repeated experiences with words so they can truly internalize them?  Students need to read and reread words, use them in various circumstances, and have multiple encounters with words in order to truly make those words part of the students’ internal lexicon.   Don't break out the dictionaries and start writing definitions yet! 
To get you started on this quest we have a few simple games and activities. Most of these can be played in a few minutes, making great sponge activities, and they also require little or no prep!

1. Timed Group Sort – This quick group game is a great way for students to grow familiarity with the basics of a set of words for any subject.
Each group gets a set of words (index cards are fine).  Tell the class before the round how they will be sorting the words (part of speech, amount of syllables, etc…) When you say go, the first group to get them sorted correctly wins.  Instruct everyone ahead of time to finish, even if other groups are done, because the first group won’t win if they’re not done correctly.
This example is sorted by person/place/thing, but you can vary however you like. Sort the same set multiple ways.  You can even have students come up with ways to sort them.

2- Word Cloud- This one helps students both remember meanings of words and make connections with words, strengthening schema and familiarity.

Give the whole class 1 vocabulary word from your content topic- They have 30 seconds to make a group list of related words.  The group with the most words (they can defend relation to) at the end of 30 seconds wins.  Repeat with another vocabulary word.  Regular blank copy paper works fine for these.
This can be done with one word from your list as a quick time filler, or with the whole list during designated vocabulary practice time.

3-  Dice Practice – This is a great activity to use when introducing new words.   

This can be done orally or have students do it on paper.  You can have them do it alone, in partners or groups, or you can do it aloud as a class.  Doing this orally as a class for review is a great sponge.  Just pick one person to roll the dice.  Call a student or group to answer it for a word.  Then repeat until you are out of time.  
Give each group a number cube and put a list on the board of what each number represents.  Some options are 1= tell what it means, 2= use it in a sentence, 3= give a synonym, 4= give an antonym, 5= draw it, 6= act it out.  You could make one of the numbers free choice.  Also put the list of vocab words up or give each group a stack of index cards with a word on each card.
The first person in the group rolls a dice, takes the top word card or the top word on the list, and acts accordingly.  When the group is satisfied the challenge has been met, it moves to the next person.  They roll the dice and take the next card or the next word on the list, etc…

4-  Memory style games- A great way to practice words that have been recently learned.  This type of game also makes great centers, or an option of something students can do when they finish work early.

Earth Science Vocabuly Matching Game from The Elementary Professor
 It’s easy to create a game using index cards and vocabulary words.  Put the words each on a card, and their definitions each on a separate card.  Students can play in pairs or small groups by turning over two cards to try to match the word to the definition.  If they get a match they keep the pair and get a second turn.  If they don’t get a match they turn the card back over and it’s the next person’s turn.  You can make these to suit your needs, or purchase games like this Earth Science game:
Or this chemistry vocab game:

Chemistry Vocabulary Game from The Elementary Professor

5-  Say it with your body – This one is great to break up monotony and allow movement.  It works especially well shortly after introducing new words or as part of introducing them.

Assign each group a different word from the list.  The group should make a short definition (using appropriate resources) in their own words and create a movement for it.  Then each group teaches the rest of the class their definition and and movement.  The whole class should practice saying it and doing the movement together.  Management note: the short definition should be approved by you before teaching the class.  It should also be in a complete sentence so the class practices saying the word and definition together.
Example: Furious means really angry.

The Elementary Professor (A.K.A. Alicia Christian) has an M.S. in Teaching and Curriculum and has been Teacher of the Year and County Elementary Math Teacher of the Year. She is currently writing out ideas and lessons she used in the classroom while taking a break from the school site to raise 3 young kids.  While taking care of business at home, she is staying current in the education world by attending conferences and serving on feedback and development committees for Common Core in both her district and nationally.  You can read more about her ideas on her blog ( or check out her Teachers Pay Teachers store here.

5 Tips for Practicing Inferencing

Thank you to Claudio Enriquez from Two Boys and a Dad-Teacher for his guest post today! 
When it comes to inferencing, many of our students fail or come up short with their answers. The Common Core Standards for both informational and literature standards are very clear as stated in Anchor Standard 1: read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from text. That’s a mouthful! But what does this look like for our students and what does it mean instructionally for the teacher?
Back in the day, inference was a separate standard in the old California ELA Standards. You could count on an inference multiple choice question on the State Test. Now, it is embedded in every literature and informational standard that we teach. Students are to have a basic level of comprehension of the text (determine what the text says explicitly), but then, go beyond the text and infer. Infer about character motivations, infer about settings, infer about central message, infer about point of view, infer about EVERYTHING. 
Students are now expected to infer continuously and on their own. Most teachers explain inference to their students as using the information the author has given you and combining that with our own schema to produce a reasonable answer. But how can we as teachers give students ample opportunities to practice inferring on a daily or extended basis so that it becomes habit?

