Content Literacy 101

Text Sets (from "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?")

"When teachers make the transition from textbook only classrooms to multitext classrooms, the focus of study becomes concepts rather than the content of one particular book. Students gain both a broad perspective and an in-depth sense of the subject matter from reading many texts on the same topic. I know of no one textbook that contains enough information to help a student become even mildly expert on any topic."     --Gail Ivey

Text sets are yet another idea borrowed from the elementary classroom. In the younger grades, teachers often have bins filled with books of a certain topic, genre, or author (i.e. nature books, biographies, Dr. Seuss books). The same concept can be applied to the secondary classroom. 

Why use it?
By selecting works of various genres, we provide multiple ways for students to get the information they need, in the format that best suits them. If a student cannot read (or is simply uninterested in) the traditional textbook, offering them other opportunities to gain the same content will enrich their learning. A struggling reader may not be able to handle a chapter from a U.S. history textbook, but they might love reading the journal of a German soldier during World War II.

How do I use it?
Text sets:
  • "Contain a wide variety of written texts;
  • Contain materials that vary in length, difficulty, and text structure;
  • Contain examples of text that are relevant, interesting, and accessible to most students;
  • Give students several options for obtaining information;
  • Provide opportunities for students to practice reading strategies and learn content information."

Examples of Accessible Text

  • Poems
  • Short nonfiction selections
  • Fiction
  • Picture books
  • Newspaper articles
  • Short stories
  • Vignettes
  • Biographical information
  • Internet pieces
  • Student writing
  • Mathematical writing
  • Lists
  • Historical recounts
  • Almanacs
  • Magazine Articles
  • Photos
  • Postcards
  • Primary sources
  • Quotes
  • Song lyrics
  • Stamps
  • Letters and journals
  • Pictures of artwork
  • Calendars
  • Recipes
  • Brochures
  • Maps
  • Charts and graphs
  • Catalogs
  • Menus

Evaluation of Text Sets

"Text sets are not designed to catch kids who aren't reading. Text sets are designed to give reluctant readers a choice of interesting and accessible text. They provide opportunities for learning and practicing reading strategies. The use of text sets can be evaluated in the following ways:
  • Writing letters to future users of the sets to include with the materials
  • Observing students as they use the sets and conferring with them
  • Asking students to compare and contrast pieces in a text set
  • Recording questions to ponder and research 
  • Marking interesting and important places in the text with sticky notes and describe connections made by the reader"

NOTE: For a wonderful resource on text sets, check out: Do I Really Have to Teach Reading" Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12 by Cris Tovani. She features a complete text set list for a unit on World War II, as well as suggestions for other content areas. See my "Further Reading" and "References Used" for more information.