Using Independent Sustained Reading to Facilitate Leveled Reading

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has provided a guide to Independent Sustained Reading (ISR) for students.  This guide provides the “how to” and the differences found between this new independent reading and silent sustained reading sometimes referred to as SSR Time or DEAR (Drop Everything and Read.  


                                                               ISR vs. SSR

Independent Sustained Reading Silent Sustained Reading or Drop Everything and Read
Teacher’s Responsibility
  • Model a strategy
  • Foster collaborative discussion
  • Teach Self Monitoring
  • Reflections
  • Help Make Connections
  • Model Silent Reading
Design or Structure
  • Integrated into Instruction
  • Separate Block of time


Thinking about this guide and “my vision” for TES reading, these are my big takeaways from this resource.  These are my personal opinions and thoughts independent to DPI.


Independent Sustained Reading Time is a great way to integrate reading rotations and ensure rigor.  Instead of the “Guided Reading” structure of 3 groups rotating with 3 levels of text, you can use the same text or text on the same topic chosen by the students to facilitate learning.


Scaffolding is important part of ensuring students are successful BUT it can also deter thinking of students.  By having students read a lower level text, you are lowering the expectation–is that necessary?


I see Independent Sustained Reading as a way to provide scaffolding WHILE providing high quality text and not lowering expectations. Here is how I see it working…


  1. Teacher begins lesson with a whole group lesson to teach a skill, model a strategy, show reflection or how to make a connection or introduce a concept or idea.  
  2. Students are then grouped and given a section of text to read to apply what was modeled or taught.  
  3. Teacher meets with lowest students first to get them started and possibly partner students  to ensure they have the skills to begin. (8 minutes)
  4. Teacher then meets with highest students (reading independently) to extend their thinking and to possibly deepen the expectation for them. Mid group (reading independently) could also pair and check in with low group at this time (8-10 minutes)
  5. Teacher can either check in with mid group or have high and mid group meet to collaborate together while he/she meets with the low group to continue instruction.. (8 minutes)
  6. Teacher pulls all students back together to discuss what they have read and the skill they were applying.


How is this different from a guided reading rotation?


ALL students will be able to:

  • Discuss vocabulary
  • Answer and Ask higher order thinking question
  • Discuss the same text
  • Participate in Discussion
  • Elaborate and discuss how they applied the skill
  • Use examples from the same text to support their answers


This can be POWERFUL because your lowest students are able to contribute and build on the ideas of the class because you provided scaffolding without lowering the expectation. Your highest students completed the reading, applied the skill and you extended their thinking part way through so you did not have quick finishers and wasted time.  When planning your next story or informational text, consider leveling students within the class and abandon the traditional rotation method. This increases the rigor, expectation AND ensures that scaffolding is used when and with whom it is needed.


What are your thoughts?



North Carolina’s Independent Sustained Reading Guide for K-5


Control Scaffolding to Ensure Rigor


A scaffold by definition is a temporary structure put in place to repair a “building or other construction.” Applying this definition to education we know that scaffolding is when we put instructional strategies in place to temporarily repair or support learning.

We, as educators, put scaffolds automatically in place to ensure our students are successful. It is important to support our learners while they are shaky and beginning to learn, practice and apply new tasks or strategies.   All students can benefit from this support. We provide to them in various ways. We use guided instruction where a teacher levels instruction to a child’s level and gradually increases the level of complexity over time. This simplified lesson helps students see and understand the concept in a smaller group and allows the teacher to check and monitor progress. Teachers employ strategies such as “I do, we do, you do” to help transfer responsibility gradually to the student. Other popular ways to offer scaffolding to students are:

  • Frontloading vocabulary
  • Visuals and graphics
  • Modeling and think aloud
  • Sentence starters or word boxes
  • Partner work or collaborative teams
  • Graphic Organizers together as a class to organize ideas

But what happens when we do not remove this “temporary” support?


Teaching is an art and knowing when to apply and remove instructional support is crucial.  We must constantly think:

  • Who is the reader or student?
  • What is their ability?
  • What can they do?  
  • Are we applying tasks that are stretching this student?  
  • Am I providing activities and materials to help them grow and think a bit more than yesterday?  
  • Is the text or material we are providing continuing to challenge?
  • Is the proper scaffold in place?

