How Text Sets Make Students The Experts In the Room

By Char Shryock, Dir. of Curriculum and Instruction Bay Village City Schools and Captain of the Ohio Standards Advocate Network.

How do students build knowledge in your classroom? This is a great reflection question for any teacher at any grade level.  Textbooks, anthologies, and basal readers are often the starting point for introducing students to vocabulary, text structures or content.  This initial student knowledge is often supported by the teacher’s own knowledge, and the teacher is the expert in the room.  Students can become experts when they have had a many opportunities to hear, read and use the vocabulary and structures of the content they are learning.  The best way to give them these opportunities is to create text sets for students to work with.   

Text is a very broad term. Videos, pictures, maps, articles, primary sources, and stories can all be text.  The first step in pulling together a text set is to identify the content you want students to build their expertise around.  Be intentional in your selection. Find a balance of texts that build content vocabulary or academic vocabulary.  Remember, the larger the vocabulary toolbox the students have, the more content knowledge they can access, and the more expert they become.  Next, you want to include texts that help students make connections between the content knowledge they are building and real world applications. Finally, find texts that help students make connections to prior knowledge they have built across content areas.  As students become the experts, you can give them more complex problems and tasks to work on, pushing deeper into their own understanding.  Once they have developed confidence in their growing knowledge, they are also more likely to be able to synthesize new information or analyze different perspectives.

Where to start? There are  two ways to think about beginning to build text sets for your classroom.  First, you can start with a concept or book that students often struggle with.  Instead of feeling like you need to do the heavy lift to build knowledge for the students, put together a text set that can help carry that learning load!  Building text sets can also be shared among a department or a grade level team.  Use a shared Google Drive Folder or Google Doc to gather suggested texts for a text set that supports your common units or anchor literary books.  

Your librarian can be a great partner in building text sets for students.  Intervention specialists, gifted coordinators, and English learner teachers can also be a great resource, helping you to find texts that are accessible to all students.  There are many free web-based resources that you can use to start your text set planning.  Many of them require you to create a free account, but also allow you to then bookmark favorite resources.  Start small! Build a text set around one anchor book or key concept and grow from there.


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