6 Steps to Selecting the Right Text

In a previous post I wrote about how to use rich literature to build language which is the topic of my next Teach Along starting in January 2020. Today I am going to focus specifically on how to select the right text for your unit of work.

Text selection can make or break your English unit.  Given its importance it is surprising that so few of us are adequately equipped to understand how to choose texts based on the language needs of our students rather than on the fact that our students like dinosaurs or astronauts or puppies.  

When selecting texts there are 6 steps that can help us make this decision without anguish AND ensure strong learning for our students.

Step 1 – Decide on the language focus for the unit. 

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This is probably the hardest step as it involves understanding some of the finer points of grammar and sentence structure and when to teach them. (If the idea of this scares you a bit, sign up for my Term 1, 2020 Teach Along for support!) To decide on the language focus you need to consider the oral and written evidence that your students present to you.  If you teach in a context with a high ESL population past tense verbs may be an important focus.  If you notice that children’s writing is full of run-on sentences with 15 million occurrences of the word ‘and’, use of conjunctions might be the goal.  Whatever your students’ needs, it is important to be very clear about what the language focus of your teaching is as this will significantly impact your text choice.

Step 2- Reflect on cross curricula priorities

It is always lovely to be able to connect the content between different learning areas. This provides the opportunity to support students with presentation of content and skills in different contexts which can significantly increase the impact of your teaching. Wherever possible, find connections between your English unit and some other area of the curriculum, however remember that this is not always possible and there are times when the focus of our English unit will remain the skills and knowledge required for English.

Step 3 – Consider the genre

Many schools require teachers to cover particular genres at particular times of the year. Often this means that recounts and narrative are covered in term 1, persuasive text in term 2 and so on.  When choosing the perfect text for your English unit remember that your target text is the model for the language you want your students to develop and the writing you wish them to learn.

Step 4 – Note the interests and preferences of your students

Nothing takes the wind out of your sails quicker than reading a book to students only to have someone call out, “This is boring!”  Choosing a text that your students will genuinely enjoy listening to and working for an extended period of time will result in much greater engagement with your unit, much stronger learning and a much easier time for you!

Step 5 – Examine a range of texts

Before you decide that you have the perfect text, look through a few books.  It is even better to do this collaboratively with a teaching partner.  One person will see something that the other one does not and you are much more likely to find a text that ticks all of your boxes if you work as a team.

Step 6 – Choose a text that meets your students’ learning needs.

The final step is to actually make the text choice based on steps one to four above.   Once you have decided on the text, stick with it and use it as the stimulus for your whole English unit. Of course you will read a range of texts to your students both as part of your unit and just for fun, but making this decision well will set you all up for success.

Would you like to know more about using texts as the basis for strong language and writing development? You can sign up for my Term 1, 2020 Teach Along here.

Next time I will write about how to build schema and familiarity with text to get the most out of your teaching. If you would like to know when this post is published subscribe to The No-Nonsense Educator blog below.

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