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English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Level 4 – Listening, reading, and viewing

Processes and strategies

Students will:

  • integrate sources of information, processes, and strategies confidently to identify, form, and express ideas.

Sources of information

What do I need to know?

There are three interrelated sources of information in texts that readers and writers use:

  • meaning (semantics) – the meanings of words and of images, such as illustrations, diagrams, and symbols, in their context; Students build on their knowledge of words and their meanings through extensive reading and writing, rich conversations with adults and peers, and planned literacy activities. They extend their vocabularies and learn how to use visual language and illustrations, such as diagrams and photographs, to help them make meaning.
  • structure (syntax) – the grammatical structures of phrases and sentences; Knowing the structure or syntax of a language helps readers and writers to predict unknown words and phrases when reading and the order of words in a sentence when writing. Students’ understanding of the more complex grammatical forms of English (such as the use of ellipsis) increases through planned literacy activities.
  • visual and grapho-phonic information – the visual aspects of the print itself. This source includes the features of the printed letters, words, punctuation, and other print symbols. (It does not include illustrations.) Proficient readers and writers draw on their phonemic awareness (they can hear, differentiate, and attend closely to the individual sounds in words) and on their knowledge of phonics (they know which letters or groups of letters represent which sounds).
    Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. pp.30–31.

All readers, including the very able, may need prompting or direct teaching when they are reading or constructing unfamiliar kinds of language. Even the most experienced readers and writers will need to use word-level information at times, for example, when trying to decode or encode unfamiliar technical terms. All students, therefore, will benefit from deliberate instruction on how to use the sources of information. They will also benefit from word study that involves explicit teaching about word families, prefixes, suffixes, the origins of words, and irregular spellings. This will help them to unlock the meanings of unusual words and more complex academic vocabulary.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.32.

What does it look like?

A case study of a student using the sources of information (and processing strategies) to decode text

In responding to a teacher question during a guided reading lesson, Latu attempted to read aloud a sentence from the first paragraph of the School Journal text “Tauhara Street” by Norman Bilbrough. While reading the sentence “We were cruising down Tauhara Street … when the engine gave a groan, something graunched in the innards, and the car shuddered to a stop”, she hesitated at the word “graunched”. With teacher prompting, she decided that it was probably a verb because of the “-ed” ending, and she knew that the initial consonant blend was “gr”. So she read on, trying to think of a verb beginning with “gr” that made sense.

She soon realised that something bad had happened to the car, because it “shuddered to a stop”. All she could think of was “groaned” – it made sense – but she knew this was not correct because she had just read “groan” in the previous phrase. With further teacher prompting (I used the words “launch” and “staunch” to focus on the letter–sound relationship of the “-aunch” spelling pattern), she recognised the “-aunch” in the middle of the word and was able to bring all the clues together to self-correct to “graunched”.

Teacher, year 6 class 
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, Ministry of Education, 2006. p.32.

Processes

What do I need to know?

Listeners, readers, and viewers use a range of processes when listening, reading, and viewing texts.

Using this range enables readers to:

Learn the code

This means developing the ability to decode and encode written forms of language. The focus is on the conventions of written language and the skills required to read and write texts. At the basic level, learning the code principally means learning to read and write words, sentences, and common symbols such as punctuation marks and numerals. At more advanced levels, learning the code may be thought of more broadly. Students build on their basic skills, using them as they increase their range of vocabulary in reading and writing, and they learn to identify and use more complex structures and features of sentences and of texts, including visual features such as diagrams.

Make meaning

This involves developing and using knowledge, strategies, and awareness in order to get and convey meaning when reading and writing. Readers and writers can make meaning of parts of a text or of the whole text. Making meaning also involves understanding that texts are written for different purposes and intended for particular audiences.

Think critically

Developing as a discriminating reader and writer involves analysing and interpreting meanings, responding critically to texts when reading, and being critically aware when creating texts. Critical thinkers consider different perspectives and the different intentions of texts. When they read and write, they think about the impact that the text is intended to have on the audience and of how the impact is (or could be) achieved. Another aspect of thinking critically is responding to texts at a personal level, reflecting on them, and finding reward in being a reader and a writer.

