Looking to the STAARs: A Guide to Reading Informational Texts
While we are still a ways off until it is spring testing season, some students have already begun to prepare for the STAAR test, especially for the reading section. Like many standardized reading exams, the STAAR requires students to read a mixture of literary and informational texts, and they must answer questions related to main idea, tone, details, inferences, and comparing and contrasting. While students often do pretty well on the literary component of the STAAR, many struggle with understanding or preparing for the informational text portion.
Informational texts usually make young students cringe. The name sounds boring, and in their minds, the texts are not much more interesting. Subjects like history, science, and technology are seen as tedious. The question for parents often is, “How do I get them to read and care about these texts?”
While the problem is common, the solution eludes many. But have no fear! I will give you some steps to help make reading informational texts more interesting for younger students.
1. Come up with a problem that the student wants to solve or a topic that the student wants to learn more about.
Reading should not be a chore that ultimately ends with answering 10-11 multiple choice questions. It should be a fun activity that actually matters to the reader. People usually read with a purpose, not because they know they will be tested later, so try to simulate that experience with coming up with a reason to read. In this case, have the student determine if there is a problem that they know about and for which they want to come up with a solution. Or maybe there is a subject that they have some understanding about but want to develop their knowledge more. This will be the basis of their reading.
2. Choose informational texts that are related to the problem or subject area.
Once you determine the focus, you can select articles and texts that will the student will actually care to read. Of course, that’s easier said than done sometimes. You may be wondering what resources are useful to get the ball rolling. Here are some suggestions:
TIME For Kids is a monthly publication with free online articles that are split into two reading levels. The target audience is primarily elementary and early middle school.
Science for Students is an online periodical that contains long features, news bits, current events, and other articles.
Smithsonian Tween Tribune is an online periodical with diverse topics split by Lexile level and grade level.
The New York Times: Room for Debate is a section of the digital NY Times in which a topic is presented and guest writers respond. It is good for higher level reading and comparing viewpoints on a single subject.
There are countless other websites and periodicals, but these should be a good basis for any practice.
3. Mix free-form reading with structured practice.
Students (and teachers) are not fond of standardized testing, but it is a necessary evil for now. Let the students first read for the main purpose of learning to love the process. If you imagine practicing for an hour a week, consider spending 30 minutes with a “free-form” reading time and then 30 minutes with “structured” reading, which would involve reading a STAAR practice passage and answering questions. The key is that you don’t want to overload students with test preparation that always remains within the parameters of the test booklet.
4. After the student has read a few articles about the problem they want to solve or topic they want to understand more, then have them write a persuasive or expository piece related to their reading.
All that reading has a secondary motivation: now the student should be knowledgeable enough to write an essay. Sure, the mechanics of the essay itself may not be perfect--and you would of course want to address things like thesis statement, topic sentences, supporting evidence, and general structure--but you have a good place to start and maybe even real passion in the writing itself.
The road to loving informational texts doesn’t have to be a long one, but it may be one with many stops, so it is best to make the journey as enjoyable as possible. Use these tips to make the process go by smoothly, but remember: don’t force the end result, which is a high score; nurture the love of reading and a lot of the bumps in the road will work themselves out.
If you are seeking additional help for the STAAR test or any standardized test, we at B2A would be more than happy to help your student find a joy in reading, or in any other subject! You can book a free consultation with our directors to see what education program would work best for your student. We have many great services for most grade levels and subjects.