Constantly evaluating “Task–Text—Student” is the key to ensuring a balanced and rigorous classroom. There must be a balance between these variables to ensure continued learning. If you are providing rigorous material and tasks that stretch thinking but give too much support–you are keeping the student from learning. Rigor and learning is obtained by instilling conceptual understanding through the domains of literacy, having students matched to text and task appropriately to ensure they are stretching. Each element must work together in accordance with the instructional strategies and scaffolding the teacher is providing.

How can we lessen “learning scaffolding” AND continue with rigor?


Reading Task Planning

Planning the text you give students by analyzing what scaffolding the author has already provided.  The elements presented should guide your planning and what scaffolding you should provide or take away.

Look at this chart of a few examples of scaffolding provided by the author or in a classroom.

Author Provided Scaffolding Teacher provided Scaffolding


Text Features






Pre teach vocabulary

Graphic Organizer






Think Aloud

Distributed Summarizing Strategies


If you choose to use a story out of a basal, what is provided for the reader? The author has chunked the text on pages with specific graphics designed to support the text. Vocabulary is highlighted for the reader. The author has provided the standard title which gives the main idea and it has been written in a basic fiction structure with character, setting , problem and solution.  

Knowing this is your text, how much more scaffolding do your students need?  Do they all need vocabulary pre-taught? Do some students need pictures removed because they rely too heavily on these?  Planning is a crucial part of instruction because you are ensuring that the text and the student are matched appropriately.  You want the text to be at a higher level than the student can reach without your support–this allows them to be exposed to new features, structures and vocabulary that they cannot access independently.  Remember YOU are a support. You are questioning, having students talk through ideas, you are explaining–all of these allow you to control how difficult the text is for students. Taking away some of these or doing less–makes the text more difficult and providing more allows it to be easier for access.

YOU control the rigor by controlling the following elements–text, task and reader.

Plan time for students to learn in whole group, move to partners and then to  independent work. Let them do the work!

After teaching a concept, it is important for students to talk through their ideas and concepts with a partner to begin to make sense of the information. Student talk is crucial to help students work through the domains of literacy (listening, speaking, reading and writing) to have conceptual understanding.  More importantly, students must take time to work independently on the skill AND MAKE MISTAKES. It is not until you bring students back together to clarify and question students do they begin to make connections and to make sense of errors. The best way to take scaffolding from a student is to make them think through and do the work themselves. Give time for students to think on their own and write their own ideas into their journal or notebook. After they have generated ideas, then let them share and work together. All students should bring ideas to the table when doing group work or it is not an equal learning experience. Instead of think-pair-share, try write-pair-share-write!  By changing this strategy, students are writing or drawing their ideas, getting support from a partner when discussing (deepening understanding). The sharing helps to clarify and deepen understanding further with the teacher modeling. The final write allows the student to conceptualize their ideas into written, drawings or thoughts. Labels on drawings is a great next step for younger students.

Removing instructional scaffolding is not easy because we want our students to be successful. However, we must remember that until they make mistakes–learning truly has no purpose or meaning. Let students have time to make errors and then help students fix them–that is truly TEACHING AND LEARNING WITH RIGOR.

Rigor and Complexity

We continue to discuss ELA and the depth of the standards.  Are we digging deep enough? Are we scaffolding too much?  What does ELA complexity and rigor look like?

Some people think rigor or complexity in a reading classroom is simply asking higher order questions, doing a close reading, and giving more difficult text but it is actually MORE than that!  You probably have heard in math that rigor is obtained through procedural fluency, conceptual understanding and real world application.  I think these same elements of rigor are needed in the ELA classroom in the following form:  strong standards, high level text, knowledge of the reader, authentic tasks, application of strategies and explicit instruction.