The three aspects

Although these three aspects are described separately above, learners integrate them during the processes of reading and writing. Literacy learners need to become accurate and efficient in the actual business of reading and writing words, sentences, and texts. Learning the code at the word and sentence level is crucial and may indeed be the principal need of some students (for example, if assessment evidence shows that they require further instruction in the basics of decoding and encoding words). But learning the code has no point unless it is the means to the essential end – reading and writing with meaning and purpose. At the same time, students at all levels should be responding thoughtfully to the texts that they read and create, applying their growing literacy expertise to more complex texts.
Adapted from Effective Literacy Practices in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education p.25.

Making meaning and thinking critically often involve processing information. This means mastering the processes by which information is:

  • identified
  • retrieved
  • stored (recorded)
  • understood
  • organised
  • combined
  • communicated in order to resolve information problems.

Adapted from asTTle V4 Manual 1.0, Chapter 1 p.12.

What does it look like?

Case studies of students using a range of processes to decode and make meaning of texts

Case study 1

Fairly early on in the year, I’d noticed that Matt was quite withdrawn in his reading group, rarely volunteered an opinion, and sometimes struggled to identify particular parts of the text. He usually had a reasonable idea of what the text was about, but I was beginning to suspect that his ideas were coming more from the group discussion or his background knowledge of the topic than from his own reading. I decided to try a running record on an unseen text to try and find out exactly how he was processing print.

I discovered that he tended to miss out difficult words or substitute words that looked similar but didn’t make sense. He was attending to initial letters and chunks, and sometimes to final letters, but not checking the bits in between and definitely not rereading to check for meaning. After the oral record, I asked him to reread the text silently, and I could hear him commenting to himself as he worked out a few of the words he’d missed the first time through. When I questioned him, I found that even at a literal level, he was not able to connect the whole text so that it made sense to him.

I discussed Matt’s running record with him. He told me that he felt he was a very slow reader and felt pressured to get to the end of the text as fast as he could, especially in the reading group because everyone else seemed to read faster than him. I tried to reassure him that we could help him with his reading speed. I explained that reading faster would probably help with his understanding of what he was reading because if you read too slowly, you tend to focus too much on individual words rather than thinking about the ideas in the text.

I think I need to focus him specifically on cross-checking. Freeing him up from feeling he has to keep up with others should help with his motivation for doing this checking. I have a few other students who could do with some practice in crosschecking, so we’ll focus on that with some shared reading texts. And I’ll take a running record every few weeks so that Matt can see how he’s going.

I’ll include cloze activities in his independent reading tasks so that he can practise reading (and rereading) for meaning (at his own pace). I’ll also set him up with tape-assisted reading for the rest of the term so that he can be supported in reading texts at a faster speed than he’s managing now. I think it’s just the pressure of keeping up that’s got him into inefficient reading habits.

I’ll also plan some tasks for the faster readers in his guided reading group so that they can be thinking about their reading while Matt has extra time to “catch up”.

Teacher, year 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006, p. 61.

Case study 2

After a series of planned observations, I decided that my students needed focused teaching to help them make meaning of instructions, especially by using visual features of texts. We were studying measurement in maths, so I decided to use shared reading and discussion of a two-page article about measurement – “How High Is That Tree?” by Brian Birchall.

I put the article on an OHT and explained the reading purpose (“to read and make meaning of a set of measurement instructions”) and the learning goal (“to interpret the directions by linking them closely to visual features of the text”). Our criteria related to whether we could follow the instructions in practice. Before reading, the students predicted (rather randomly) how you might estimate the height of a tree without measuring it. We looked at the visual information on the OHT and then tried again to work out how to estimate the height of a tree. I questioned them about the diagrams (“What is the boy with glasses doing?” “What might the relationship be between his eyes, the stick, and the height of the tree?” “What might his friend be doing?” “What might be the relationship between the two diagrams?”). Their predictions were more successful this time. One boy also pointed out the visual links between the design of the title and the subject of the text.

