Section 3

Ways of reading and responding to information texts


Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:
  • developed your ability to create questions and tasks that encourage close reading of texts and personal responses;
  • explored ways to teach pupils how to read and write about information presented in different forms;
  • helped your pupils develop the skills needed to summarise texts;
  • used these strategies to assess learning.

In ‘the information age’ we all need to be able to read and respond to information presented in many different forms. Reading information from a chart or diagram requires different skills from reading a story. As a teacher, your role is to help pupils understand what they read, summarise the main ideas in a text and respond with their own ideas. While it is important for pupils to be able to write answers to questions on what they have read, some will produce better work if they have opportunities to demonstrate what they understand through other activities, e.g. making posters or pie charts. This section suggests ways to help pupils develop their comprehension and summarising skills.

Page 1

Comprehension exercises are very common, but how well do they extend pupils’ reading skills? Case Study 1 demonstrates that you need to think very carefully about whether the ‘reading comprehension’ questions in textbooks really help you to know what pupils have understood from their reading. You need to create questions or activities that require pupils to read information texts carefully. Activity 1 gives you some examples to try out and use as models when designing your own questions and activities. Key Resource: Using questioning to promote thinking gives further ideas.

Case Study 1: Rethinking ‘reading comprehension’

At a workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, teachers of English as an additional language read a nonsense text and answered questions on it. The first sentence in this text was: ‘Some glibbericks were ogging blops onto a mung’ and the first ‘comprehension’ question was ‘Who were ogging blops onto a mung?’ Every teacher knew that the answer was ‘some glibbericks’. In their discussion, they realised they could give the ‘correct’ answer because they knew that in English, ‘some glibbericks’ was the subject of this sentence. They didn’t need to know who or what a glibberick was, in order to give the answer! After the discussion, they worked in small groups to design questions and tasks that would show them whether or not pupils had understood the texts on which these questions and tasks were based. They learned that questions should not allow pupils to just copy information from one sentence in the text. They designed tasks in which pupils had to complete a table, design a poster or make notes to use in a debate as ways of showing what they had learned from reading a text. They reflected that the questions they asked and the tasks they set meant they could better assess their pupils’ understanding.

Activity 1: Comprehending and responding to information texts

  • Read Resource 1: Text on litter. Make copies of the article and tasks or write the paragraphs and tasks on your chalkboard.
  • Cover them over.
  • Before pupils read the article, ask some introductory questions. Your questions should help pupils to connect what they already know to the new information in the article (see Resource 2: Introductory questions). If your pupils are young or you need to read the text to them, you could write their answers on the board.
  • Next, uncover the article and tasks, and ask pupils to read the article in silence and write answers to the tasks. When they have finished, collect their books and assess their answers.
  • Return the books and/or give the whole class oral feedback on what they did well and discuss any difficulties they experienced. (See Resource 1 for suggested answers to the tasks.)
  • In the next lesson, ask pupils to work in small groups to design an ‘anti-litter’ poster and display it in class (see Resource 3: Good posters).

Page 2

Think about all the kinds of information texts that you read. Whether these are in the pages of textbooks, in advertising leaflets or on computer screens, they frequently include diagrams, charts, graphs, drawings, photographs or maps. To be successful as readers, you and your pupils need to understand how words, figures and visual images (such as photographs or drawings) work together to present information. Many writers on education now stress the importance of visual literacy. Learning how to read and respond to photographs and drawings is one part of becoming visually literate. Reading and responding to charts, graphs and diagrams is another. Bar and pie charts are some of the easier charts to understand and to make in order to summarise information.

Case Study 2: Making a pie chart to represent the number of pupil birthdays in each month of the year

