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9 Complex Text Resources I’m Pretty Pumped About Right Now

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Recently, there’s been a trend in the messages I’ve received from the stellar stock of humanity known as you, the Teaching the Core readership (btw, if you ever need to contact me, just use this link — it goes straight to my inbox).

Here’s what I’ve been receiving: life-improving, useful resources for 1) finding complex texts for our students to read, and 2) teaching them how to read, write, and talk about them.

Resources to help us find complex texts for our students

NEWSELA.com

(Many of you shared this one — thank you!)

This is so good I can’t believe they don’t charge for it. I feel like I’m a little slow to try out this resource, but it really is great. Current events articles are arranged by topic (e.g., War & Peace, Science, Kids, Money, etc.) and — here’s where I get a little geeked — every article’s Lexile can be adjusted. Now, please allow me to nerd out for a moment to remind you that Lexile is only one part of the text complexity triangle of life (read my explanation of that triangle here), but it is a part if it — and NEWSELA let’s you modify it with a click. From my use of this feature so far, articles seem to mostly retain their meaning at each selectable Lexile.

One caveat with NEWSELA is that most articles, from what I can tell, are explanatory/informational, not argumentative (which, if you’ve been reading recent posts, you’ll know is a current area of focus for my students and I). However, there are some argumentative pieces, like “PRO/CON: Should the fast food industry pay better wages?” — which I totally used for this week’s AoW. Also, you do eventually have to create a (free) account on NEWSELA.

Readworks

(Amy from San Diego shared this one — thank you!)

Pros:

  • Reading passages are sortable by grade level (they have over 1,400 K-8 non-fiction and literary texts), and each passage has “research-based” question sets to “support student comprehension.”
    • This kind of language makes me leery in edu-business because just about everyone says their stuff is research-based. From my initial look at some sample question sets, they seem like fine questions — just please don’t train your kids to someday flip open a newspaper, read an article, and then search in vain for the questions that are supposed to accompany articles. Know what I mean? But there are times when questions like these can help us diagnose if students are getting what they’re reading.
  • You can save passages you like in a “binder” to access later.

Cons:

  • They require registering an account (no big deal — it’s free).
  • I’m a little leery of their branding (the solution to reading comprehension) — but that’s just skeptical Dave speaking. I think this is a great resource, and really there are articles here of enough interest and challenge for grades K-12, from what I can see.

Izzit.org

(Karen from Owosso shared this one — thanks!)

Pros:

  • A variety of articles from a variety of sources (look in the “Current Events Lessons” tab).
  • Articles seem to present a variety of current topics (some of the most recent articles at the time of this writing are “Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance,” “Man Who Said He Slipped on Banana Peel Accused of Fraud,” and “Amazon’s Drones for Deliveries”).

Cons:

  • You have to create another account (again, it’s free).
  • The website is kind of Web 1.0-ish (there are buttons and quotes and “winning ideas” and just… stuff).

The DBQ Project

(Karen, thanks again!)

DBQ stands for Document-Based Question, a longstanding AP History exam exercise that requires students to build a written argument through the use of a variety of primary and secondary sources. The DBQ Project seeks to democratize the DBQ experience for a wide range of students, ranging from elementary to high school.

Pros:

  • I love their focus on democratizing the DBQ experience. I remember doing DBQs in high school and being challenged by them.
  • Their aim is to help all students to read smart, think straight, and write clearly. That rocks.
  • They’ve got DBQ units for literature as well as most of the social studies.

Cons:

  • Their DBQ units are crazy expensive — like $300+ expensive (because of that, I’ll probably only ever be able to use stuff from their sample units here).
  • There’s not a huge selection of DBQ units.

Next Draft

(Special thanks to Paul G. for writing in from Hastings, MI with this recommendation!)

Pros:

  • Dave Pell collects “the day’s most fascinating news” and links to it with his brief (paragraph long) take on it. I’m in love with this site.
  • Free!

Cons:

  • Most articles linked to are going to be written to the well-read adult. Expect to scaffold.
  • You might get lost in how intriguing the news is.

ProCon.org

(Special thanks to Kim R. from Fargo for sharing this!)

Pros:

  • Articles/documents/visual texts are conveniently grouped on either side of an issue (e.g., the use of drones in the War on Terror).
  • Context on an issue is provided, and there are plenty of sources on either side.
  • Free! And no account needed.

Con:

  • There are a limited amount of issues to choose from.

Resources to help us teach our students how to read, write, and speak about complex texts.

Chad Walden’s tweaks on the AoW assignment

Take a look at this, an AoW that friend and fellow Michigander teacher Chad Walden put together for his students.

First of all, it’s a great article by itself — I love Gingrich’s (controversial) claim that adolescence is a failed experiment in the USA. I riff on some of the themes in Gingrich’s speech with my students all year long, and they remind me a bit of a student choice reading favorite, Do Hard Things.

But secondly, I appreciate how Chad has taken my AoW format and, frankly, improved upon it, making it his own and making it meet the unique needs he sees in his classroom. That kind of work, to me, is why Article of the Week is so cool — people like Kelly Gallagher popularize the idea, and now hundreds of teachers around the country are working on it together.