I led a shared reading of the text to test the students’ predictions and find out how useful the visual features had been. I modelled how I would make meaning of the instructions by rereading aloud the first two sentences of instruction 1, putting them into my own words, acting them out, and indicating what part of the first diagram they related to. Then the students worked in pairs, explaining the rest of the instructions to their partner, and discussing how each related to the diagrams.

I monitored my target students by listening closely to their explanations. The whole group discussed what they had learned as readers and talked about how they could apply this to reading other instructional texts.

Teacher, year 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006, p. 101.

Strategies

What do I need to know?

Learners need a continually increasing repertoire of strategies for literacy development. Readers and writers use various strategies in combination with their knowledge in order to use the code, make meaning, and think critically. For example, they use reading processing strategies, reading comprehension strategies, and writing processes and strategies. Learners need to continually increase their awareness of what they know and can do and of where their knowledge or strategies may be limited. They need to be aware of how to deliberately apply and control their knowledge and strategies.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.27.

Students need to develop a repertoire of strategies that they can select from purposefully and independently to build and enhance their understanding of text and to extend their critical awareness. These are reading comprehension strategies, which are closely linked to the strategies used for processing text.

Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5-8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.141.

Strategies for reading

Reading strategies include processing strategies and comprehension strategies. The reading processing strategies are the “in-the-head” ways in which readers make use of the sources of information in the text to decode words. They include attending and searching (looking for particular text features or information), predicting what will be in the text (for example, words, text features, or content), cross-checking to confirm that the reading makes sense and fits, and self-correcting by searching for more information when an error is detected. The ways in which students learn and apply the processing strategies illustrate the importance of metacognition in literacy learning. For example, readers developing more advanced skills might need to be taught how to search for and identify technical language in a text and encouraged to cross-check its meaning using contextual information. Students whose control of the processing strategies is limited may process text in inappropriate ways, for example, by trying to sound out every single word or by making random guesses rather than using the available sources of information in the text or their own prior knowledge. Reading comprehension strategies enable readers not only to make sense of a text but also to think about what they are reading and enter into a mental dialogue with the author.

The main comprehension strategies that proficient readers use are:

  • making connections between texts and their prior knowledge
  • forming and testing hypotheses about texts
  • asking questions about texts
  • creating mental images or visualising
  • inferring meaning from texts
  • identifying the writer’s purpose and point of view
  • identifying the main idea or theme in a text
  • summarising the information or events in texts
  • analysing and synthesising ideas, information, structures, and features in texts
  • evaluating ideas and information.
    Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.36.

Strategies for vocabulary

Students need to be aware of the strategies that they can use to help them decode and understand unfamiliar words and terms. They will be more successful in learning new words when they consciously take an active part in the learning process. By teaching them strategies that they can use to develop their knowledge of words, teachers empower students to become independent vocabulary learners.
Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9–14, Ministry of Education, 2004. p.30.

What does it look like?

Case studies of students and their teachers using a range of strategies to make meaning and think critically about texts

Billy and Nic are reading at their chronological age, but they’re not enthusiastic readers unless the text has special appeal, and although they know about comprehension strategies, they don’t consistently read for meaning. I’ve been focusing on getting both these Pasifika boys more engaged and strategic in their reading. We had recently come back from camp, where the boys had had great experiences with water sports. So, for guided reading, I chose White Water Action, a story from the electronic storybook The Game. Our shared learning goals were to form hypotheses, using prior knowledge both about the content (kayaking) and about text forms, and to identify the comprehension strategies they used while reading. We started with a KWL about kayaking, and the boys were keen to share their knowledge and experiences. Then I encouraged them to reflect on the strategy they’d been using – and to use it for the actual reading.

Teacher So what comprehension strategy were we using when we were sharing just then? Have a look at your bookmarks. (The students have bookmarks with strategies listed on them.)

Billy Making connections.

Teacher Can you explain why you’ve decided it’s making connections?

Billy We were using what we already had in our heads and sharing it with each other so we can think about it before we read.

Teacher ... to help us understand what we read better. OK, the title is White Water Action, and here’s the beginning. What sort of writing is this?

