Monday, August 29, 2016

Paired Texts in the Classroom

With the introduction of more rigorous standards across the country comes the expectation for elementary students to be able to read, scrutinize, analyze, and then support their thinking using multiple texts on the same topic. As many teachers have already discovered, this is no small task for children!

I wanted to share how I am supporting my fourth graders in their use of multiple texts in the classroom. I have tried to mimic what my students may encounter on my state's end of level assessment so that students are very familiar with this process when the time comes. Testing aside, I feel strongly that I am teaching a very necessary 'life skill' as students are able to review a variety of sources and pull out the information needed for a given task!

As a quick overview, the basic idea of using multiple texts in my classroom looks like:

  • students reading passages of texts on a certain topic
  • students synthesizing what they have read
  • students responding (in writing) to a given prompt

To begin, I carefully select a topic. I suggest using current events, topics of interest, or anything that relates to your social studies or science units. Then, I begin the (sometimes daunting) task of locating two texts that would be easily paired to not only match the topic, but also be at the appropriate grade level for my students. I found a great and {FREE} site called, that offers paired and leveled texts. It is a wonderful place to start if you are new at this!

Once I have selected the topic and the texts, I choose a 'prompt' that will engage students as they read the passages. The prompt should be broad enough to allow flexible thinking, yet also specific to your topic and selected texts. During set up, I also copy both texts for students. I like for them to have their own, individual copies to use during the lesson.

When all of that behind-the-scenes prep work is done, I present the prompt to my students. We have a brief discussion to solidify basic background knowledge on the topic, then I set kids in motion to read both texts completely. After reading, I provide students with some sort of graphic organizer or note- taking sheet. (See below for an example of the graphic organizer I use for an 'opinion-style' prompt.)


The students write the prompt at the top of the organizer/note taking sheet then return to the texts to highlight examples, facts, details, reasons, etc. that would support the prompt. I let them take notes, highlight, and write their thoughts directly on the texts as they read through a second time. After the second read, they then transfer their thoughts, notes, and highlighted words from both texts onto their graphic organizer/note taking sheet.

Side Note: I always try to build an organizer that mimics the structure of writing I would like my students to produce in response to the prompt. A carefully laid out graphic organizer forces my students to purposefully select the ideas they will include and requires them to synthesize the information presented in both texts. I have found that I get a better written product from students when I support them with a well thought-out graphic organizer. Of course, as the year goes on, I have to train my students to 'build their own' graphic organizers because they are only allowed to use blank paper during state assessments. But, because we use the same two or three organizers in class all year long, they can more easily remember what components they need when they are required to create their own using plain paper.

Once students have completed the graphic organizer or note-taking sheet, they have the support necessary to begin writing in response to the prompt. My expectation for this writing assignment is aligned with my grade-level writing standards. I expect my fourth graders' responses to be in paragraph format using complete sentences, with linking words between ideas, and specific examples or evidence cited from the texts that helps to support their thinking. (Notice that these components are pretty much identical to those that are included on the graphic organizer...)  I also try to always provide a checklist or rubric for the writing assignment so students are very clear on the expectations and can easily evaluate their writing.

These are my 'best practice' strategies for preparing students to successfully engage with multiple texts, while also becoming better prepared for their end-of-year state tests.

If you are looking for grade-specific paired texts on engaging topics, please be sure to visit our TpT store here. We have complete lesson plan sets that have everything you need to get started using paired texts. For your convenience, each set even includes all texts for 3rd-6th, which makes them perfect for differentiation!

We offer paired text sets on:
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