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Meeting the Common Core State Standards for ELA Part Two: Reading Informational Text

In this investigation, we will identify ways to tap into informational texts that make texts readable, engaging, inviting, and at an appropriate level of complexity for each grade band. We focus on four strategies that promote the vision of complex text integration defined in the crossover of the Common Core State Standards and the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework.  At the heart of our understanding is reading as form of inquiry.  We describe four different ways to use informational text to support inquiry: visual inventory, chunking/short texts, close reading, and exploration of multiple sources. We will use these applications to explain steps toward increasing text complexity.

Teacher Leader Compelling Questions: As you think about the connections between the C3 Framework, Common Core State Standards, State Standards for Social Studies, and local social studies curriculum, consider the following:

  • Why is reading informational and complex texts essential to inquiry-focused learning in social studies?  
  • How do we make informational, complex texts accessible while also bringing in content that students find engaging?

This investigation has three parts: InvestigateCreate, and Connect. Please be sure to do all three sections.


Engagement 1: Introduction to Strategies for Reading Informational Text

Begin by viewing the Web Seminar: Meeting the Common Core State Standards for ELA:Reading Informational Text, presented by the authors of this Investigation, Tina L. Heafner and Dixie D. Massey. Experience the benefits of using a visual inventory and chunking/short texts to engage all students in the exploration of compelling questions. (Web seminar duration: 1:08)

Resources/handouts that accompany this Web seminar: 

Engagement 2: Close Reading or Exploration of Multiple Sources (Choose at least one of these two strategies to explore in greater depth)

Choice 1: Close Reading is one more approach to exploring informational text. Our goal with close reading is for students to learn how to learn from text.  We provide three video examples of close reading below. Using the Close Reading Engagement Activity handout, look at the processes of Close Reading described in each example.  Complete the chart as you view.  Focus questions and an introduction of each video follows.

Video Source One. David Coleman, co-author of the CCSS, gives an example of a close reading of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.


As you watch, consider and discuss with your team:

  • What are the reasons David Coleman gives for close reading?
  • What might be missing from this approach to close reading?

Video Source Two. T.J. Hanify presents a model of close reading and how to move from text to discussion to writing.


As you watch, consider and discuss with your team:

  • What examples of C3 inquiry dimensions do you observe in Hanify’s example?
  • How does this example offer investigation pathways and next steps in C3 inquiry learning?


Video Source Three. Doug Fisher works with a large group of students on close reading the Chief Joseph speech from 1877.  


As you watch, consider and discuss with your team:

  • How does this third example provide additional insights in how to use close reading as a model for C3 inquiry learning?
  • Can close reading serve as a tool to invite students to read complex texts?  Why or why not?

Engage in a close reading exercise with a complex text associated with our Web Seminar content.  We have selected a text that pushes you as a sophisticated reader.  While you are reading, use Vygotsky's de-fossilizing process to think about what you are doing as a reader in each step of the close reading process.


Experts have tacit knowledge, effectively call upon background knowledge to make connections with text, and can fix comprehension uncertainties while reading.  Being able to break down these imbedded thinking processes as a teacher in your own reading of complex texts is needed to model how social studies experts read for students.  Engaging in close reading through a metacognitive process will help you uncover important areas in the text that may cause students to struggle and will help you identify what to target with text-dependent questions.    

Use this three step Close Reading process:

  • First reading: What does the text say?
  • Second reading: How does the text work?
  • Third reading: What does the text mean?

Remember to also address: What am I doing as a reader in each step?

What were the similarities and what were the differences across your team as members engaged in this close reading exercise? How did this process reveal areas of the text that were particularly difficult? How did it reveal strategies that you use when encountering complexity in texts?

Supporting students that struggle:

As students develop reading stamina, comprehension skills, and reading efficacy, complexity of texts can be gradually increased.  However, teacher support of reading is a constant.  

  • Selecting the right text is important.  As you choose texts, ask: What makes this text worth teaching? Does it have to be this text?  What about a close reading at a lower reading level?  
  • Primary sources pose unique challenges, instructional practices such as defining the purpose for reading, teacher modeling, and scaffolding can work in conjunction with close reading.  Here are a few suggestions:


Choice 2: Exploration of Multiple Sources Teachers must plan intentionally to offer students support they will need to frequently engage with complex texts. Knowing next steps in content learning which emerge from reading informational texts is important in guiding students on paths of inquiry.  These next steps also include reinforcing disciplinary oriented ways of thinking about texts. 