I have shared that the Common Core standards are already written in a scaffolding manner. (See this link to review this information:  Blog on Fiction Text Structure )   The standards address all domains of literacy including listening, speaking, reading and writing.  When teaching a concept it is important that students first hear the information, learn to speak the concept through language, read about it and then apply their learning through writing. This encourages students to think conceptually because you are moving them through the concrete to abstract developmentally.  In addition, to using these domains, the standards are building on one another to maximize higher order thinking and deepening of understanding by revisiting a text for different purposes. These standards are the “blueprint” for conceptual understanding.

Tip 1: If you are encouraging student to student interaction, you are deepening understanding of the topic and increasing the opportunity for students to build vocabulary and formulating ideas for written responses.

We think of text as being the most important element of rigor. If we want to challenge, we give more difficult text. Right?  Not exactly!  Text becomes complex and rigorous if you consider both quantitative (the mathematical reading level) and qualitative (quality of text and structure) measures.

See chart below.


Qualitative Quantitative
Looks within the text for the depth of the writing and complexity.

  • Figurative or Literal Language
  • Concise or Strongly Descriptive
  • Levels of Meaning or perspectives
  • Non-conventional text structure, narrator or writing style
  • Tier III vocabulary
  • Singular or multifaceted Plot
Measures the word frequency and length of sentences.

  • Lexile Level
  • Any mathematical reading level

You have to use both of these together to determine what will challenge your students. For example, Harry Potter and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day have similar lexile levels but clearly the depth of these texts are very different. There is actually a rubric (called a placemat) that can help you determine if your text is complex. You can find this document at North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in their ELA livebinder.  This placemat addresses how to ensure a text is complex by looking at various variables.

I like to use my “homemade” version for K-5 because it just seems more manageable to me.

Click here to Access:  Complexity Rubric


This “homemade” rubric helps you decide if the text is complex by examining different elements of the text (Qualitative and Quantitative) such as text structure, language, point of view, amount of background knowledge needed to understand text, vocabulary and the reading level.  Each element is given a point value to determine if the text is “above average.”

Tip #2:  Take into account the reading level AND the structure of the text when choosing a text for students. If the book has a lower reading level, than you will need to pull out the figurative language or multiple perspectives of two characters to make it more complex for your students. If you have a higher text, you may first look at basic 5W questions and then move into the higher concepts using the order of the standards.  It is important to always ensure students have basic understanding before digging deeper.

The reader and task is the next element you must consider in choosing complex text.  How proficient is the reader with multiple problems?  Can the reader distinguish figurative language from literal text?  Does the reader have sufficient background knowledge to pick up on subtle hints and inferences embedded in the text? When answering these questions, it helps you to decide where you need to scaffold and support readers with direct instruction and modeling.  Making sure the task is appropriate but not “too easy” is a challenge.

Tip #3:  Really think about what you are asking students to do with a text. What is the purpose of the task? The task should be real world or application of knowledge—not just simply regurgitating the story elements or sequence. These basic activities can be completed through annotation, reflections, class and peer discussions.  A task should be saved for applying knowledge or skills learned by the reader. Examples of great authentic tasks can be found at the following site by John Mueller:  Some pretty amazing ideas here.

The last elements are strategies and instruction which could take several blog posts to cover. So, the basics are that the instruction should be focused on the reader and allow the reader to discover rather than for the teacher to “teach it” or tell it to others.  Instruction should include higher order questioning that requires students to ground their answers in the text with evidence. This requires students to reread and discover new ideas within the same text. Strategies that help students learn are ones that scaffold learning but do not give answers. Think aloud, modeling, close reading, annotation and discussion—all require students to gain information but do the work themselves which is an important part of ensuring text complexity.

Tip #4:  Really think about the strategies you are using and if they are appropriate for the group of students you have. Consult this resource which I inerited many years ago (not sure of the original source) and modified it and digitized it over the years. The chart shows best practice strategies and their effectiveness for certain students.  Check it out here:  Instructional Strategies Matrix

As you can see, RIGOR and COMPLEXITY in reading is not an easy task. Rigor is attained by instilling conceptual understanding through the domains of literacy, having students matched appropriately with text and task to ensure they are stretching to their maximum with the proper scaffolds in place.  Procedural fluency in reading is when students can clearly apply the strategies as they read to fully comprehend the text. Real world application is matching task to text and ensuring that the task has relevancy and requires students to use their knowledge in new ways.  Teachers must really know the text,  reader and the standards because each element must work together.  A text is just a text—until you pair it with the correct standard, reader and task.


