Helping students analyze and digest complex texts to become more persuasive communicators.

by Missy Callaway

Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


I believe it’s essential that students process and comprehend complex text in order to apply that information to their own written communication, both in and out of the classroom.

I like to work with series of “text sets”–a variety of informational texts around a certain theme and have the students deduce their own arguments based on the evidence they find. One of the ways to hook children’s interest is by presenting material that is relevant to their lives. If the topic matters to the students they’re going to engage and want to do something based on their learning.

For example, there’s been a lot of information in the media lately about school lunches. So I ask kids to look at various articles from The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New York Times as well as TED talks and websites where information is presented visually through photos from around the world. I ask them to think critically about what’s being delivered to them via the media and make assumptions based on that.

The way this works in my classroom:

–First, I present material from the media to the class and ask the students to take notes on what they observe. Then they discuss with a partner in the class.

–Next, the students share their thoughts about the subject with the whole class and add to and refine the statements they have written.

–Then, the students read a piece of text and work with an annotation “cheat sheet” to note claims, evidence and counter claims in the material. From this, they fill in “It Says, I say” worksheets to further develop their thinking.

This is a way of teaching kids how to take in text, process it, and inform their decisions. The process is successful because it incorporates many important elements for learning–students digest text visually, they put their thoughts into writing, they orally rehearse and test their thoughts, they hear and think about many opinions, and then add to and refine their writing. Students learn what it means to be informed critically and discover that just because they read something it doesn’t mean it’s true.


What I did well…

In this instructional sequence, I’m effective in intentionally layering the integration of reading, writing, speaking and listening when asking participants to examine visual text and make judgments about what the images are telling us as readers. Encouraging our students to read with a critical eye is imperative if we want them to be savvy and informed consumers of text, and the demonstration of using linked communication skills to work through an argument is visible in this brief clip. I also like the way I’ve elicited critical thinking in just a short amount of time. And finally, I really like presenting images as text—our way of interpreting the world around us is visual, and I like presenting the argument of visuals to students to push their thinking about how we are provided information.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

In this sequence, I wish I had pushed the thinking of the participants just a bit more in encouraging some pushback on the statements—driving them to argument faster. There were some opportunities in which I could have pushed the conversation, and given a second chance, I might have encouraged it. Afforded a bit more time, we might have even recorded all of the participants’ thoughts on chart paper and pushed thinking that way.

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I want to continue to build text sets that have meaning for my students, and I know one way to ensure that work happens is by encouraging their contributions for both content and materials. My students respond well to short informative texts, and appreciate the use of audio/images/video as texts within a set. What power would there be in allowing students to build the body of work into which we do a deep dive at understanding and formulating arguments?!?

About Missy Callaway

Missy Callaway, co-director of the Louisville Writing Project, is a Goal Clarity Coach for Butler Traditional High School in Jefferson County, Kent...

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