girl reading text

Tips for Helping Students Understand Informational Text

March 7, 2023 • Debbie Bagley

There is a lot of information written about how to help students navigate informational text, but the most important takeaway for me is to make sure we focus on best practices that support our learners.

Within our classes, we have students at various levels, so we, of course, need to focus on the basics of good teaching strategies and not just hand them the text and hope for the best. Good teaching strategies support not only our English Language Learners, but all of our students.

So what can this look like?

First, we should focus on what our students already know and what we want them to learn

        • What background knowledge and previous understanding do they have? 
        • What do they need to understand in order to comprehend the new content? 
        • What connections and experiences does the class have collectively?

It is important to set a purpose before reading as this helps students learn to search for key information, such as details and themes, and encourages them to ask questions. 

See, Think, Wonder

See, Think, Wonder Chart

Using a See, Think, Wonder strategy is excellent for this purpose and this graphic organizer is a great tool for helping students know what they’re about to learn, establish prior knowledge, and build excitement for the lesson. 

My younger students always loved it when I would hand out the little magnifying glasses to use for this activity. It always added to their level of engagement and enjoyment. 

Here’s how to use it:

        1. Put the See, Think, Wonder graphic organizer from Studies Weekly up on the projector, draw a simple version of it on your whiteboard, or pass out copies of it to students.
        2. See: Instruct your students to look at the photos and illustrations in their Student Edition and ask them what they see. Younger students can use their magnifying glasses to look through all the pictures in their publication and discover what they notice. This gets their ideas flowing. Instruct them to write their answers in the first column under See.
        3. Think: Next, ask them what they think they’re going to learn about based on what they saw, and instruct them to write their answers in the second column under Think.
        4. Wonder: Finally, ask them their wonderings. What do they still want to know about? What are they curious about in regards to the things they see and are thinking about?  Instruct them to write their answers in the third column under Wonder.

For added participation and focus on communication and collaboration skills, students can discuss their answers with a partner or in small groups before they share them with the whole class.

KWL Chart 

Know, Want to Know, Learn graphic organizer

Another good strategy is using the graphic organizer called a KWL Chart. For younger students, I liked drawing a large chart on the board. Then, I would guide my students through the following steps. Older students can do this strategy on their own copies of the chart, individually, with a partner, or as a class.

        1. Know: The K stands for what they already Know about the topic we will be learning about. Children LOVE talking about things they know about and this helps build their confidence as they share what they know with one another.
        2. Want: Next, move on to the W section on the chart, which stands for what they Want to know about the topic. This helps them get excited and sets anticipation for what we will be discovering as we move through the text. Begin reading the informational text together. Model thinking aloud as they are learning and pointing out things that were written on the chart. It doesn’t take long before the students are doing the same along with you and really paying attention; listening for what they knew or wanted to know. This is also a perfect time to point out new things that were not written on the chart already. These are the new pieces of information that will be recorded.
        3. Learn: Record the new information under the L section, which stands for what we Learned about the topic. Point out all the new pieces of information as you read the information together.

Look over the KWL chart again together and have a discussion about how much information they know. Younger students could draw a picture of their favorite piece of information and older students could write about what is a favorite thing they learned about.

Additional Informational Text Strategies

In addition to the previous graphic organizer strategies, here are some other ways to support your learners during informational text:

        1. Before reading the text, have students search, mark, and highlight directly on their publications what you are focusing on. For example, younger students can find and circle letters they are learning for the week within the entire unit, or just by article, depending on how much time you have.
        2. As a whole group with guidance and support, have students find and underline sight words, Word Wall Words or spelling words you have been learning as a class.
        3. Vocabulary Words: Choose a vocabulary word from the Weekly Unit, write it on the board or on the projector and ask students to highlight when they see the word in their publication. They could then write the vocabulary word in their Interactive Notebook and draw a picture of it, or write out the definition.

These three steps help get them comfortable with the lesson information so they feel more confidence in recognizing and knowing parts of the text and are prepared to learn more.

In addition, you can read the questions at the end of the unit aloud together to help guide their comprehension and set up the purpose for what they will be reading.

In Studies Weekly Online, you have access to tons of multimedia content to keep your students engaged. Most weekly units will even have a video that goes specifically with it. You can find more videos under the Extras tab or use the search bar to find media on a specific topic. I recommend in the younger grades watching the Weekly Unit Video, or in the older grades looking at the additional images and/or videos, and have students keep the questions in mind as they watch.

Now it’s time to dig in and start reading!

For younger students, put the article up onto the smartboard or projector so your students can see it as you read together. For the first read through, I like to point and track where I am reading aloud so students can easily follow along. Students can point, read, and follow along with their publications.

As I read, I choose to model thinking aloud. Doing so helps me model different strategies students can use and what to do when we come to a word we don’t know. I can explain my thinking out loud as we go through it together – for example, I slow down, I focus on one word at a time and sound out if necessary, then read and reread. 

Two girls discussing the text they read

As you read together with the students, stop if needed to discuss aloud and and make connections, search for more meaning, and then record those on the anchor charts. Cite what text lets us know that information from our reading. Get students asking each other questions and discussing together with a partner, at their tables, and together with the whole group. Continually assess for meaning, comprehension, understanding.

I recommend  focusing on one article or page at a time. Because Studies Weekly’s publications are set up in bite-size chunks of information, you can cover as much or as little as you have time for each day. For each article, use different strategies to analyze the text and organize student thinking together. 

After you’ve read as a class, older students may be able to read the article again on their own. Younger and/or struggling students can read again with support as needed. I found it helpful for Kindergarteners to use their fingers to point to the words on their student editions as they read and follow along. In all grades you can have students discuss with a partner in “Turn and Talk” style, or in small table groups, how the article relates to them and their lives.

I highly recommend always attaching some sort of writing to the reading to help improve comprehension, recalling, and thinking. Students can write or draw what they learned on sticky notes to add to a KWL anchor chart on the board, or respond to a writing prompt in their interactive notebooks. Keep the anchor charts on display for students to refer to and use.

Create a Student Artifact

Students can write about a favorite thing they learned or create a project about their learning, such as: a pop-up book, display tray, poster, or puppet to share with class.

File Folder as a Science Project for Elementary Students

Remember, you can use the actual publication as a consumable for these projects. Encourage students to cut out pictures and words from their student edition for use in their creative artifacts of knowledge.

I found this was the best way to check for understanding in an engaging and fun way. The students do not even realize you are doing an assessment.

Our goal at Studies Weekly is to give teachers the best possible curriculum while integrating ELA strategies into our materials. We strive to give students rich text full of content with built in tools to help support reading comprehension.

These are just a few of the suggestions to help you support your readers with complex texts. Please feel free to reach out with any questions. We’d love to continue to support you in any way we can!