Here are some tips to teach inference:

Daily Picture: Use a picture and ask a question in which the answer has to be inferred. This is a good activity to do at the beginning of school as children walk in and get settled. They can write their answers in a journal or even share orally with another student partner. I’ve included some links to sites that offer free pictures to teachers for educational uses. Here’s one picture that I used:

Inference question:
Why did the horses decide to spend the morning at the beach?

Remind your students that their answer must cite “textual”, or in this case “photographic”, evidence. For example: Based on the photo of the horses laying on the beach, the horses decided to spend the day there because the sand is warm and soft and fun to roll around in.

Riddles: These are another fun way to get students to use clues or text evidence to infer. My students enjoy using this web-based riddle site to figure out the daily riddle. The daily riddle also offers a 'give a clue' feature if you are stuck. Once the answer has been figured out, discuss how the clues lead to that answer. Dissecting a riddle can show students explicitly how to use the author’s text and your own schema to make a reasonable guess.
Understanding fact versus inference: Sometimes students confuse explicit facts from the text and illustrations with inference. Here’s a quick way to help students distinguish facts from an inference. Use a well known story, such as, a fairy tale. For this purpose let’s use Little Red Riding Hood
On sentence strips write down 5-10 facts that come straight out of the fairy tale. Then write 5-10 inferences that can be made from the fairy tale. Here’s an example.

Facts from the story
Inferences from the story
Little Red Riding Hood is a girl.
Little Red Riding Hood is about 8 years old.
Little Red Riding Hood talked to the wolf.
Little Red Riding Hood was not aware of the wolf’s plan to eat her.
The setting of the story is the forest or woods.
The forest may have been full of other frightening or dangerous animals.
Little Red’s grandmother was sick in bed.
Little Red’s grandmother may be sick with a cold or flu.
Little Red’s hood was red in color.
Little Red’s hood was red because it could have been her favorite color.

Arrange the sentence strips in a mixed up order and work with students to sort them by fact and inference. Emphasize with students that the facts can be easily found using the text or the illustrations, while the inferences are not mentioned in the text or the illustrations directly but can be inferred from available clues in the text or the illustrations.
Inferring Character Traits: This can be a quick 5 minute activity or made into a full complete lesson. I have made some cards with character traits and character portraits (you might actually have to teach the words first because in my experience many children—especially ELLs—do not know the meaning of words such as, generous, superstitious, optimistic, rebellious, etc.).
Character Trait Cards and Character Portrait

You can make your own cards on simple index cards.
First I introduce a character that is well known to them, such as Greg Hefley, aka The Wimpy Kid. Then we talk about what he is like as a person: his thoughts, feelings, actions, what others think of him, etc. Then I bring out the character trait cards and we discuss which thoughts, feelings, actions, etc. might be one of these character traits. 

Even though the author did not explicitly describe The Wimpy Kid as being optimistic, we agreed that he was because he believed that in the new school year things were going to go great and he would be more popular. Students also felt that when they started the new school year, they also felt optimistic that it would be a great year. An example of the trait cards and character portrait shows that the Wimpy kid is wimpy, optimistic and worried. This activity can be a daily activity that can take 5-10 minutes or can be an extended lesson as part of character analysis.
Inferring from the Text: Now comes the true test of inference. Are students ready to infer directly from a text? In my class, we are currently on our Folktales Unit. I have been using Gerald McDermott’s folktales Raven, Arrow to the Sun, and Coyote. I’ve also been using Tomie DePaola’s folktales, The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush and The Legend of the Bluebonnet. For the latter, I developed this chart which takes text directly out of the story, The Legend of the Bluebonnet, and then asks for an inference.

Inferring from the Text
Based on what I read . . .
Before actually working on this chart, I must add that the students were very familiar with the story beforehand. I had read it out loud as they wrote down questions they had. I had given each student a copy of the entire text for a close reading. We answered explicit questions about the text, as well as, retelling the text and discussing the central message. All this was part of the unit using my Legend of the Bluebonnet Third Grade Companion Pack. I have shared a free sample of this pack HERE. 

So now it was time to reflect back on the text and draw inferences. The chart was done interactively using Interactive Writing. Together as a class, we negotiated the definition of inference. Then I read aloud a text excerpt I had on the chart. Together we shared inferences that could be made from that text. We used the sentence starter “based on what I read” for each inference made. For each inference, we discussed whether that inference could be made from the text evidence or was it just a wild guess. From there, I had developed text dependent inference questions that the students would then answer on their own to show if they could or would I have to reteach and/or continue to reinforce.
from Legend of the Bluebonnet Third Grade Companion Pack

Most of the students were successful in making an inference. But I know that it will take continued practice for the students to continue making inferences ON THEIR OWN continuously when reading without my prompting.

