Content Area Reading and Writing Strategies
By Tamara Jo Rhomberg
“To be literate in content classrooms, students must learn how to use language processes to explore and construct meaning with texts. When students put language to work for them in content classrooms, it helps them to discover, organize, retrieve, and elaborate on what they are learning.” (Richard T. Vacca, Taking the Mystery Out of Content-Area Literacy)
As a result of studies such as that by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, (Thompson, et al., 2012) there has been a focus on the essential role of informational literacy. Hence the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call for an increase in the amount of informational text read by students at all grade levels. Traditionally, informational text may have referred to textbooks or expository writing, but today informational text is defined as literary nonfiction, including biographies, autobiographies, historical, scientific, and technical texts such as textbooks, news or feature article book reviews, and informational trade books. The challenge of reading and writing in the content area is a daunting task for both students and teachers.
I offer just a few reading and writing strategies that can be readily implemented at any grade level, at any point in the reading/writing process, and adapted to any content area. Key to any of these strategies being successful for students is to actively engage students in the process of learning and using the information in some way which allows the new learning to connect to what the student already knows and understands about the topic.
A brainstorming activity used to activate background knowledge but could also be used as a review strategy. Independently students brainstorm any and all words/concepts related to a concept or topic. (10-12 is a suggested number of entries.) Small groups discuss their word choices and then combine their lists to create categories by sorting their words and providing labels. Through this process, students activate their background knowledge for the concept as well as establish areas of study within the content. As the content is read, it is important to revisit the categories and make additional connections, clarify thinking, and use the words/categories for review.
As a concept/topic is read or discussed, students collect key words relevant to the topic and record them in the appropriate letter box. The alpha boxes can be as simple as the letters of the alphabet listed on paper. Teachers pause at key points to record key words/concepts and have students make connections from what they have read using the listed words. Through the process of connecting a variety of words or phrases, students deepen their understanding of how the words are interrelated. There have been a number of studies (French, 2004; Leung, 2008) supporting the integration of content area learning and vocabulary as it builds connections between words and concepts resulting in deeper comprehension.
RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic)
RAFT writing provides an opportunity for students to think critically, synthesize information, and to produce a creative form of their analysis. It is used after students have read and studied a topic. Each student takes on a ROLE or a perspective from the content, identifies a specific AUDIENCE to address in the writing, chooses a FORMAT (a letter, an editorial, an obituary) by which to express the content, and decides on a TOPIC to be covered in the writing project which demonstrates the depth of the student understanding.
I encourage you to try one of these strategies and share your work with St. Louis Suburban members via our website – www.stlsuburbanreading.org.