Nic Non-fiction.

Teacher And how do you know that?

Nic Because it’s got a photo, and that means it’s about someone real. And if it was a story, they’d probably make the title more interesting instead of saying “white water”.

Teacher Good thinking. So if it’s non-fiction, then what sort of things are we going to find?

Billy Photos. Information.

Nic Fact boxes. Oh, main points and supporting facts.

Teacher Good, so what sort of information will we find in the article? What clues is the author giving us?

Nic Action. Like, kayaking down big rivers.

Billy Um, information about what you do when you kayak. What you have to have, like equipment and stuff.

Teacher OK, what strategy were we using just then?

Billy Forming hypotheses.

Nic Yes, ’cause we were predicting what the author’s put in the article.

Teacher Yes, and you were also making connections to what you knew about non-fiction texts and about kayaking.

The boys were very receptive to using strategies to help understand what they were reading and enjoyed learning the technical vocabulary. They were keen to read more about this topic, but I’ll also be looking at getting them to read more widely (using some of the other CD-ROM pieces), actively drawing on their prior knowledge. For the next session, I’ll get them to talk to each other before the reading and jot down a few predictions rather than having me lead the discussion.
Teacher, year 7 and 8 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.28–29

This conversation demonstrates a teacher using strategic questioning, prompting, telling, directing, and giving feedback to support a group of year 6 students in beginning to make meaning of the School Journal story "Shopping in Pyjamas" by Diana Noonan. The shared learning goal is “to deepen our understanding of the text by making inferences from details provided in the text”, and the students’ initial task is to read the text in order to work out what is really happening in it.

Teacher "Shopping in Pyjamas" is divided into three sections – before they go into town, going into town, and after they go into town. Let’s start with before they go into town. Let’s focus on the first section. What happens in this?

John Mum’s in hospital, and the kids are visiting her.

Teacher Do they enjoy this?

John Yeah.

Teacher How do you know?

John Well, it actually says it “was sort of fun”, but also the author gives us some examples, like racing up and down the corridors.

Teacher Yes, that’s right. But what else do we find out from the section? Think particularly about the mood of this section.

Jacinta That there’s a fun mood to start with, but that the fun’s going to stop.

Teacher How do you know this?

Jacinta From the sentence “It was in the holidays that things got hard.”

Teacher Great, but any other clues about this? Go back to the first line.

John Oh yeah, when it says it was fun “for a start”.

Teacher Yes, that’s when I first thought that this story could be a mixture of fun and sadness. By the way, do we know why Mum’s in hospital at this stage?

John No.

Teacher Do we know by the end?

Sam I reckon she’s got cancer.

Teacher How do you know? I didn’t see the word “cancer” in the text.

Sam No, but I thought about this when the girl says about Mum having no hair. ’Cause that’s what happened to my grandad when he was in hospital for cancer.

Teacher So did you take him into town in his pyjamas?

Sam No. But I don’t reckon he would’ve liked it.

Teacher I think I agree with you that Mum had cancer. So what did you have to do as a reader to work that out?

Sam Um, I suppose I had to think about what I already knew.

Teacher What do you mean?

Sam I had to take the clue about having no hair and put it together with what I remembered about my grandad.

Teacher Yes, the author gave you a clue, but you had to make connections with what you already knew. Great.

Sam Yeah, but at least my grandad didn’t die.

Teacher What do you mean?

Sam Well, this lady died at the end, and my grandad didn’t.

Teacher It doesn’t say that …

Sam But they’re looking at a photo of her at the end. I reckon that’s the author’s way of telling us that Mum’s not around any more.

Teacher So she suggests or implies this rather than tells us?

Sam Yes.

Teacher Great, you’re using those text details to help you infer what’s really happening. Now on to the next section …

Teacher, year 5 and 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.92–93.

Indicators

Selects and reads texts for enjoyment and personal fulfilment

What do I need to know?

