Informational Texts and Reading Workshop

Using informational text with choice reading

How Do I Use Informational Texts with Reading Workshop?

By Jackie from Room 213

Reading workshop is a wonderful way to turn our kids into lifelong readers. They get to choose texts they want to read, and we are still able to teach them the skills of close reading and analysis.

But where do informational texts fit into a reading workshop? If your curriculum requires that you teach non-fiction, how do squeeze it in?

It's actually quite easy to do. And, in this post I'm going to show you how I make it work in my classroom. I'll also provide you with some strategies and freebies that you can use to try it with your students, so read on!

Informational Mentor Texts:
I love using non-fiction as mentor texts in reading workshop because they:

1. Help me build engagement

2. Allow for class discussions
3. Let me teach skills with a "full class" text

Non-fiction pieces are excellent choices for mentor texts and mini-lessons because they are often short enough to be read by everyone during class, and can be used to teach the features of non-fiction AND fiction. There are many elements of good writing that overlap both genres because writers play with words and develop ideas in all forms of writing. Yes, they may do it a little differently in non-fiction, but the skills are essentially the same, and so these shorter pieces are perfect for lessons on author craft.

Let me illustrate with some examples:

Early in my workshop, I want my students to understand how authors use their words for effect. We learn about tired words and vivid verbs and how changing one word can totally change the meaning of a sentence. We look at imagery and figurative language and discuss how these devices are used purposefully by the writers.

Because my kids are all reading something different, I need to use mentor texts to model these things. Sometimes I use passages from YA novels, but often I'll find a short non-fiction text that will allow us to discuss an engaging topic together while we learn about author choices. This serves a triple whammy because the kids are practicing their speaking and listening skills too.

Using informational text with choice reading

One of my favorite texts for teaching metaphor is In Praise of the Humble Comma by Pico Iyer. I dig it out when we are working on word choice - and when I want to start some lessons on comma usage. Sometimes, I'll use the whole text, as it's full of metaphors and other literary devices, or I'll give my students passages from several non-fiction texts that illustrate the use of metaphor. That way they can see that it's a device that is commonly used in this genre.

Using informational text with choice reading

After our discussion, I'll show them a passage in novel I'm reading that contains metaphor too, and I'll talk about how it's an effective technique in all genres. Then, I give them time to read their own novels and, as they do, they will watch for any uses of metaphor in their book. 

If you'd like to try this with your students, grab the slideshow 
here, and the handout here.

Using informational text with choice reading

This process works especially well if you find something current that will be high interest for most of your students. For example, I could begin the class with short discussion about introverts and extroverts, and then give my students this short article on the topic. In it, the writer uses an extended metaphor to make her point about introversion. Students would be told to read it and explain how the extended metaphor helps the writer develop her message.

One thing I really missed when I started using reading workshop were the discussions we would have around the ideas and issues in a full class text. By using short non-fiction texts, we can still have these discussions while I teach the skills and concepts they need for reading workshop. 

Using informational text with choice reading
For example, I always talk with them about their relationship with social media, and use some mentor texts to teach skills when I do. In the article pictured here, they use this mentor text to learn how to fully develop an idea with multiple, clear examples.

Tip: when you use these texts during reading workshop, don't teach all the things.The purpose is to use the text as a vehicle to teach a skill/concept, so don't overwhelm the kids with everything else that could be taught. It's a mini-lesson, so you want to keep it short and sweet. With the article on introversion, for example, I focus on the use of metaphor only.

Full units on exposition or opinion: 

Using informational text with choice reading

You can also do a focused unit on informational texts during your reading workshop. For example, after I finish my six - eight week unit on description and narration, we switch over to expository and opinion writing. Students will still get their ten minutes of reading each day and will continue to track the pages they read during the week; all of the expectations around reading goals continue as well. 

The mini-lessons and activities will focus entirely on non-fiction, however. We will start by examining how the conventions of the genre are different from those of fiction. I choose some high interest topics that we can discuss, and use lots of mentor texts to illustrate what expository and opinion writing looks like. I also provide mentor texts that have room for improvement, so kids can do some critical thinking about effective writing and to practice revision process. 

