Interactive Notebooks: Informational Texts

Today in Interactive Notebooks for High School English, we're looking at informational texts.

One of the biggest struggles in Literacy classrooms can sometimes be incorporating informational texts into literary units. Another struggle, getting students to read on level. Another struggle, getting students to respond to what they read. The list goes on. I know that each specific content area has its struggles.

Something that I do to combat these issues is to have my student read about and respond to an article about a current event. How do I do this without driving myself bonkers trying to find appropriate current events articles? Kelly Gallagher is the answer.

If you've never heard of Mr. Gallagher, he wrote a lot of the awesome professional texts: Readicide, Reading Reasons, and Write Like This, among others. He also provides a formatted article of the week to use in the classroom each week. He compiles these articles from sources like CNN, Los Angeles Times, Today, Huffington Post, and The Week. They're formatted the same every week, they're posted once weekly, they're about interesting and sometimes controversial topics, and they're FREE. Yes, read that again. They're free! Jackpot!

These articles are usually one page front and back. Some of the topics that my students really enjoyed last semester were "Half of Teens Think They're Addicted to Their Smartphone," "Apple versus the United States Government," and "Editing the Human Race." Let me tell you what, teenagers have opinions, and they love to argue about controversial topics. Perfect.

So here's what I have my students do. Once a week, Tuesday for us, we silently read an article about a current event from Kelly Gallagher's Article of the Week webpage. Then, each student writes a one half page response about the content of the article. Kelly Gallagher says each student should write a one page response, but you can always make changes to this so that it fits the needs of your students.

I've provided my students with a mini anchor chart to keep in this section, so that everything is formatted correctly. It acts as a rubric of sorts.

Obviously, your requirements may be a little different, but I have five.

1. The response must include the title of the article. (How in the world do I know what you're talking about if I don't know which article you're referencing?)

2. Each response needs to include the date. (This keeps things in order for students and for me when I grade.)

3. Students must include THEIR OPINION about the content of the article. (I do not need a summary of the article...I can read. Just sayin'.)

4. It must include textual evidence from the article that they based their opinion on, and it has to be highlighted. (This serves a couple of purposes. It covers a standard for me: "Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain." Wowzers! That's a lot, but this assignment covers all of that. The second thing it does is allow me to make sure that my students understand what textual evidence is, what quotations are, and what paraphrasing vs summarizing is.)

5. They must write at least 1/2 page for their response. This forces them to explain their thinking instead of just jotting down some random ideas.

Here is my example, from my mentor notebook, where I wrote alongside my students for the first two weeks, so that I could model for them.

You'll also notice the address label sticker on the top and left margin of the page. That's their rubric. If you've been following along in this series, you might remember that I mentioned using stickers for recurring rubrics. Here's where that comes into play. Since we complete an article of the week every week, I just have my students apply a sticker to help them to fully complete the task and help me to give them feedback when I'm grading. 

The sticker below is based on my requirements, and therefore the one you use might look different. This will hopefully give you an idea of where to start though. You'll notice that it doesn't have a check space for the title or date. Because my space is limited on the address label, I try to stick with the most important aspects of their response: their opinion, textual evidence, locating textual evidence, and length of response. They get 5 points for each of these. 

If you're interested in including an informational text in your curriculum each week, Kelly Gallagher's article of the week is a great place to start. 

Another awesome resource for informational texts is Newsela. This provides articles about a variety of topics that you can connect to your content in class. The other really cool thing? It lets you a choose a lexile level for the articles. Can you say differentiation? Yes!

I hope this information was helpful. Know of other awesome resources for informational texts? Please share them in the comments below, so that all of our students can benefit!

Next up: Reading Responses
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