Having access to a range of texts encourages students to become more discerning when selecting texts to read for enjoyment or information. Providing students (and the school community) with access to a range and variety of texts is one of the main functions of the school library or information centre. Students and teachers need to be able to select from a collection of fiction and non-fiction texts, both print and electronic, that cover a wide range of interests and reading levels. Fiction texts include contemporary and historical novels, plays, poems, short stories, and picture books. This should cover a range of realistic, adventure, humour, fantasy, and science fiction texts. Literary classics from various eras – memorable texts that help students to understand themselves and their world better – often have a powerful impact. They can lead students to new literary interests that last a lifetime. These resources not only foster students’ reading; they also inspire their writing.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.124.

What does it look like?

Case study of a teacher helping a student to extend her reading preferences

Laura was a capable year 5 student reading two years above her chronological age, but I’d noted that she always seemed to be reading the same kinds of books – anything relating to vampires or with blood and gore in it! I know that it’s important for students to feel that they are in charge of their own reading selections and that readers (of any age) often like to immerse themselves in a particular text form, but I felt that Laura had got herself stuck in a rut and maybe needed help to find other books that she might enjoy. During a library session, I saw that she was in the process of seeking yet another vampire text, so I initiated a conversation.

Teacher You seem to be looking for a new book.

Laura Yeah, I’ve just finished Cirque du Freak. It was cool.

Teacher What was it that you liked about it?

Laura I liked it because lots of things happened and it kept me wanting to read. I read it in four days – I couldn’t stop reading it. I even read it during lunchtime.

Teacher Is that what you particularly like in a book – a quick pace and lots of action?

Laura Yeah – I don’t really like stories that drag out.

Teacher During our sharing circle today, why don’t we ask for some recommendations about other texts that have action and pace?

As part of our class library time, we have a sharing circle where children have an opportunity to talk about books they’ve read, giving a quick synopsis and their opinion of a book. I asked the class if they could help Laura out. She explained what she liked in a book and asked the class for any suggestions. Hamish suggested Lionboy. He gave a brief synopsis of the book and explained to Laura that he felt it was full of action and a real page-turner.

After the sharing circle, Laura found a copy of Lionboy, read the blurb on the back cover, and decided to get it out. It took her only one week to read the story, and she was keen to hunt out the sequel in the library the following week. She’s now more willing to give different kinds of books a go.

Teacher, year 5 and 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.58.

Case study of a teacher searching for reading material to challenge and excite her students

I’m always looking for new material that will challenge and excite my students – not just books, but magazines, charts, newspapers, and examples of their own writing. This material needs to be invitingly displayed. I want every student in the room to be able to say “There’s a text here for me.” The students have opportunities to talk with each other about what challenges and excites them in the various texts. I also look for ways to present myself as a reader to my students – I make sure they see me engaged in reading (and writing).

Teacher, year 5 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, p.14.

Recognises and understands the connections between oral, written, and visual language

What do I need to know?

Whether we listen and speak, read and write, or view and present, we participate in a very similar communication process. When we receive communication, we (the audience) receive (medium) something (meaning or message) for reasons (purpose) by some means (mode of transmission, or form).
Exploring Language, NZ Ministry of Education, 1996, p.181.

It is well established, through studies and theories of language learning, that oral language underpins written language: the two are closely interrelated. Through discussion involving both listening and speaking, students focus on specific ideas that arise in their reading and writing, decide how the ideas can best be expressed, and extend their vocabulary and their thinking. These conversations provide students with essential experiences to build on when engaging with texts and delighting in them. Effective teachers plan oral language programmes to promote effective listening and speaking alongside their reading and writing programmes. Visual language is inherent in reading and writing because print is a visual medium – we see the words and the pictures – and some text forms offer specific kinds of visual support to the reader. In order to find or create maximum meaning in written language, students need to be able to access, process, and present ideas and information by understanding and using many visual features and conventions. For example, when reading a transactional text for information, they may need to interpret subheadings, maps, and diagrams.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.18.