Longer Non-Fiction Texts:
Using informational text with choice reading
There are also many wonderful non-fiction texts that kids can choose to read during reading workshop, instead of a work of fiction. My current favorite is 57 Bus, a true story about two teens who crossed paths on a bus one day, setting in motion a tragic and moving tale. It's perfect for teaching kids about point of view and multiple perspectives. 

I asked some teachers who do workshop for recommendations for engaging non-fiction texts and I created a list of suggestions with links that you can grab here.

If you'd like some help using informational texts in your reading workshop - or your classroom in general - you can check out the links here:

My colleagues in the Coffee Shop have some excellent lessons for informational text too:

Tracee Orman: Cause & Effect Non-Fiction Activity

Danielle Hall: Nonfiction Bundle of Engaging Readings
Stacey Lloyd: Analyzing Informational Texts

10 Ways To Use Quotes in the English Classroom

Log onto your favorite social media platform, and you are bound to be met with at least one inspirational quote.  Why do people share these with such frequency?  It's because we can relate and see ourselves in the words shared by another.  Your students are no different, and there are many ways to use relatable quotes by famous people, authors, or historical figures as a way to not only inspire your students, but to launch student writing and discussions, help students make connections, and practice and improve ELA skills and standards.

Below are ten of my favorite ways to use quotes in the middle and high school English classroom.

1. Writing Prompts

Quotes make thought-provoking writing prompts, so you might consider using them as weekly bell-ringers.  Project or write the quote on the board and have students make a personal connection between the quote and their own life or to current events in their school, community, or world.  They could also evaluate the quote to share why they agree or disagree with the statement.

For example, you could share the quote: “Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero.  This is a statement that would work well for evaluation as there should be a good mix of those who agree and those who don't. 

2. ELA Skills-Based Activities  

Quotes can also be used to help students practice ELA skills-based activities and meet standards in your curriculum.  They can be used to help students grow their vocabulary and improve their understanding of figurative language, grammar rules, sentence types, and parts of speech.

Figurative Language: 
Give students a quote that includes figurative language like "Failure is the condiment that gives success it's flavor." and have students properly label and explain it's use as a metaphor.

Share quotes with challenging words in them and have students infer its meaning in context (or look up the words if they need to).  For instance, you might have students infer the meaning of the word obscure in this quote: "There's a world of difference between truth and facts.  Facts can obscure the truth." - Maya Angelou

Intentionally insert grammar errors that your students are struggling with into quotes and have them edit and explain the changes they make.  For example, you might use the quote: "The future belongs too those who believe in the beauty of there dreams" - Eleanor Roosevelt.  Students would correct the two errors (too = to / there = their) and explain that these are common homophone errors.

Parts of Speech: 
Share quotes with students and bold different parts of speech, and have them label which part of speech is highlighted.  For example, you might share the quote "Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light" - JK Rowling and students can label the word Happiness as a noun.

Sentence Types: 
Share quotes with students and have them label the type of sentence that is used: simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex.  For example, you could share the quote “The only way to do great work is to do what you love.” —Steve Jobs and have students label it as a simple sentence.

3. Inspirational Classroom Decor

Quotes can serve double-duty in your classroom as decor for your walls or bulletin boards and also as a way to speak to the challenges that students may be facing. You could choose to set up a bulletin board with multiple quotes that relate to what students might be going through, or instead share a quote of the week.

I also love using rules quote posters to remind students of my classroom expectations.  For example, you might use a Shakespearean quote like “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late” to remind students of the importance of being punctual.  Or,  the quote, “saying nothing sometimes says the most” might remind students to pay attention and not speak out of turn in class.

4. Text-To-World Connections 

Have students find a quote that relates in some way to a non-fiction article on a current news event and explain its connection.  The quote will help them formulate or extend on their own opinions.  For example, if there is a violent crisis happening in the world, a student might choose the quote, "An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind." - Gandhi and explain the connection and their own opinions on violence as a means of resolving an issue.