Miss Maria Bako likes to make each pupil in her Primary 6 class of 60 pupils feel special. In her classroom she has a large sheet of paper with the month and day of each pupil’s birthday. On each birthday, the pupils sing Happy Birthday to their classmate. One day, a pupil commented that in some months they sing the birthday song much more often than others. Maria decided to use this comment to do some numeracy and some visual literacy work on pie charts. First, she wrote the names of the months on her chalkboard and then she asked pupils to tell her how many of them had birthdays in each month. She wrote the number next to the month (e.g. January 5; February 3, and so on). Then she drew a large circle on the board and told pupils to imagine that this was a pie and that as there were 60 in the class there would be 60 sections in the pie, one for each pupil. The sections would join to make slices. There would be 12 slices, because there are 12 months in a year. Each slice would represent the number of pupils who had their birthday in a particular month, but each slice would be a different size. She began with the month with most birthdays – September. In September, 12 pupils had birthdays. Pupils quickly got the idea of making 12 slices of different sizes within the circle to represent the number of birthdays in each month as a percentage of the class. They copied the birthday pie chart into their books and made each slice a different colour. The class talked about other information they could put into a pie chart and decided to explore how many pupils played different sports, how many supported each team in the national soccer league and how many pupils spoke the different languages used in their area.

Activity 2: Comprehending and making a pie chart

Copy the pie chart in Resource 4: A pie chart onto your chalkboard. Ask pupils to suggest why this is called a pie chart. Write out the questions (part b) about the pie chart on your chalkboard and ask pupils to work in pairs to answer them. Discuss the answers with the class. Use your chalkboard to show pupils how to turn these answers into a paragraph about Iredia’s weekend. Ask pupils to draw the pie chart. For homework, ask pupils to draw their own pie charts to show how they usually spend their time at weekends. After checking the homework, ask pupils to exchange their chart with a partner and to write a paragraph about their partner’s weekend. What have you learned from these activities? What relevant activity could you do next? (Look at Resource 4 for some ideas.)

Page 3

Learning to find and summarise the main ideas in the chapters of textbooks and other study materials becomes increasingly important as pupils move up through the school. These skills take practice to acquire. The Key Activity and Resource 5: Text on the baobab give examples of ways to help pupils learn how to summarise information texts. You will need to do such activities many times. For older pupils, you could ask colleagues to show you what the pupils you teach are required to read in other subjects such as social studies or science. You could then use passages from social studies or science textbooks for summary work in the language classroom by following the steps in the Key Activity.

Case Study 3: Summarising key points from textbook chapters

The pupils in Mal Adamu Jibo’s Primary 6 class were anxious about the forthcoming examinations. They told him they didn’t really understand what their teachers meant when they told the pupils to ‘revise’ the chapters in their textbooks. Adamu decided to use an information text from their English textbook to give his class some ideas about how to find and write down the main points in a text. He asked his pupils to tell him the purpose of the table of contents, chapter headings and sub-headings in their textbooks. It was clear from their silence that many pupils had not thought about this. A few were able to say that these give readers clues about the main topics in the book. Adamu told the pupils that in order to revise a chapter, they should write the sub-headings on paper, leaving several lines between each one. Then they should read what was written in the textbook under one sub-heading, close their books and try to write down the key points of what they had just read. Next, they should check their written notes against the book and make changes to their notes by adding anything important they had left out or crossing out anything they had written incorrectly. Adamu said that some pupils prefer to make notes in the form of a mind map in which there are connections between important points. (See Resource 5 and Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas.) He showed them how to do this. Finally, he reminded them to ask their teachers to explain anything they had not understood. Adamu also told them how he made notes of what he found out about his pupils and their learning to help him plan more lessons.

Key Activity: Developing summarising skills

Before the lesson, copy the text from Resource 5 on the baobab tree or write it on your chalkboard. Try out the activities yourself first.
  • Showing pupils some newspaper and magazine pages, ask why the articles have headlines and what they tell the reader. Ask them to suggest why their textbooks have headings and sub-headings.
  • Ask pupils to read the information text about the baobab tree and to work in pairs to decide which paragraphs are on the same topic.
  • Ask them to write a heading that summarises the paragraph(s) on each topic.
  • Ask some pupils to read out their headings and write these on the chalkboard.
  • Agree which are the best headings for each set of paragraphs on the same topic.
  • Leave the ‘best’ headings on the board with some space under each one. Ask pupils to suggest key points from the paragraphs and record these.
  • Show pupils how to link headings and key points in a mind map to help them remember about baobab trees.

If you have time or prefer to use a shorter text, you do the same activities with your pupils using the text in Resource 6: On the Kapok tree. Think about what pupils did well and what they found difficult and plan another session to deal with these.

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