Because language is essentially an interactive process, the oral, written, and visual forms are highly interrelated. Listening, for example, may require watching someone’s body language to understand fully the overall communication. When listening to and watching a demonstration or dramatic performance, there will often be visual elements that add important meaning to what is said and listened to. Skilful reading enables the reader to obtain information, to appreciate the feelings of others, to reflect upon ideas, experiences, and opinions, and to gain imaginative and aesthetic pleasure. Skilful writing enables the writer to convey information, to express feelings, to record, clarify, and reflect on ideas, experiences, or opinions, and to give imaginative and aesthetic pleasure.
Flockton & Crooks. NEMP Writing Assessment Results, 2002. p.9.

What does it look like?

Case study of a teacher and group of students integrating oral, written, and visual language to make meaning of a non-fiction text

After a series of planned observations, I decided that my students needed focused teaching to help them make meaning of instructions, especially by using visual features of texts. We were studying measurement in maths, so I decided to use shared reading and discussion of a two-page article about measurement – “How High Is That Tree?” by Brian Birchall.

I put the article on an OHT and explained the reading purpose (“to read and make meaning of a set of measurement instructions”) and the learning goal (“to interpret the directions by linking them closely to visual features of the text”). Our criteria related to whether we could follow the instructions in practice. Before reading, the students predicted (rather randomly) how you might estimate the height of a tree without measuring it. We looked at the visual information on the OHT and then tried again to work out how to estimate the height of a tree. I questioned them about the diagrams (“What is the boy with glasses doing?” “What might the relationship be between his eyes, the stick, and the height of the tree?” “What might his friend be doing?” “What might be the relationship between the two diagrams?”). Their predictions were more successful this time. One boy also pointed out the visual links between the design of the title and the subject of the text.

I led a shared reading of the text to test the students’ predictions and find out how useful the visual features had been. I modelled how I would make meaning of the instructions by rereading aloud the first two sentences of instruction 1, putting them into my own words, acting them out, and indicating what part of the first diagram they related to. Then the students worked in pairs, explaining the rest of the instructions to their partner and discussing how each related to the diagrams.

I monitored my target students by listening closely to their explanations. The whole group discussed what they had learned as readers and talked about how they could apply this to reading other instructional texts.

Teacher, year 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.101.

Integrates sources of information and prior knowledge confidently to make sense of texts

What do I need to know?

Background knowledge and experience

Successful readers and writers do much more than process information. They bring their prior experience and existing knowledge, accumulated both in and out of school, to their reading and writing in order to construct meaning and develop new understandings. Learners’ knowledge is built within social and cultural settings, and there are socially determined patterns of knowledge. However, each learner’s body of knowledge is unique; there are multiple pathways by which students develop and extend their literacy learning. The knowledge and experience that students bring to their reading or writing, which includes their current bank of sight vocabulary and their knowledge about text forms, give them a starting point for connecting with a text or clarifying the ideas they seek to convey. When the teacher invites conversation about the possible content of a topic for collaborative writing or about the title of a new text for guided reading, this helps students to make connections between the topic or title and what they already know. The diversity among students in our schools presents a challenge for teachers – to identify and build upon the different perspectives, experiences, and bodies of knowledge that all their students bring to the classroom.

Literacy-related knowledge

Proficient readers and writers have a wide range of literacy-related knowledge. As well as knowledge of how written language works and knowledge derived from the actual texts that they have read and written, they continue to develop knowledge about different kinds of texts, knowledge of how texts impact on readers and writers, and knowledge of what they themselves do when they read and write. They begin to acquire this knowledge from their earliest attempts at using and creating texts, and they build it up cumulatively over time.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. pp.28–30. [abridged]

What does it look like?

A case study of two students making meaning of texts by activating their prior content and literacy knowledge

Billy and Nic are reading at their chronological age, but they’re not enthusiastic readers unless the text has special appeal, and although they know about comprehension strategies, they don’t consistently read for meaning. I’ve been focusing on getting both these Pasifika boys more engaged and strategic in their reading.

We had recently come back from camp, where the boys had had great experiences with water sports. So, for guided reading, I chose “White Water Action”, a story from the electronic storybook The Game.

Our shared learning goals were to form hypotheses, using prior knowledge both about the content (kayaking) and about text forms, and to identify the comprehension strategies they used while reading. We started with a KWL about kayaking, and the boys were keen to share their knowledge and experiences. Then I encouraged them to reflect on the strategy they’d been using – and to use it for the actual reading.

