Who Made That?

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2; R.4; R.7

What to Do: Most of Cayne Letizia’s students at Valhalla Middle School in New York have played with a Super Soaker at some point in their lives. So when Letizia, a reading specialist, distributed copies of a New York Times Magazine “Who Made That?” column about the Super Soaker, there was instant interest. Letizia asked his students to note text features for hints about important information; to find signal words or phrases that are tip-offs to crucial sections; and to look for important details in first and last paragraphs. Students then completed a “nonfiction pyramid.” On the first line, they wrote one word describing a central idea. On the next line, they wrote two words describing a supporting detail. They finished the pyramid with eight words describing what they had learned.

The column was so popular that Letizia used three more—about the origins of emoticons, 3D printers, and traffic radar. The sophisticated sentence structure, colorful graphics, and insets made the weekly columns ideal informational texts, says Letizia.

Read, Evaluate, Present

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8; R.9; W.7; SL.5

What to Do: One text says one thing about a subject, while another text says something very different. What to do?

Christa Teter takes her seventh-graders at Ocean Township Intermediate School in New Jersey through an eight-day project in which they evaluate a controversial topic, write an essay comparing opposing viewpoints, and give a three-minute presentation on their conclusions. The objectives are to offer students practice in analyzing information, evaluating sources, and using digital resources.

On day one, students research a debatable topic of interest, including two point/counterpoint essays. On day two, students find a list of links related to their topic, including photos or maps. After going through the links, students answer seven key questions that Teter supplies, such as whether different sources agree on any point or if there are holes in any of the arguments. Students finish the unit by writing essays that sum up their research and opinions and by designing presentations with tools like Blendspace and Glogster.

Watch Your Tone

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1; R.6; L.5

What to Do: Just because a piece of informational text is factual doesn’t mean it lacks a mood or tone. Eighth-grade Ohio ELA teacher Jessica Bennett uses student news magazines like Junior Scholastic to explore this idea. Students preview an article before Bennett launches into a mini-lesson on mood (the general feel of the piece that is likely to elicit emotions from the reader) and tone (the author’s attitude toward the topic). Then, students read the article and make notations about how the tone and mood are created. For example, for mood, students might focus on positive adjectives that contribute to an upbeat feeling in the piece. Afterward, class members share their findings and talk about how the tone and mood might change if the point of view were shifted.

Maps and Controversy

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7; R.9; W.7

What to Do: As Susan Thomas, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Montclair, New Jersey, emphasizes to her students, historical study is constantly evolving. Researchers have to reevaluate past interpretations based on new knowledge.

In a lesson on the exploration of North America, Thomas treats maps as critical informational texts. Students view old European maps to “analyze how maps are markers of how much knowledge Europeans had about the world and how it evolved as science and mathematical knowledge improved navigation,” Thomas says. They then read texts about the debate over whether the Vikings ever reached North America, ending with research from the 1960s that confirmed they had.


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Photo: Don Mason/Blend/Media Bakery