This activity forces the student to think more deeply about current events and make connections between what they are reading and how it applies to the world around them.

5. Silent Discussion Starters

Using the silent discussion method allows everyone (even your most reluctant students) to share their ideas.  It gives time for students to reflect on their own thoughts as well as learn about the perspective of others before sharing out loud.  You can read all about how to use the activity here and grab a free template here.  The activity works perfectly when you use quotes as the prompts.

How it Works:

  • Collect a variety of quotes that will get students thinking and write them or project them on the board. If you have 25 students, you’ll probably want at least 12 different quotes
  • Number students off and have them write the quote connected to their number on a piece of paper, or you can use this free template: Silent Discussion Template.
  • Students respond to the quote by considering what it means to them, whether or not they agree with it, or a connection they make with the quote.  When they are done, they get up, circulate the room at their own pace, and find an available seat with a new quote.
  • Students read the new quote, the responses already made to it, and add their own thoughts to the “discussion” in writing.
  • This continues for as long as you like.  When you are done, you can have a whole-class open discussion on all of the quotes, or put students into small groups to discuss.

6. Story Elements

Quotes can also serve as a way to evaluate story elements.  Students can relate quotes they find to a character, theme, and conflict in a short story or novel they are reading and explain the connection between the two.  For example, in the novel, The Giver by Lois Lowry, students might make these choices:

The Character of Jonas: "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Person vs Society Conflict: "The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant." - Maximilien Robespierre

Theme: "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again." - Maya Angelou

You can have students share the reason for their choices and provide text evidence to support how the text connects with the quotes.  Grab this free activity here to use with any story.

7. Debate Topics

There are many controversial quotations that will allow students to practice their debate skills by taking on the side of either the affirmative or the negative.  Quotes are an easy way to host mini-debates in preparation for a class debate.  You can put students in pairs and assign one the affirmative and one the negative side. Give them five minutes to prepare their speech and then they deliver it to their partner.

A few examples of controversial quotes you might use:

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” —Mahatma Gandhi
“We can not lead anyone farther than we have been ourselves.” —John Maxwell
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” —Mark Twain

8. Credible Sources 

Proper quote attribution online is a pervasive problem.  In fact, you may have even seen this meme floating around:

Quotes are often misattributed, and it can sometimes be challenging tracking down who the original author or speaker was. This provides an opportunity for you to show students the importance of using credible sources to find their information.

You might consider giving students some quotes that have been attributed to more than one person, and take them through the process of trying to narrow down who actually said it. You can show them proper research techniques, how to know which websites are credible, and cross-referencing information.

Here are a few sample quotes that have been attributed to more than one person that you could use as examples:

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” —Henry Russel “Red” Sanders  (often misattributed to Vince Lombardi)

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” —Andre Gide (sometimes misattributed to Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, and even Adolf Hitler).

9. Compare and Contrast

Comparing and contrasting skills can be improved by giving student two quotes that give either opposite advice or similar advice.  You'll want to ask students to describe how the quotes are similar or different in their meaning and evaluate both quotes to see what they think provides better advice.

For example, you might have students compare and contrast these two quotes:

“Don't fake it till you make it.  Fake it till you become it.” - Amy Cuddy and

“Don’t ever trade your authenticity for approval.” - Unknown

10. Artistic Projects

Break out the markers and have students select a quote from their independent novel (or something you are reading in class) that they felt was important or inspiring.  Allow them to create a classroom poster that features their quote prominently.   Do keep in mind, though that you shouldn't grade students based on their artistic abilities. Simply give them creative control and let them have fun with it. You’ll end up with inspiring art for your classroom walls, and maybe discover some undercover Picasso’s in your class!  If you need to attach a grade to the assignment or connect it with a standard, consider having students write a paragraph on the back of the poster explaining the significance of the quote.