Variable Accountability

Accountability often has a negative connotation. When you pair the word accountability with the word variability–does it change it?  Accountability is holding a person to an expectation. Variability is a variance or unevenness. “Variable Accountability”–is that an oxymoron?  

So, why do I put these two words together?  Accountability is a necessary element of success.  Accountability is more than being held to a standard but a “buy in” by the person to work towards a vision or goal.  According to Rodger Dean Duncan,, there is an “Accountability Ladder” which shows the continuum of accountability stages.



This is where the idea of variability comes to my mind. Where on this ladder are your students?  Why are they there? Do they understand the expectation? Are they apathetic? Do they need skills or motivation?  We must recognize where our students are and then react to it with a varying attitude or a coaching model to help students move forward.

As educators, parents and leaders of children, we must think about why our children are not “owning” their behaviors or becoming motivated to solve problems towards success.  The idea from Roger Connors book, The Oz Principle, is that we must think and act above the line to reach accountability. (see figure)


Roger Connors’ ideas from the Oz Principle:

We must work as “coaches” to help students move away from being unaware to understanding. Helping them to stop avoiding or excuse making.  At this point, we need to help children develop the skills to help them own and problem solve so they can reach success. When a child says, “I forgot to take my homework home.”  We must take a minute to say, “When you forget your homework, how could you solve that? Brainstorm ideas such as call a friend, check Dojo to see if it is posted by the teacher, get to school early to get it, etc.  By giving them ideas to build their capacity to solve it in the future.

We must help students “climb” their way up the ladder of accountability.  We can dole out punishments and consequences but does that help students achieve their way to success? Clear expectations, constant coaching and modeling can help our young people not only understand how to gain success but how to own their problems and solve them.

This Poem Is NUTS!

It is NO secret that I love poetry.  As an educator, you should too! Poetry is a powerful vehicle of language.  Poems contain figurative language, grammar opportunities, and lessons on perspective and point of view in short manageable packages.  Poems are a way for us to provide rigor without overwhelming the reader. Rhyming poems offer an added benefit for younger readers because the rhyming helps them build phonemic awareness and see patterns in words.

Poetry helps students build word recognition and automaticity with repeated readings and sometimes predictable rhyme patterns.

A missing element in our instruction is often GRAMMAR.  Poems offer educators text to examine punctuation and grammar “Do’s and Don’ts.”  Anyone who has looked at an e. e. cummings poem has been exposed to a new world of looking at words and punctuation. Students are able to look at the use of parts of speech in context in small phrases which makes it easier to study the purpose and impact.

I use a strategy called THIS  POEM IS NUTS (more about this on our PD Day)  to help students navigate their way through poetry.  I use the idea of “nuts” to show the differences in poetry and other genres.  Poems use their own rules and ways of doing things which is very different from other genres such as lines instead of sentences, stanzas instead of paragraphs and figurative language that holds hidden meanings.

Look at the following excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s poem Summer Shower:

A drop fell on the apple tree,

Another on the roof;

A half a dozen kissed the eaves,

And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,

That went to help the sea.

Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,

What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,

The birds jocoser sung;

The sunshine threw his hat away,

The orchards spangles hung.

This excerpt was accessed from the following website on 12/12/2018:



Within these three stanzas are opportunities to discuss verbs used in unusual ways.  The author creates images with nouns that are unconventional, implying that, the sunshine has a hat.   Diamante poems are an easy way for teachers to use poetry to focus on the power of grammar use in writing.  Helping children see why particular punctuation is being used such as the semicolon or comma, helps them understand their purpose within text.  

Poetry allows the educator to teach skills at a sentence or phrase level rather than an entire paragraph or selection. (When you are teaching skills remember that you teach first on a word or sentence level to paragraph to selection to multiple selections.)  You do not begin teaching the skill of context clues within an entire selection because it is too much.  You must isolate the skill to one sentence until they understand and make the level more difficult and add more text.  By moving through this progression level when you teach your skills, it allows students to grasp the concept on a concrete level before moving to a more complex abstract level.

