Storybooks aren’t enough...
...and how to use informational texts in class.
Hello and welcome to the 33rd edition of our fortnightly newsletter, Things in Education.
After a brief pause on our series of editions on foundational learning, we are back with a special edition on foundational learning. We are sharing not just our thoughts and experiences, but we have also incldued parts of our own preschool offering.
During a recent teacher professional development session, we were orienting preschool teachers to the learning outcomes that form the basis of the unboxED Early Learning Curriculum. We were discussing these learning outcomes...
Reads an informational text.
Identifies key details in an informational text.
Relates an informational text to real life.
...when some teachers expressed their concerns.
“Our students don’t even read stories.”
“How can such small children read encyclopaedias?”
“Informational texts are too boring. Students won’t like them.”
While these concerns are valid, it is our responsibility as educators to 1) fill our classrooms with a variety of age-appropriate books; 2) ensure that students are learning to read; and 3) use the right teaching strategies that enable our students to not only understand informational texts, but also enjoy them.
Before we dive into how we can do all these things, let’s explore the why.
Why are informational texts important in the early years?
Informational texts help children understand the world around them. Not just children – informational texts help all of us understand the world around us. Right from Googling the symptoms we are experiencing to understand what illness we may have to looking up the name of a fragrant flower that grows outside our house – we are completely dependent on informational texts (today, mainly in the form of online articles) to understand the world around us. Children need this information too, but in simpler ways.
For example, these flashcards from the unboxED Early Learning Curriculum are a simple way to introduce children to the steps of plant growth.
Informational texts build background knowledge needed for reading comprehension. Many research studies have shown the importance of background knowledge in helping readers understand stories better. Imagine, for example, kids in India trying to understand the poem, Bed in Summer by Robert Louis Stevenson. The poem is about a kid in England who has to go to bed when it's still light out even though it is quite late (maybe past 8pm), thanks to the latitude at which England is. Without the background knowledge that the sun sets very, very late in the day in these places during summer, children will not be able to understand this sweet, simple poem. Informational texts which simply tell children about this fact, even without explaining why this happens, will help them understand the poem much more easily.
Informational texts form a key part of children’s education, especially in the form of textbooks. As children grow, textbooks become much more packed with information. Apart from that, children will be continuously exposed to informational texts, like news articles, blog posts, Wikipedia entries and social media posts as they grow up. This makes it necessary for children to learn the right strategies for comprehending informational texts right from an early age.
So, how do we enable students to understand and enjoy reading informational texts?
Surround children with informational texts that are easy to reach and read. Fill your classroom with informational flashcards (like the ones given above), age-appropriate encyclopaedias, children’s magazines, newspapers and reference books. Several research studies have shown that the more books that are available to read, the more likely it is that children will read and improve their comprehension.
Gradually introduce informational texts to children. This can be done by choosing storybooks that have some informational elements in them. As you are reading these stories to children, talk about the information in the story, create activities around them and help children relate this information to their real life.
The storybook Adi’s Trip to Space from the unboxED Early Learning Curriculum is introduced in the first half of Upper Kindergarten. The character dreams about going to outer space and exploring its various elements.
After reading, students can explore a globe and understand that the Earth is, in fact, a ball. They can build a model of the Solar System using black chart paper and different-sized balls.
You can then connect the information to their real life by asking them to observe sunlight, to explore the green grass and the blue water around them, and to look up at the night sky to find stars that twinkle and planets that don’t.
Explicitly teach comprehension strategies to help them understand informational texts. Strategies such as activating children’s background knowledge before reading an informational text, enabling children to think of and ask questions about the topic, examining the text structure and differentiating, and constructing visual representations of the text are age-appropriate, simple and extremely effective in ensuring comprehension. Students can also use these strategies while reading informational texts independently.
This activity from the unboxED Early Learning Curriculum gets students to build a concrete pictograph while they examine an illustration of the night sky in an informational book.
Create opportunities for children to use the texts for authentic purposes. These can be long projects in school, like changing the classroom into a planetarium by building models of planets, the sun, comets, asteroids and stars; or mini projects at home, like looking up at the night sky and identifying patterns in stars.
Informational texts form a key part of our everyday lives. As educators, we can use these strategies to begin equipping our children with the skills to read these texts and apply their learnings right from an early age.
If you are looking for such informational texts or even storybooks for the preschool levels, we have a bunch of them. You may get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +91 9898469961. In the meantime we will be back with more of our experiences in 14 days' time.
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