Thanks for doing that, Chad!

Reading Rhetorically

ReadingRhetorically

(Karen from Owosso shared this book — thank you!)

Reading Rhetorically hasn’t entered my attention until recently when Karen emailed me. But from what I read in its Amazon description, it looks like good stuff. Here’s the blurb:

Offering concise yet thorough treatment of academic reading and writing in college, Reading Rhetorically, shows students how to analyze texts by recognizing rhetorical strategies and genre conventions and how to incorporate other writers’ texts into their own research-based papers. Four important features of this text:

1. Its emphasis on academic writing as a process in which writers engage with other texts;

2. Its emphasis on reading as an interactive process of composing meaning;

3. Its treatment rhetorical analysis as both an academic genre that sharpens students’ reading acuity and as a tool for academic research;

4. Its analytical framework for understanding and critiquing how visual texts interact with verbal texts.

Keep in mind this is a college text; however, for that matter so is Graff/Birkenstein’s preeminent They Say / I Say. My hope is that this book will be similarly useful; we’ll see. Whatever the case, I wanted to get it in front of you with this great list.

Well Spoken

well-spoken-erik-palmerI’ve been blown away lately by Erik Palmer’s sane, convincing approach to teaching students how to speak publicly (and public speaking, in both Palmer’s and my view, is any kind of speaking apart from informal, friendly talk — so it includes discussions/debates about complex texts). This book deserves a post in and of itself (it’s pretty much becoming my anthem when I do “Every Kid Talks, Every Day” with my students), but for now, just know that if you were to drop the $13.82 on this book and you took the 1-2 hours it takes to give it a once-over, it’ll probably change your students’ lives. Just remember: any time we read a PD book, we have to think:

  1. What’s most important for me to take away?
  2. What’s the author’s main argument in this book? (Yes, most PD books have one!)
  3. What could I start playing around with in my classroom tomorrow without throwing everything out? (Well-intentioned teachers are too quick to throw out the bathwater, the baby, and the bathtub when they read a good PD book; that’s not for you or your students!)

Get better every day

I don’t write many resource posts because, in the school and classroom I teach and learn in each day, it doesn’t seem like teachers are dying for a ton of extra stuff to learn.

Our job by itself is a full time education — for us.

So please, now that you’ve read through these resources, fight those little voices in you that demand you be perfect in your knowledge and craft and skill and use of resources… (deep breath)… and instead resolve to check out a resource or two on this list and see if it helps you do your job.

At the end of the day, our job is to dominate life’s challenges, to grow through the failures we should expect along the way, and to equip our students to do likewise.

Get after it — and have fun 🙂

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8 Responses to 9 Complex Text Resources I’m Pretty Pumped About Right Now

  1. Susan Chenelle December 13, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Great list and advice, Dave! It’s exciting to see so many teachers and organizations doing such great work in this area. If I might offer one addition, the first volume in a new series that I am co-authoring, Using Informational Text to Teach Literature, will be out in March from Rowman & Littlefield Education. In the meantime, sample resources for To Kill a Mockingbird are available at: http://www.usinginformationaltext.com and on our blog: http://blog.usinginformationaltext.com/

  2. Mary Lou December 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    This looks awesome! Can’t wait to try out the article of the week revision. Thanks!

  3. Mary Clark January 16, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    I’m reading while 38 students are using Newsela in my library, so I definitely didn’t do close reading of your post, but I didn’t see CoreStand. Teachers can create free accounts, and sign up for a weekly email. That will include a link to an elementary and upper grade current event article, and a template for students to fill out. The template would be a bit drill and kill after a while, but for those just dipping their toes into CCSS, it does provide an explicit focus on reading, writing, language, and speaking and listening. I much prefer Newsela, and my teachers are crazy about it, but CoreStand’s templates might be useful. (And this week’s article was about A-Rod, so I had to share with my Yankee-hating teachers.) http://www.corestand.com/lessons-and-more/ then head to the lower right corner to subscribe.

    • davestuartjr January 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      Mary, thank you for sharing this — I’m going to check it out!

      As always, you are the bomb.

  4. Kristi Wissel December 27, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    I’m sure you recommend this resource in another post, but the “They Say/I Say” blog is a wonderful resource for argumentative mentor texts. Thank you so much for creating this forum for us to collaborate and inspire one another. http://www.theysayiblog.com/

    • Mary Lou December 27, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Wow, this is a great resource! Thanks!!

  5. LovesToLearn February 10, 2015 at 3:02 am #

    NEWSELA is no longer free. They got a bunch of people on their site, then started charging fairly astronomical prices. Their yearly licensing is now $18 per student, $2,000 per grade level or $6,000 per school.

    • Katy Berner-Wallen December 14, 2015 at 11:11 am #

      I still have a free membership. THere are paid pieces to Newsela – but if you have a free account most of it is still available. You have to pay for the advanced features they recently added – but it’s still a good resource.

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