Poems offer a way for students to apply their reading strategy and make true sense of text. When you read a free verse poem, the first response is normally—what? This response is that you did not comprehend the text and what you do next proves whether you know how and are comfortable applying strategic strategies. If you apply reading strategies such as rereading, chunking the text, or applying context clues, etc. than you have proven you know how to apply the needed skills to make meaning of text.  Poetry offers TONS of opportunity to TRULY engage students into using and applying skills and strategies as they read. Some of our students do not even know they do not understand while others see that there is a break down in comprehension quickly. It is the understanding that there is a loss of meaning that separates struggling readers from our strongest. Strong readers make mistakes but they have “read attack” skills and apply them automatically. For the rest of our students, we must teach this skill.   It is rare for our higher students to truly grapple with text. Poetry is embedded with vocabulary and figurative language that even our strongest readers are not proficient. This ensures that ALL of our students are challenged with rigor and learn to see what it feels like when understanding is breaking down and how to apply reading comprehension strategies to fix it.

For example, look at the excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s poem, I like to see it lap the Miles:

I like to see it lap the Miles –

And lick the Valleys up –

And stop to feed itself at Tanks –

And then – prodigious step

Around a Pile of Mountains –

And supercilious peer

In Shanties – by the sides of Roads –

And then a Quarry pare

This excerpt was accessed from the following website on 12/12/2018:

Immediately when students read the first stanza, they think that the poet is describing an animal because of words such as lick, feed and lap.  The words tank and prodigious normally are skipped because they do not make sense for the reader at first. The second stanza is usually where students stop and say, “I don’t get it.”  This should make you happy because they are realizing that they are decoding the words but not making meaning of the text. Having students return to the beginning and begin to question the text and chunk the lines into phrases to really think about the meaning and hidden figurative language embedded in the words helps them think deeper.  The key word is “tanks” because this just does not make sense for an animal. At this point, strong readers will realize that they must think figuratively. Think of the opportunity here to model for students how to “fix their break down in comprehension” with modeling, guided questions and student discussion.

Finally, poetry provides creativity and the opportunities to see and think from other perspectives. Poetry is a world where any object or setting can take on a new persona.  Poetry is a world where “things are NUTS” and sometimes do not make sense but open to possibilities. Poetry provides a world of imagination and a place that educators should WANT to run towards.

Resources for you:

K-1 Exemplars 2-3 Exemplars 4-5 Exemplars

For TES specifically–

This Poem Is NUTS- strategy for testing– see Kelly or a 3-5 teacher if you want to learn more

‘Tis the Season for Brain Breaks

‘Tis the Season!  We think of the season as a merry time with fun and memory making but it can also bring tons of stress to our families.  December can be filled with worries of custody schedules, work schedules, money and balancing all the elements of life. January intensifies these worries with added stress of bills collected in December. Our students are the recipients of much of this stress because they are “in it” and have no control to fix or change the situation.


Food for thought coming back in January:  

Judy Willis M.D., Edutopia Article, stated the following, “For students to learn at their highest potential, their brains need to send signals efficiently from the sensory receptors (what they hear, see, touch, read, imagine, and experience) to memory storage regions of the brain. The most detrimental disruptions to traffic along these information pathways are stress and overload.”  Providing our students with “Brain Breaks” often throughout a lesson can help students obtain optimal retention of information and attention.


Your brain contains 100 billion neurons or brain cells.  These cells have the primary job of receiving information and signaling other neurons using electricity or chemicals to stimulate messages within the body. The hypothalamus is the regulation center of the brain.  It keeps your body at a constant; including temperature, heart rate, etc.  Learning happens when neurons are activated and a message is sent along the axon.  When repeatedly stimulated a process called synapse is created. Synapse is created when two neurons are connected from the end of the dendrite. The creation of dendrites is when the brain is relating information that is important within the brain and “filing it” for retention or when the brain makes a learning connection which puts it in our memory.