Looking for more ways to incorporate quotes into your ELA classroom?  Click below to see what the other members of the coffee shop have to share:

Quotes for Kindness Writing Prompts by Addie Williams
Reading and Writing Advice Posters by Stacey Lloyd
Motivational Mondays Quote Bell-Ringers by Tracee Orman
Growth Mindset Bell-Ringers by The Daring English Teacher
Women's History Quotes Posters by Nouvelle ELA

5 Ways to Teach Characterization and Character Analysis

One of my favourite activities to do during a short story or novel unit is to dig deep into the characters.  Who are they? What are their motivations? What are their significant character traits? What is their role in the story?

Here are five fun ways to explore the types of characters and characterization in a novel or short story!

1.  Start With a Video Clip
Cartoon clips or a movie can be a fun way to start off a unit on characterization.  If you have the time, a great film to watch is "The Breakfast Club" - it's a great way to talk about stereotypes, and each of the main characters provides plenty of content for a character analysis.

Old vintage cartoon clips can be fun too - check out "Tom & Jerry" and have students compare and contrast the two characters. What are their defining characteristics? How do they learn about each character?

Brainstorm as a class the character traits of the cast of Sesame Street.  What words would they use to describe Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, Big Bird... how are these characters developed? Or you could use the characters from The Simpsons.

Pixar movie shorts are also fantastic - analyze the old man in Geri's Game or compare and contrast the mentor and the student in Lifted.

2.  Whose Shoes Are These? 
I like to use pairs of shoes as a starting point for students to develop a character.  You can use images you collect from an internet search, or if you are really feeling ambitious, you can gather some shoes from home or from colleagues.  Search for a selection of shoes to represent people of all ages and walks of life.  A shoe from a child, a sneaker, a fancy shoe, a well-worn shoe... the more varied and eclectic, the better!  Post the pictures or display the shoes and then have students pick a pair to analyze.

Ask students to create the character that the shoe belongs to - here are a few questions you could use to get started.
  • What's your character's name?  How old are they? Where were they born? Where do they live?
  • What do they look like? What is important to them in terms of their appearance?
  • What is their occupation? Are they married? Do they have children? 
  • What is their favorite food? Hobby? Sports? Skills?
  • What is their greatest fear? Their greatest love? Biggest regret? Future dreams?
  • What would they change about their life if they could? 
  • Introvert or extrovert? Pessimist or optimist?
  • Best quality? Worst quality? Pet peeves?
  • Who do they love? What is important to them?
  • What do other people think of them? How do they relate to others?
  • What are five words others would use to describe them?
The list is endless - have students brainstorm more questions as they are working.  Compare the characters that students created for each of the types of shoes.  This is always a favorite activity with my students!

3.  Teaching Students to S.T.E.A.L
While reading a novel, I often ask students to pick a character to analyze and really explore as we read.  Using the acronym S.T.E.A.L, students look for what the character SAYS, what they THINK, their EFFECT on others, their ACTIONS, and their LOOKS.  It's an easy way to keep track of the ways we learn about characters.  Grab a FREE copy of this S.T.E.A.L Reference Page and Graphic Organizer to help your students with a character analysis.

4. Character Analysis & Character Study
For a more detailed and longer look at a character, why not complete a full CHARACTER ANALYSIS OR CHARACTER STUDY?  Using this set of graphic organizers and templates, students will critically look at a specific character while reading a short story or novel.  As they read the novel, they will apply the elements of STEAL to help figure out the character's main personality traits.  The resource includes organizers to help your students write a paragraph or a full essay - click HERE to check out my comprehensive resource!

5.  Creative Character Creations
Have your students create something to represent a character in a short story or a novel.  Here are just a few of the fun activities I have seen done:
  • Create a character t-shirt - what color would it be? what would it look like? why?
  • Create a character playlist - what five songs represent this character? explain why?
  • What would the character's Instagram / TikTok / Snapchat account look like?
  • Become the character and be interviewed by a classmate
  • Write a bio-poem in character
For more ways to teach characterization, check out these resources from my friends in the
Secondary English Coffee Shop!

Digital Character Analysis for Any Text - The Daring English Teacher
Happy Birthday! Character Analysis - The Classroom Sparrow

Happy Teaching!

