For most students, informational text (or non-fiction) can be more difficult to comprehend than fictional text. Familiarity with story structure and a clear sequence of events aids understanding of narratives. With its often unfamiliar topics, academic vocabulary, and weighty concepts, non-fiction is often a different story (no pun intended!). However, most academic subjects require students read and assimilate informational text (usually in the form of textbooks and articles) on a regular basis. Furthermore, students must be able to determine essential from non-essential information, take notes, and retain important facts. It’s no secret that in recent years, teachers have been required to increase the volume of informational text that students read. Previewing is an essential strategy for non-fiction reading.
Steps for Previewing Informational Text As a Reading specialist, I usually spent an entire quarter of the school year helping struggling readers learn how to become proficient readers of informational text. The first lessons were always teaching and practicing the strategy of previewing the text. Typically, there are more text features in informational text, so we would begin by identifying the various kinds of text features. Here is a list of the most common ones:
- Header (Any description after the title but before the first paragraph)
- Sidebars (Short blurbs of info off to the side that provide additional information)
- Vocabulary lists
After familiarizing students with these text features and their purpose. I showed them how to use them to their advantage. Text features are there to support the information presented in the body of the text. If kids take the time to actually read and consider the text supports before diving into the text, it definitely sets them up for a successful read.
Consider what would happen if you went out to the garden in late winter and sprinkled seeds on the ground. No doubt they would not take root. However, a few months later, when the soil softens and you are able to till the soil before planting the seeds, new growth will occur. This analogy can help readers understand the importance of “tilling the soil” before you read. When readers use the text supports to activate their background knowledge, begin to ponder questions that they hope the text answers and set a purpose for reading, the ideas in the text have a much greater chance of taking root and growing.
Previewing Protocol I’m a big fan of providing students with explicit steps. Usually I would model the steps, then practice them with students and finally allow readers to practice using them independently. My goal was always for students to integrate the steps into their reading repertoire so that they would become habitual. Year after year, I prompted students to use the following protocol before actually reading an informational text:
- Read the title and author.
- Read the header if there is one.
- Look at any pictures, graphs, charts, maps and read captions.
- Read sidebars.
- Scan headings/sub-headings.
- Read vocabulary definitions if they are provided.
- Read any questions that appear at the end of the text. Usually questions focus on the most important concepts which helps the reader zero in on them during reading.
- Begin to read, turning headings into a question to set a purpose for each section that you read.
Eight steps may seem like a lot, but readers quickly become proficient at this task. The short time that it takes to consider what is being presented, activate background knowledge and set a purpose for reading will pay off dividends in comprehension and retention of text.
At home, take a few minutes to preview text with your child, especially if the text is difficult and he is frustrated. Show him the benefits previewing and guide the process a few times until he becomes competent and committed enough to use it on his own.
Previewing – definitely a positive step on the road to comprehension!