A few years ago I embarked on a research project with the National Writing Project (NWP) where we looked at college and career readiness with regard to writing.  What we discovered was that our students were not prepared for the demands of a writing life beyond that basic 5 paragraph essay and since a 5 paragraph essay was developed to satisfy teachers……  Let’s say, that there was a gap!    From this research, NWP developed and launched an intensive professional development program called C3WP that was rolled out into the various state projects.  Through my work with the Central West Virginia Writing Project out of Marshall University, we worked with teachers throughout the state to bridge this gap.

I’ve been a project leader both in West Virginia and Pennsylvania for about 10 years and the C3WP has by far been the best program the National Writing Project has developed and delivered.  We work with small cohorts of teachers on an intensive 45 hour professional development program with a year’s worth of coaching, demo lessons and ongoing study.  To date, I have worked with about 40 teachers on this project and each will tell you that it is an arduous journey with unbelievable results in the end.

In my own classroom (9th and 11th grade inclusion English), I have employed all of the resources developed by the NWP with amazing results.  We teach more than just how to argue (because let’s face it, teenagers are already well versed with that skill), this project focuses on using texts to build an in-depth background of content from which they can make and rebut claims.  And as an added boost, students with deeper background in varying contents have stronger reading comprehension.

My personal interest with C3WP has been the use of multimodal text sets that are differentiated to meet the needs of my students.  Multimodal text sets provide students with background on a topic by using various genre (both nonfiction and literary) along with media such as blogs, maps, infographics, photos, audios, videos and primary source documents.  I try to immerse students with the content in a variety of forms.

When developing text sets, I ask myself a series of questions:

  1. What skills am I trying to teach (thinking of the end game and UBD, what do I want my students to do or produce)?
  2. How can I incorporate different perspectives in the reading so that students can develop their own opinions vs. relying on my opinion?
  3. What reading levels do I need to incorporate? Is there academic vocabulary?
  4. How do I find multi-genre text? Do I need to create something?
  5. Where can I locate the mix of informative and argumentative text for students to read?

There are some outstanding FREE resources for texts that are my go-tos:

Newsela:      Newsela has an excellent search feature where you can locate articles by grade, reading skill and language (Spanish and English).  What I really like is that you  can also search by source which helps make text sets diverse because the sources range from US to international to a few fringe outlets and contain many perspectives from conservative to more liberal.

Images:  Screenshots of the Newsela dashboard

CommonLit:     CommonLit does some of the work for you by having premade text sets available.  They also have a nice collection of ancillary articles to accompany novels.  With CommonLit, you can search by genre and theme or literary device.  CommonLit also allows you to search by Lexile which is a nice feature for differentiation.    You need to know a bit more about what you are searching for in order to use CommonLit to build text sets but the time you invest is well worth it with the quality that you get out of their database.

Images: Screenshots of Commonlit dashboard

Readworks is the final database I access when building text sets.  Like CommonLit and Newsela, there is a sort feature that allows for Lexile searches, content, genre.  Readworks has an added feature of allowing sorts for e-books audiobooks and resources for English Language Learners.

Once I have my traditional texts, I build the rest of my text set through infographics, audios, videos, blogs, maps and anything else I can think of to get my kids reading and thinking.  My goal is to present them with 5-10 different items to explore before we begin any sort of discourse or project.  Because my text sets are differentiated, some pieces will be easy while others may require a bit more perseverance.  And that is exactly what I want my readers to experience.  While they have lots of success with text sets, a little hard work goes a long way.

I started small when implementing text sets into my curriculum and did not try to have one for each story taught or essay written.  I focused first on building a text set for each major literary work we read during the marking period.  It has taken me a few years to have a robust collection of text sets for my students but the upfront work has yielded amazing growth in my student writers.  It has been worth the effort to put together a variety of text sets to use with my students.  They have experienced success in both reading and writing (especially argumentative) by immersing themselves this way into a topic.  Give text sets a try the next time you are considering a major work in your classroom.

WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation.  How do you use ancillary text in your classroom?  Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Cheryl Stahle is a contributing blogger for WVCTE.  She teaches at Parkersburg High School and is the Co-Director of the Central West Virginia Writing Project based out of Marshall University.  Cheryl is also the Vice President of the Marshall Readin Council.  She is a not so regular tweeter @msstahleclass.  Besides teaching American Literature, her other classroom goal is to teach 1970s classic rock to her students.

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