A Valentine's Espresso Shot

9 Valentine's Day Activities for Secondary Students

Valentine's Day will be here before we know it, and if you're looking for a fun activity that keep the focus on learning, we've got you covered.

The teachers of the Coffee Shop have put together a list of their favorite Valentine's resources, and there is such a variety of engaging activities that you're sure to find something you can use in your classroom. Enjoy!

Room 213:

 Valentine's Day activities for middle and high school English classes.

This Valentine's writing challenge  is an engaging way to celebrate the holiday with your secondary English students. It's not just a "filler" either, for it allows your students to work on important skills like collaboration, speaking, listening, and writing. It’s also a way to acknowledge that love is not just the romantic candy-covered emotion that gets all the press on February 14th. Many of our kids can find this a “lonely” holiday; this activity will get them thinking about other forms of love as well.

The Classroom Sparrow:

 Valentine's Day activities for middle and high school English classes.

Help! Cupid accidentally locked himself in the chocolate shop and he needs your help to get him out. However, before he can be freed from the shop, you will have to successfully complete a series of tasks and challenges. This Valentine’s Day Escape Room is a win-win for all involved. Your students will be having so much fun, they will forget that they are learning! 

Stacey Lloyd:

 Valentine's Day activities for middle and high school English classes.

From decoding heart-related idioms to analyzing lyrics in popular love songs, these Valentine's Day Figurative Language Worksheets are a whimsical way to get into the spirit of things! While these are fun and engaging to complete, they also test students' knowledge of key figurative techniques, help them to critically analyze language, and provide solid writing practice opportunities. Enjoy!

Nouvelle ELA:
 Valentine's Day activities for middle and high school English classes.

Even if you're not reading Romeo & Juliet this year, your students will LOVE this adaptation set to the tunes of five pop songs. This is an engaging activity to dive into the tempo of Shakespeare's language, talk about recurring themes across literature and music, and basically just get movin' and groovin'. Your students don't have to be amazing singers to have fun with this one.

Tracee Orman:

 Valentine's Day activities for middle and high school English classes.
If you're looking for a fun activity or maybe you don't have time to do anything on Valentine's Day, my "Love Song or Love Poem?" activity and bulletin board can help! You can use just the bulletin board if you don't have time to spare. I also include a student quiz handout and presentation quiz. You can use either (or both) in class to stump your students. They are sure to have a new appreciation for and interest in poetry! 

Presto Plans:
No photo description available.

Try an anti-Valentine’s day twist by getting your students to write the perfect break up letter or text message! After students learn about what a perfect break up letter looks like, they develop two fictional characters and create a deal-breaking issue in their relationship. Have students do some pre-writing to develop the couple’s relationship, personality traits, and relationship issues. Then, after they create an outline for the letter or text message, they can start writing the heartbreaking message.

The Daring English Teacher:
 Valentine's Day activities for middle and high school English classes.
One way to incorporate some Valentine's Day fun into your curriculum without deviating too much from your pacing guide is to include literary-based activities with the novel you are currently reading. These Valentine's Day Activities require students to use text-based evidence, and they work with any piece of fiction! My favorite activity is the character dating profile that students create using information they've gathered using direct and indirect characterization. 

Addie Education:
I love having fun with words and fun with writing! Why not use Conversation Hearts to do both around Valentine’s Day? I use the candy hearts to inspire a creative short story or sweet poem. The hearts make a fun (and tasty) prompt and will help your struggling writers get started! If you can’t use real candy, I’ve included 40 paper conversation hearts for you to use instead. Planning pages and rubrics included. 

Secondary Sara:

 Valentine's Day activities for middle and high school English classes.
Accomplish standards AND have fun with this editable menu of Valentine’s Day writing prompts! These prompts and follow-up sentence starters help get any reluctant writer un-stuck, and you get writing samples for a portfolio or gradebook. The menu covers narrative, argumentative, informative, research, and vocabulary writing! 

So, those are the lessons that we love to use on Valentine's Day because each one gives us the opportunity to have some holiday fun while keeping the kids focused on skill building. Hopefully you can find some inspiration to use in your classroom. 

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