When the brain is exposed to stress the body begins to release cortisol which is the primary stress hormone. This chemical affects your heart, lungs, skin, immune system and circulation.  In addition, it stimulates the hypothalamus and when it reaches the neuron, it shuts off the impulses of the dendrites which halt learning.  This is a temporary response and the dendrites will grow back UNLESS there is a long term period of stress.  When stress is repetitive the brain will respond by short circuiting that pathway which will stop impulses and result in the lack of input and messaging.  Many of our students are in a constant state of stress from instability at home, lack of confidence in a subject, poor self-esteem, and relationships with their peers, etc. This constant state of stress causes inability to stay on task, inattention, and lack of self-control.


Implementing a “Brain Break” is essential to keeping learning happening and can be a natural way for students to “sum up learning” or thinking.  No more than 20 minutes of any activity should be taking place in the elementary school without a change in thought or activity.  A person’s attention limit is approximately their age plus one –a second grader only has an attention span of about 8 to 9 minutes!  By rebooting the brain, you restart the learning process by restoring to a calm state and producing dopamine.


Three Ways to Implement a Brain Break!


  1. Use the summarizing throughout the lessons that was featured the last two weeks.


  • During teaching stop frequently and ask students to talk to a partner and summarize learning or their ideas. To change things up you can have students draw, write or act out their learning as well.


  1. Read Aloud for a few minutes after an activity or lesson to calm and relax students while provoking thought.


  • Read aloud and stop often to discuss or have students act out scenes, visualize through drawing or writing or to chat with a partner about an event or character.


  1. MOVE.  Have students move such as jumping jacks, walking in place, sing a song with movements or throw/catch a ball.  All of these activities help to produce dopamine and increase blood flow to the brain.



  • Just free movement for 3-5 minutes can get blood flowing and stop the production of cortisol in students.  Don’t forget a great site with videos to get them moving.


Enjoy your Christmas Break and think “January Brain Breaks.”

Move Beyond Complacency

I said a few weeks back on my update, “Success is a catalyst for failure,” which was shared on the George Couros’ blog. This quote seemed to fit the atmosphere in my school building of “good enough.”  We are doing well by standardized test measures and better than most people would expect in some ways.


How did that sound?  It hurt to type those words actually, but, a complacency has fallen across the building. Is this because of me?  Am I not teaching enough? Am I not inspiring or motivating others enough?


This week I read this quote:


Success breeds complacency.

Complacency breeds failure.

Only the paranoid survive.

—-Andy Grove


In case you didn’t know, the author of this quote it is Andrew Stephen Grove who was born in Hungary.  Hungary was a one party communist controlled country .All businesses were confiscated during this time in the name of “egalitarianism” and became a total dependence on the state or government for their well being and needs. Andrew Grove escaped his country at the age of 20  to the United States. Here he completed his education and became a successful businessman and CEO of Intel.


Think about this man for a minute.  Reread his words:


Success breeds complacency.

Complacency breeds failure.

Only the paranoid survive.

—-Andy Grove


If we live in a state of “it is ok” then the results we get are mediocre. The “paranoid that survive” are those that constantly think good is not ok.  


I feel every organization, school and or business survives, thrives or is destroyed by the principles that uphold this quote. You can survive by doing what NEEDS to be done to function.  But staying in the survival state and NOT changing will ultimately be your demise. It is only by those who are “paranoid” and keep things moving in new directions, growing, and learning which breeds success.

3 Ways to Move Beyond Complacency:

  • Be a Lifelong Learner AND be Willing to TRY!   Learning new things, putting them in notebooks and then on a shelf–does not make change. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone and try new ideas.  What is the worst thing that can happen? No Change? You get that by not trying anyway!
  • Be “OK” with not being in the crowd.  This is hard because we all want to belong and be accepted.  However, if you are stepping out of the box and the norm–you will often be criticized by others.  This is definitely hard but the gifts you do receive are growing as an educator, student growth and self satisfaction. 
  • Be Willing to FAIL.  Failing at something is hard but you cannot win if you do not fail. I often say “It takes a lot of wrong answers to get to the right one,” and that is true.  You will not succeed every time but YOU will gain knowledge and continue to move forward.