The boys were very receptive to using strategies to help understand what they were reading and enjoyed learning the technical vocabulary. They were keen to read more about this topic, but I’ll also be looking at getting them to read more widely (using some of the other CD-ROM pieces), actively drawing on their prior knowledge. For the next session, I’ll get them to talk to each other before the reading and jot down a few predictions rather than having me lead the discussion.

Teacher, year 7 and 8 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. pp. 28–29.

The same teacher talks about the importance of linking text selection to students' prior knowledge

Never underestimate the value of a text that fits perfectly with your students’ interests! In terms of motivating reluctant boys in particular, half of the job is done with an insightful text choice. In a recent guided reading session with one of my groups, the main learning intention was “to ask ourselves and others meaningful questions that help us explore deeper levels of meaning in text”. Additionally, I wanted a text that would suit another need the group had – that of empathising with characters. I chose the narrative text “The Big Jump” by Philip Waller (School Journal, Part 4 Number 1, 2002) because it posed the problem of overcoming fear and was of current relevance to this group. (The students had recently attended a camp where they were faced with many challenges.) This text, about a boy facing a big jump at camp, had the potential to generate quality discussion, develop vocabulary, and encourage the students to empathise with the main characters while asking each other interesting questions. The text allowed us to explore how people react in times of fear and why you should face up to a challenge that scares you.

This text really got my big boys engaged! The text also supported the writing component of the class programme, where the students had been focusing on descriptive writing about a character, using adjectives and similes to convey information and emotion.

Teacher, year 7–8 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, p.40.

This teacher is helping her students activate their prior knowledge when reading

Teacher: So what comprehension strategy were we using when we were sharing just then? Have a look at your bookmarks. (The students have bookmarks with strategies listed on them.)

Billy Making connections.

Teacher Can you explain why you’ve decided it’s making connections?

Billy We were using what we already had in our heads and sharing it with each other so we can think about it before we read.

Teacher ... to help us understand what we read better. OK, the title is “White Water Action”, and here’s the beginning. What sort of writing is this?

Nic Non-fiction.

Teacher And how do you know that?

Nic Because it’s got a photo, and that means it’s about someone real. And if it was a story, they’d probably make the title more interesting instead of saying “white water”.

Teacher Good thinking. So if it’s non-fiction, then what sort of things are we going to find?

Billy Photos. Information.

Nic Fact boxes. Oh, main points and supporting facts.

Teacher Good, so what sort of information will we find in the article? What clues is the author giving us?

Nic Action. Like, kayaking down big rivers.

Billy Um, information about what you do when you kayak. What you have to have, like equipment and stuff.

Teacher OK, what strategy were we using just then?

Billy Forming hypotheses.

Nic Yes, ’cause we were predicting what the author’s put in the article.

Teacher Yes, and you were also making connections to what you knew about non-fiction texts and about kayaking.

Activating Prior Knowledge
One of the most important variables with learning is a student's prior knowledge. By tapping into what students already know, teachers help with the learning process.

Integrates information and prior knowledge to make sense of varied and complex texts

What do I need to know?

It is important that students and teachers use and create a range and variety of texts in their reading and writing. This enables students’ diverse interests, needs, values, and perspectives to be addressed and also provides many kinds of high-quality examples and models for students’ writing. Students need to learn to read and write many different kinds of texts, including text forms that are unique to electronic media, for different purposes and audiences. Having access to a range of texts encourages students to become more discerning when selecting texts to read for enjoyment or information.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.124.

Across their years of school, students need to encounter a wide range of texts (both non-fiction and fiction) that are appropriate to their instructional level.They need texts with rich and varied vocabulary, texts that genuinely reflect the diversity of New Zealand society, and texts that deal with the themes and topics that matter to young people, including topics that they will encounter in the school curriculum. The texts that they read should include works written and presented to meet many purposes, in a wide range of media, styles, and forms. Memorable encounters with well-chosen texts during instruction in guided reading sessions can enhance students’ love of reading and develop their ability to make appropriate text choices for themselves. Such experiences will also enrich their use of oral and written language.
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, p.35.