I am currently in my 30th year of teaching, most of that in third grade. I’m also a single dad raising two boys who are in elementary school. Come read more about my classroom at my blog Two Boys and a Dad-Teacher. You can also follow me on Pinterest, Instagram or my TpT Store.

The Wonders and Urgency of Strong Teacher-Family Collaboration

Say hello to our guest poster Oscar Cielos Staton of
Do you ever stop and reflect after a few years of teaching what or who’s influenced you the most? Has it been the hours of staff development behind you? Your mentors, colleagues or your cute students? Has it been the methodology your school has drilled into your head? Maybe the many hours of planning and collaboration? Have the long after school meetings influenced you to become the teacher you are today? 
One of my biggest career influences has been a non-reading second grader by the name of Reyna and her wonderful family that came to the rescue because I asked nicely.
Reyna was a beautiful smiling child who was social enough at the appropriate times and always polite to her classmates. Although her clothes were sometimes tattered, they were always clean and ironed. She came to school with a perfect pink bow in her immaculately brushed long hair. If you peeked in my room, she wouldn’t stand out as anything other than a cute kid.
Reyna was the youngest of five girls from a limited income Hispanic home in East Dallas. Every kid was a second language learner, as I once had been. I had met mom and dad on brief occasions at the beginning of school, and their limited income was abundantly supplemented with the love and devotion they had towards their children.
On one of those brief meetings with Mom, I had a stern look of concern on my face as I flat out declared her kid didn’t know how to read. I gave mom no context nor did I ease her into this news. I didn’t lead off with any of her child’s wonderful qualities and simply hit her over the head with the reality that, it turns out, Mom lives with everyday as she is also a non-reader. 
Armed with these off-putting news, I requested that Mom take her child often to the library and that she get her interested in books because, if not, we would lose her in second grade. Mom nodded in agreement as the new teacher made his demands and then dismissed her.
Back in the classroom, I continued with my 2nd grade lessons while trying to accommodate Reyna, a child who wasn’t engaging in my lessons because she couldn’t make sense of the words in the text. She could identify the letters on the page and understand most of their sounds and she benefitted greatly from our read alouds, but I knew she was still falling greatly behind. I never found enough time in my day for the one-on-one blending lessons she needed. I sought out the help and advice of colleagues, books, and the school intervention team, but nothing or very little seemed to be getting through.
Reyna was very stuck, with me right along with her! A few months into my second year of teaching I felt completely over my head with this challenge. I couldn’t accept defeat. I asked myself, “How do master teachers handle this?”  My motto when teaching is always “I chose them, they didn’t choose me.” I thought about Reyna even after I had gone home. I played in my mind the checklist of all the possible things I had learned you do with a ‘stuck’ learner and I truly felt I had tried everything.
The next morning I observed my group of kiddos coming in to class, all having their own idiosyncrasies and tics. Nicolas just simply didn’t have time for learning because all he wanted to do was play. Alfredo would choose to stare at the wall during my lessons with what I suspected was some form of autism. Jessica was way too preoccupied with making friends and fitting in to achieve more than the minimum I required. Mario was lacking sleep. There was hardly anyone in the room that didn’t need intervention, and I more or less knew how to help them. But the one with most urgency to me was Reyna.
I called her mom that morning and asked she meet with me as soon as possible and if she could bring the family. I conveyed the same urgency you would if you were the nurse calling home to notify of a child’s broken arm. To my delight, Mom showed up that afternoon after school with not only her husband but also two teenage daughters. 
I began this time by letting them know what a great kid Reyna was with her engagement and love for the class. I explained that second grade was a crucial grade for reading comprehension and that I considered it a springboard for the rest of her education. Halfway through second grade, a child should be exploring different books and genres. They should be getting a taste of what types of stories they want to read and write and having fun while doing it. They shouldn’t be struggling with what sounds come from /j/ and /g./