Stepping out of comfort or complacency is hard but recognizing it is even harder. If you have fallen into the trap of everything is fine or ok—take a risk and try something new.  It is with this risk and challenge that YOU will grow and OUR school will grow.

Power of the Conjunction

As a school, we have been working to have students speak in complete sentences are now moving towards having them using complete sentences in their writing.  Now that we have conquered this piece, it is time to move forward to compound sentences.


Students need to begin learning to combine ideas so that their sentences are longer and more coherent. By reading complex text, students SEE how authors’ put their ideas together in different and unusual ways.  It is this exposure that helps our students see that we can change up a subject and a predicate or combine like ideas into one sentence. We do not always speak this way and therefore–we do not write this way.


Have you listened to your students speak?  I mean, really, speak. Ask them a question.  Listen to their response. Do they speak in complete sentences naturally?  Are the sentences coherent and distinct or a stream of consciousness? List the characteristics you notice.  Ask your students to write about a topic for a few minutes. Compare this writing with the characteristics you noticed in their speaking—are they similar?


The next step after a complete sentence is a compound sentence. Show students how to combine subjects and adjectives to keep from having to write repetitive sentences.  Begin showing students how they can use conjunctions to tie their ideas or sentences together. A subordinating conjunction which is simply a word that can help you extend your sentences to make them longer and more complex.  Subordinating conjunctions include the words for, but, and, yet, so, or and nor. This can help your students transform their understanding of syntax. For example: Spiders have eight legs. Insects have only six legs. These sentences can become:  Spiders have eight legs, yet insects only have six.


Simple changes can help students extend their thinking and sentences.  More complex subordinating conjunctions include the words: after, although, as, as if, because, before, even though, if, once, since, though, unless, when, that.  These words help students further explain their ideas and make their sentences more complex. We use the conjunction because to answer the simple question of why!


Taking the above sentences:  Spiders have eight legs. Insects have only six legs.  We combined these with the conjunction–yet. Can it be done other ways?

  • Spiders have eight legs but insects only have six.
  • Spiders have eight legs even though insects have only six.
  • Insects have six legs though spiders have eight.
  • Insects have six legs when spiders have eight to help them sense prey on their webs.


How did the use of conjunctions change my last sentence?  It is important we show students that sentences can be built in many ways.  We want sentences both written and oral to “sound good” but to also provide the most detail in the most efficient way.  

Why We Need Self Regulation Education?

When we are educating our students, we must consider where they come from each day and enter our building.  So many students enter bouncing and moving while asking questions and boisterously making comments. Why do we have this constant movement, questions and lack of control?  Many things are contributing to a shift in our student populations. One reason is our families struggle financially which puts a huge stress factor on the family. In addition to poverty, we have students dealing with traumatic situations or medical/mental health issues that cause deficits in learning and a lack of emotional regulation.


Poverty, trauma and ADHD all cause similar characteristics including:

  • Lack of follow through
  • No consideration of consequences
  • Interrupts
  • Learning gaps
  • Vocabulary and language deficits
  • No impulse controls
  • Over or under response to stimuli


Have you ever thought about our students who are one on one with technology for more than 4 hours a day?  

Over stimulation with technology continuously works the left brain which actually affects how the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and parietal lobes mature and develop.  A person who is overstimulated with technology can be confused with the same characteristics of students who have been involved in traumatic situations, have ADHD or live in an poverty stricken environment.


What do these three parts of the brain do?  

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is charged with complex cognitive thinking, decision making and moderating social behavior.  The cerebellum is the center which receives information from the sensory systems which regulates your motor movements. The cerebellum helps to ensure balance, coordinating and affects your speech.  The parietal lobe integrates a person’s sensory input.



Speech and communication is impacted as well as how people interact.  If you cannot regulate your movement and the sensory input–what do you think you will have in your classroom?


Our push to begin class meetings (morning meetings) is to begin to build a safe environment for our students.  Students must feel safe and cared for before they can learn. Helping students learn how to socially interact, deal with problems and their peers.  


Model how to handle different situations and what we do when we have strong feelings or emotions that take over. Students must understand how emotions control your actions and learning.  Role playing and conversations help students SEE what they should do and helps to reshape behaviors. 


