Micro-comprehension: Applying Text Structure

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As I continue my series about micro-comprehension, text structure processing is next in line. Earlier, I wrote about sentence structure processing. The process of analyzing sentence structure and text structure shares similarities. However, analyzing at the sentence level gives a close up picture of the meaning of the sentence; whereas, analyzing text structure provides the bigger picture of an entire essay or any  longer piece of writing.

Many fluent readers seem to automatically process text structure, but it is probably subconscious. Take a look at this short list of text structures students encounter:

  • sequence/chronological order

  • compare/contrast

  • description

  • cause/effect

  • problem/solution

 

Unfortunately, a lot of readers miss out on whole chunks of meaning because they get caught in the muck and mire of wading through too much information. Tunnel vision sets in, and students simply gloss over the purpose for the passage. Understanding the overall structure of the text can help students avoid some of these struggles. So…how do we teach students to recognize these text structures?

 

Look at the list of text structures again. Luckily, these types of text structures come with signal words and phrases that you can directly teach students to recognize. Then, as they read, these words clue them in as to which textual structure they are reading. The NEA published an excellent chart to illustrate this.

 

With practice, students can identify the structure, which prepares their brains to comprehend and retain the information. Students who can readily determine an author’s text structure will have a much clearer mental model of the goings on in a piece of text.

 

Now, here’s an interesting approach that will also inform your reading instruction. First, Shurley English provides graphic organizers (also called advance organizers and prewriting maps) that help students determine the kinds of text they want to write. Since we show students the ins and outs of how to write various text structures (depending on the purpose of the writing and the audience), it isn’t a huge leap for them to analyze what they are reading, based on an author’s chosen text structure. And, they can use our graphic organizers to help them do it! It’s almost like reverse engineering, using texts and graphic organizers.

 

Now, it’s your turn…

  • Select a short passage—any grade appropriate prose will do.

  • Provide your students the appropriate Shurley English prewriting map, or have them select which map will best work for the text.

    • use  a Venn Diagram for a comparison/contrast structure;

    • use the Descriptive map for a descriptive text structure;

    • use the Persuasive/Argumentative map for a problem/solution text structure, etc.

  • Read the passage aloud or have volunteers read it aloud.

  • Have students listen carefully and fill in the information on the map as they hear or read the text.

 

I love using reading and writing skills interdependently because that’s the way those processes actually interact in the brain. Each lends itself to the other as confirmation that the meaning is getting through! As students begin to identify text structures in their reading, you build onto that knowledge to shore up their writing, and vice versa.

 

In my next article, I will conclude my series on micro-comprehension with a discussion about comprehension monitoring. Please join me!

(This post is part of a series on Micro-Comprehension. To start at the beginning, click here.)

What is a contronym?

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Have you ever noticed that several language arts terms have the letters o-n-y-m in them?  I’m talking about words like synonym, antonym, homonym, heteronym, acronym, etc.  Of course, the list goes on, but here’s what you need to know about all of these words:

Onym is actually a Greek root word that means “name.”  So, in context, when you see a word with this root, you can conclude that it names something; you just have to figure out what!      

Most 1st -8th grade curriculums purposefully teach students about synonyms and antonyms as a way to (a.) increase their vocabulary, (b.) improve their reading comprehension, and (c.) learn effective strategies to improve and expand their writing.  These two categories are not only imperative to learn about concepts in other subject areas; they are also tested on the SAT and GRE.

A synonym is the name of the category of words that mean the same or almost the same thing.  An example might include words like “intelligent” and “smart.”  An Antonym, on the other hand, is the name of the category of words that have opposite meanings like “hot” and “cold. “ 

The purpose of this blog is not to define every onym word for you, so allow me to fast forward to my big ah-ha moment…

As I continued to review the list of language arts related onym words, I stumbled on one that intrigued me: contronyms.   As a teacher, I had never taught this term much less required my students to learn about them or identify them in a sentence. That’s why I’m sharing them now! 

A contronym is the name of a category of words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same yet are opposite in meaning. They are described as words that are their own antonyms.  To further explain, let’s use the contronym bill as an example.

Contronym: bill

Description: You can have a $50 bill in your pocket, or you can receive a $50 bill for some sort of service you obtained.

Explanation: In the first example, “bill” means a piece of paper money; a $50 credit. In the second example, “bill” refers to an invoice you receive that tells you how much money you owe. In other words, it means that you have a $50 debt. Bill and bill are contronyms.

Rational: Even though the word “bill” looks the same and sounds the same in both sentences, it means the exact opposite in each. Bill describes money you can spend in the first example, while bill describes a debt that you owe in the second one.

You can give your students the knowledge, skills, and practice they need to know and use contronyms, starting with the list of contronyms below:

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Figurative Language Processing: Reader’s Theater & Drama

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Reading fluency, comprehension, prosody (the highs and lows of the voice to convey emotion), —these facets of reading sound like a bunch of educational mumbo-jumbo, but they matter! As I continue to poke around in figurative language processing, these components have to be mentioned because many readers need us to teach these skills directly, at least until they get the idea. Sounds like a lot to manage? Not really—not if you root these skills in an activity that rightly brings each area to the forefront in a kid’s thinking.

I am talking about Reader’s Theater and other dramatic activities. Because I am a nut about drama and all things related to the stage, these kinds of strategies allow me to use my passion for words, expressions, figurative language, poise, elocution, drama…blah, blah, blah, and enable me to get kids excited about them, too. In Reader’s Theater and plays, reading, of course, is a demanded skill, but because the focus is not only reading, but also “how” to read with expression, fluency, prosody, and breathing techniques to create dramatic entrances and pauses. This kind of reading is sneaky because it rehearses the important reading skills kids need, but it does so under the guise of performance. The dramatic arts allow students, who get tunnel-vision by the minutia of reading, to experience a major boost in their reading ability and overall confidence.

Reader’s Theater and plays take on many forms. Sometimes a solo, sometimes a duet, sometimes a whole group; it doesn’t matter how you configure it. It only matters that the reading material sparks students’ interests. Plays, of course, take the skill further by adding a dimension of memory work and blocking of characters.

When I was in the fourth grade, I will never forget Mrs. Hollmann, who challenged our whole class to memorize Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She arranged all twenty-four of us into various-sized groups and set us to practicing the poem. In those days, we didn’t add in special sound effects or fancy inflections, but we performed it together as a class after all that rehearsal. You see, it was during the hard work of learning the poem, reading it over and over, memorizing a large part of it, that many of us found a voice—our own voice. And in doing so, we also improved our reading skills without realizing that it was our reading Mrs. Hollmann was pushing us to improve. We just thought it was exciting!

Later in school, drama on the stage afforded me the same kinds of rehearsal. When I carried that knowledge into the classroom, the results were truly “dramatic”! Never underestimate the value of good classroom drama.

I don’t have enough space here to publish all of the possible ways for you to incorporate Reader’s Theater or classroom plays, but if you do an internet search for the key words: reader’s theater or student plays, you will discover no end to the amount of amazing material available to get you going! Be sure to choose works that are just slightly more advanced than your students’ current readability levels. You can use any one of the online reading scales to check for grade levels most suited for a particular piece. In addition, you can go to the following site to access ideal literature for Reader’s Theater and this site for scripts students can use in their classroom plays. In no time at all, you can have your students reading and performing!

(This post is part of a series on Micro-Comprehension. To start at the beginning, click here.)