Disciplinary thinking gives us a framework of questions to ask texts. Questioning is a "universal" strategy that goes across disciplines but the questions that are asked to the text are specific to the content.

As you view and read the selections below, consider and discuss the following questions:

  • What information do these sources confirm from our previous readings?
  • What information do these sources add to our knowledge about beliefs in vampires?
  • What questions drove your inquiry?  What answers did you find?
  • How does this process model the C3 framework?

View the following videos to examine how these teachers use multiple sources to explore historical thinking:

Choose two of the following sources related to the Web Seminar content to explore in greater detail:

Asking questions is an evolving process and one in which student thinking should begin to initiate questioning.  As students take on a greater role, the questions become more compelling and facilitate further study.  Here's an example:

Student's Compelling Question, "What contributed to the vampire hysteria that swept Europe during the Middle Ages?" points to additional sources to explore, such as:

Supporting students that struggle:

  • Be more specific.  Give students a choice between a limited number of sources (e.g. 2 sources)
  • Develop a WebQuest with clear tasks and defined process steps.
  • Use iChart (information charts like the one we developed for the three Close Reading video examples or this template from Read.Write.Think).
  • Create Graphic Organizers that demonstrate text structure and orientation of content within text.  These are purposefully relational.
  • Have students work in Thinking Teams (small groups). 
  • Use Jigsaw to scaffold reading of various parts of text.


Engagement 3: Summarize, Discuss, and Post

This investigation provides four moves we make with informational texts:
  1. Start with images to draw even reluctant readers into the topic.
  2. Rewrite a text/topic to create a short text in order to help readers answer a question/prove a theory.
  3. Use short texts in sets.
  4. Use an excerpt as a short text—where most readers will read more from the same longer text. 
Central attributes of our approach is to invite students to think and read by:
  • Using images first
  • Offering a specific purpose 
  • Offering short segments of text
  • Knowing where to go next
The use of short texts increases student engagement and reduces management issues. What is short text?
  • Short! Ideally, no more than two paragraphs to read at one time, though breaking up a longer text works. 
  • Reading images
  • All types of genres—primary documents, sections of lab reports, a single page, a single poem, a short newspaper article
  • One class period
  • For multiple ages to focus in-depth

As a team, return to the initial compelling questions:

  • Why is reading informational and complex texts essential to inquiry-focused learning in social studies?  
  • How do we make informational, complex texts accessible while also bringing in content that students find engaging? 

Post a blog in your group space titled "Informational and Complex Texts." Summarize the activities and discussions you've shared with one another while diving into these strategies and resources. How are these strategies similar to or different from your current practices with informational texts? How do these strategies relate to the C3 Framework? What surprised you? What questions surfaced as you tried these strategies for yourself? Tag your blog post with "C3 Informational Text."


For additional information:


In this exercise, you will have an opportunity to choose one of the four approaches to reading informational text and in your C3LC design a common lesson for a specific social studies context. Use one of the provided lesson plan templates, or one that is most used in your own context.
  • Create a compelling question that matches your state’s objectives and your course content.
  • Choose one of the four approaches:
Remember that in time you can gradually use more complex text once students develop reading stamina and increase their reading responsibility.  
Share your compelling question and related lesson using one or more of the informational text strategies by posting a new blog in your team's group space. The title of your blog should contain the strategy you chose to focus on in the lesson, the body should contain a brief description of the lesson's compelling question and the grade level it's intended for, then the lesson can be uploaded as an attachment. Tag your post with "C3 CCSS text strategies."

As a team take stock of what has been learned and how this knowledge will help you achieve the instructional shifts and goals for the College, Career and Civic Life Framework.  Consider what it take to help you to become a C3 Teacher.  Pick one theme from below to consider in relation to this Investigation's focus on accessing complex informational texts. 

Theme choice 1: Inquiry as a Mindset

Inquiry through text is not a procedural process, but rather a dispositional stance toward texts, ideas, and experiences. It is a willingness to wonder, to question, to seek answers, and to engage in collective thinking about content, information, and texts.  Inquiry drives reading and sense-making of informational texts. 