Think of the students you serve and how they are unable to self regulate–what do they need?  Post your ideas for class meetings below!

Text Features Lead the Way Through Non-Fiction Text

Literary elements are the “skeleton” of fictional text.

These literary elements give fiction structure but what about non-fiction?


Non-fiction is “held up” by the text features and signal words which help to determine the “skeleton” or structure of the text.  An author creates a text structure by designing or writing the text by using common text features to “build” the main ideas.  The signal words are embedded to let the reader know what ideas are important and to better understand them.  The main structure types of non-fiction are:

  • Cause and effect: describe cause and effect relationships.  The text describes events and identifies reasons (causes) for why the event happened.
  • Description: text that visualizes information which utilizes sensory and descriptive details that provides the 5W’s about a topic.
  • Sequential: chronologically organized from beginning to end
  • Compare and Contrast: comparisons used to describe an idea and similarities and differences are shared
  • Problem and Solution: author introduces a problem and presents solutions

Text features must be explicitly taught to help students navigate through informational and non-fiction text.  These features help readers “see” how the author crafted the article or selection. The use of subheadings, columns, graphics, and other features help the reader determine what is important.


Educators spend a great deal of time teaching text features because we want them to navigate the text effectively.  This intentional instruction is important—right?  The answer to this is “YES” but that is simply not enough for a young reader to fully navigate the text. They must be taught the different text structure types, text features that accompany each structure and the signal words that the author uses to organize a selection.  Together these elements are used to create a text and help a reader find and understand the main points of the selection.  Explicitly teaching signal words helps students determine how the author organized or structured the information for the reader to understand.  Signal words are the author’s way of helping  the reader see and understand the main points.  Signal words help suggest and show the reader how the author has structured their writing to help you better understand the text.

Click this site to see important signal words to focus on:


What Questions Do Text Features and Signal Words Help a Reader Determine?

  1. How do I navigate a text?
  2. What main ideas and details do the author feel are important?
  3. What type of TEXT STRUCTURE does the non-fiction selection have? (The text features and signal words guide this!)
  4. What is the author SHOWING you that is important?  How? (text features and the author’s craft)

In conjunction with text features, an author uses signal words to help a reader determine the structure that was used to create the text. Please click this link to see a chart which shows the text structure types and signal words:


I have created a guide for students to use to determine the text structure of a text.  This is a step by step process and requires students to interact with the text and self question.  They must determine what they see and how it is organized using text features and signal words. Understanding the structure helps students to apply the correct type of note taking, look out for main ideas and to make sense of what the author finds important.

Click here for the guide:  analyzing-text-structure


What can you do to teach text structure explicitly?

  • Teach text structures using examples of texts and discuss how it has been organized.
  • Take text features out of a text and allow students to figure out where the features should go and why.
  • Discuss main idea sentences and key words that show a certain text structure.
  • Model how to preview a text and to collect information from the text prior to reading and information they can gain while reading in the form of annotation.
  • To solidify learning have students write using that specific text structure to ensure they understand how this type of text is crafted.


Check out resources below from FCRR which can help you gain more ideas about text analysis for students.  Student understanding of how something is written helps to aid their comprehension. We know that teaching by genre can help a student better understand fictional text by knowing what elements they are looking for as they read. Once a student knows they are reading a fairy tale, they know that magic will be an element and contain a heroic event.  If the child is reading a tall tale, they will understand that hyperbole is an element which aids in the understanding that the story may not make sense at times but is meant in a humorous manner. Non-fiction and informational text takes many forms as well and deserves the explicit instruction that we provide when we teach literature.


Start noticing as you read non-fiction text, what text structure the author has utilized.   Notice how you read differently if you know it is organized sequentially rather than in problem solution format. How does it change what you are looking for as you read? Do you take notes differently? When you notice how you read differently—you will see the importance of showing your students.


Florida Center for Reading Research Text Structure Resources:

FCRR: Text Analysis (Grades 2-3)

FCRR: Text Analysis (Grades 4-5)

FCRR: Expository Texts (Grades 2-3)

FCRR: Expository Texts (Grades 4-5)

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