The types of academic struggles and frustrations Reyna was facing were precursors for future school dropout, or at the minimum a complete hatred for school. I explained to them all that I needed them on board completely and that together going forward we would be “Team Reyna.” I didn’t see any major enthusiasm coming from any of them other than nodding and smiling, but at least I tried.
Imagine my delight a few days later when a radiant Reyna comes in happier than I’ve ever seen her. She tells me her sisters went to the mall with her and bought her books! Dad’s been taking her to the library! Mom could pick her up from school now because she was able to change her hours at work! It was beyond anything I could’ve hoped for. I felt like I had won the lottery and had to tell everyone. This was before the days of social media. Otherwise, I would’ve given myself a big ol’ Facebook praise celebration!
Reyna has turned out to be one of my biggest success stories since I began teaching in 1998. The rest of the year with her was absolutely magical. The tutoring time I could spare was more productive than ever. She began associating the sounds and blending them into words. Those words slowly but surely became sentences. The turnaround was miraculous to say the least. One day before the end of the school year, Reyna raised her hand indicating she wanted a turn to read to the class. As I heard her chant the lines of the lazy farm animals in The Little Red Hen, my heart swelled up with joy and my eyes with tiny tears.
The thing about second graders is that if they trust and love you enough, they’ll pretty much believe anything you tell them. To them, that was the day I hit my elbow against the desk and nothing more. To me, it was the day I learned the true power of the parent-teacher-child relationship.

Oscar Cielos Staton, MA Bilingual Teaching,  has been a bilingual educator in since 1998.  Born in Honduras, he arrived and was immersed in an English only classroom in 1986 with no experience whatsoever in the culture or language.  The years ahead would prove to be an ideal training ground to later become a teacher in low socioeconomic Hispanic neighborhoods filled with immigrant families.  Since then, Mr. Cielos has continued his professional development to further benefit Hispanic families through their second, third and fourth grade children.  More recently, he has expanded his contribution through blogging and the launch of and his YouTube Channel.

Maximizing Time with Mentor Texts

I LOVE a good piece of literature, don't you?? And I REALLY wish that I could just read all day long, but I can't. There just isn't enough time! (Can I get an AMEN?) So instead, I maximize my time with my favorite texts by using them several times for several subjects!
I'll start with reading since that's usually where we think of using a good book. We do not use a basal reader at my school. I know there are many of you out there that love your basal, but for me, it doesn't fit in with how I like to teach. There are definitely some good stories in the basal, and I see some benefits in all of the students having the same text in front of them... but I want my students diving into texts that are on their level to become better readers. This is why I use guided reading - to teach my students skills on their level. I have small sets of different leveled books in my classroom, and my school also has a fabulous book room of sets for small groups!
Of course, that does NOT mean I don't ever teach whole group. This is where mentor texts come in. I use a Reading Workshop Model in my classroom. I start with a mini-lesson that teaches them how to demonstrate one of our common core standards; during my mini-lesson, I get to use those fabulous books that I love. All of the students come to the floor so they can get up close with the text.
I usually read the book all the way through on Monday. Since this is the first time they are hearing the book, I generally read it just for the purpose of entertainment. Then, when it's time for my reading mini-lesson, I refer back to the book- sometimes just reading a few pages of it to focus on a skill. This helps to keep my mini-lesson "mini." I often use a graphic organizer to help guide their thinking.
It also allows for an "I Do, We Do, You Do" lesson. I can start the graphic organizer with them, then they can help suggest something to add to it, and finally they can finish it on their own. Of course, then they'll also be able to do that skill with their own book to show their thinking!
Now, reading is over...but I'm not done using that text! That author got published for a reason, you know... usually because they show awesome craft and skill in their writing! Don't you want students to notice that as they read? I know I do! I use my mentor texts for grammar and writing through the use of mentor sentences.
Haven't heard of mentor sentences? You can read more about them here
I want my students to recognize what good writers do and then incorporate those skills into their own writing. For 10-15 minutes each day at the start of writing time, we look at a mentor sentence that was taken from the mentor text we are reading that week. We notice all the wonderful things about it, we figure out patterns in parts of speech, we revise the sentence, and we imitate the author in our writing - all over the course of the week. 
I also like to use the theme of the mentor text for an on-demand writing prompt. For example, with the book Come On, Rain! students can write about a time they've waited for rain, or even pretend to be a meteorologist and give a weather report!
Writing is over but I'm usually STILL not done with the text! I love finding books that I can also incorporate in with science and social studies! Come On, Rain! goes great with a weather unit. There are so many other great science fiction and historical texts out there. Now I can use that SAME mentor text to pull out information that the students need to know during science and social studies time, too! You can find a great example of this in a freebie I have listed on TPT:
This freebie uses the mentor text, The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg. There are so many fabulous skills that can be taught with this book in reading and writing, and it also lends itself well to world exploration in social studies!
I hope this gives you some food for thought about using mentor texts in the classroom! Please visit my blog and my TPT store for more ideas, including mentor text units and mentor sentence lessons!

Jessica Ivey (affectionately known as jivey) is in her ninth year of teaching. She is currently a fourth grade teacher but she's taught 1st-4th grades in her career. She also loves mentoring and coaching other teachers so she received her Specialist degree in Teacher Leadership. Blogging, creating, and sharing resources is a true passion of hers, as this has been a way for her to reach teachers all over the world, not just in her school.

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