Read Living Inquiry: Learning From and About Informational Texts in a Second-Grade Classroom

While this reading situates inquiry within a naturally curious context (i.e. second graders’ curiosity), there are wonderings to be derived from comparisons to grade band structures that support or perhaps stifle inquiry.  As you read, think of ways you could build a community of inquiry by supporting learning from informational texts in your classroom.

View: Definition of the Inquiring Mindset

In this video, Dr. Marilee Adams explores the definition of the Inquiring Mindset. While this was recorded at the 2011 Education and the Inquiring Mindset Conference, it is of interest to all students of the inquiring mindset, not just educators.  She explores how the poster child of inquiry, Albert Einstein, can show us how a mindset is a thinking approach.  Inquiring Mindset is the habit, curiosity, and courage of asking open-minded questions of oneself and others.

Theme Choice 2: Reading Disciplinary Texts

Reading informational texts in different disciplinary domains is very complex.  There are unique disciplinary skills that experts use to read texts.  We provide several readings that will help you understand these differences.  As you read these materials, consider how informational texts will need to be read differently in each of the social studies C3 content domains.  There are ways of knowing specific to each domain that manifest in how we read and understand informational texts.  Reading is guided by specific disciplinary questions that follow the lines of inquiry described in the C3 Framework.      


 Read: Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacyHarvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40-59.

 View: Teaching History

 Read: VanSledright, B. (2004). What does it mean to think historically… and how do you teach itSocial Education68(3), 230-233.

 Read: Wineburg, S. (2007). Unnatural and essential: The nature of historical thinking. Teaching History 129, 06.

Theme Choice 3: Fiction as a Source of Inquiry

In this investigation, we use historical fiction although in a traditional sense it is not viewed as an information text.  However, historical fiction allows readers to become more involved in the everyday lives of people, including their trials and triumphs, against the backdrop of a historical setting.  Historical fiction differs from nonfiction in that it not only presents facts or re-creates a time and place, but also weaves the facts into a fictional story.  “…historical fiction takes all those things that were (the history) and turns something that was not (an imagined story) into something that could have been” (Armstrong, 1999, p.16).  Historical inquiry can be supported through historical fiction when texts are authenticated.  Thus, information texts focus inquiry thinking by examining: (1) sources of information, (2) conflicting accounts and interpreting decisions, (3) powerful concepts and generalizations, and (4) connections between past and present.

 Read:  Groce, E. & Groce, R. (2005). Authenticating historical fiction: Rationale and process. Education Research and Perspectives, 32(1), 99-119.

This reading provides a five step process for authenticating historical fiction and can serve as another form of text-oriented inquiry.     

Theme Choice 4: Text Complexity

In literacy, the Common Core State Standards is drawing a lot of attention to text complexity. The most important components in text complexity are realizing that it does not just mean increasing the Lexile level of a text and that text complexity is a new way of describing text. This is distinguished from the former way of describing the challenge of text by using the term “text difficulty.” The emphasis here is that we aren’t just giving students texts that have higher Lexile levels. Freddy Hiebert explains this in her web seminar.  However, thoughtful planning holds the key to student success with complex texts.  Literacy expert Tim Shanahan states, “The more challenging text placements presume that teachers will provide extensive scaffolding, explanation, support and teaching to enable success.” In fact, instruction with complex texts will initially require more teacher modeling, scaffolding, and support.

There are several webinars by leading literacy research that offer multiple elements for consideration:


In your learning community, as you work through connecting thinking themes, we offer additional questions for your team to consider.  Develop a thoughtful, collective response and share your team’s ideas in a new blog post tagged with "Informational Text Connections."  As in the investigation, take stock of what has been learned and how this knowledge will help you achieve the instructional shifts and goals for the College, Career and Civic Life Framework.  

  • How might we build a community of C3 inquiry by supporting learning from informational texts in our classrooms?
  • How can we apply these engagements in a different context and with varied content supporting the dimensions of informed inquiry in the C3 Framework?
  • What are the potential student learning challenges? Anticipate where students will struggle (content, vocabulary, reading levels, ELs, and etc.).
  • What interventions might we apply to address those challenges or where might we go next to learn more?
  • What are other ways we can make complex text accessible?
  • How can we support disciplinary thinking as we read informational texts in different content domains within the C3 Framework?

Implement your lesson in the classroom and post an update of how it went and changes you might make before using the strategy again. Connect with other teams and provide comments and feedback to inform next steps toward effective C3 Framework implementation.