Teachers should not delay literacy instruction for students who do not yet speak English fluently, nor should they limit their teaching to low-level skills that focus on the surface features of texts. Rather, teachers should act on their awareness that reading in English improves the reader’s knowledge of English – reading is one of the best ways to learn a language, particularly in the later primary and secondary years. Like all literacy learners, new learners of English need many rich experiences with texts that interest and challenge them, right from the start. However, teachers do need to choose texts carefully for these students. Only texts that are at the right levels will enable new learners of English to develop their strategy use as they learn more about their new language.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.129.

What does it look like?

The following case study demonstrates a teacher encouraging her students to make meaning of and think critically about a challenging and complex text.

I wanted my students to engage in some real critical thinking about themes and effects in a complex literary text. I chose to read them Margaret Wild’s Fox. Our shared goal was “to identify the theme or themes of this picture book by describing the parts of the story and the text features that help build up the theme.”

After reading the story aloud, I asked the students what they thought its theme was. Sione said, “Life or death.” “Why do you say that?” I asked, and he responded, “Because the magpie thinks about dying, at the start and again near the end. But the dog makes her want to live.” “Is the theme just life and death in general, then, or can you be more specific?” I probed. “Why does she want to die? How does the dog make her want to live?” Sione thought for a minute, and we waited. Then he said, “She wants to die at first because she can’t fly any more. The dog can’t really make her fly, but he tells her he needs her.” “Where does he tell her that?” I asked.

Sione took the book and found the part he wanted. “And then the magpie says, ‘I will be your missing eye and you will be my wings’.” He commented, “You can feel them being like one person together.” “What could be the theme there?” I wondered. “It’s about friendship, about helping each other when you are damaged,” put in Mia. “It’s a happy story, then, with a positive theme?” I suggested. “No, because of the fox!” cried more than one student.

We brainstormed other possible themes: students now suggested “loneliness”, “betrayal”, and “feeling left out”. I asked them to work in pairs to find evidence, both in the text and in the illustrations, for the theme or themes they thought most important in the text.

Teacher, year 5 and 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.85.

Uses appropriate processing strategies with increasing understanding and confidence

What do I need to know?

Reading strategies include processing strategies and comprehension strategies. The reading processing strategies are the “in-the-head” ways in which readers make use of the sources of information in the text to decode words. They include attending and searching (looking for particular text features or information), predicting what will be in the text (for example, words, text features, or content), cross-checking to confirm that the reading makes sense and fits, and self-correcting by searching for more information when an error is detected.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.36.

Using the processing strategies

Reading can be thought of as a continuous process of attending and searching, predicting, cross-checking, confirming or self-correcting, and re-predicting. These strategies are not discrete stages; they constantly interact and support one another.

They are used in complex combinations, and proficient readers at all levels usually apply them automatically.

The ways in which students learn and apply the processing strategies illustrate the role of metacognition in literacy learning. Learner readers need to be taught to recognise when to use each processing strategy. They also need to be shown how to use each strategy and taught when and how to integrate them. This knowledge and awareness enable them to monitor their own progress as developing readers. For example, fluent readers in years 5 to 8 might need to be taught how to search for and identify technical language in a text and how to cross-check its meaning in context (by using a range of semantic information in the text). Students whose control of the processing strategies (or of the English language) is limited may process text in inappropriate ways – for example, by relying on their memory, by trying to sound out every single word, or by guessing, rather than by making appropriate uses of the sources of information in the text and their own prior knowledge.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.140.

What does it look like?

An example of the use readers make of the sources of information in the text to decode words – attending and searching (looking for particular text features or information); predicting what will be in the text (for example, words, text features, or content); cross-checking to confirm that the reading makes sense and fits; and self-correcting by searching for more information when an error is detected

In responding to a teacher question during a guided reading lesson, Latu attempted to read aloud a sentence from the first paragraph of the School Journal text “Tauhara Street” by Norman Bilbrough. While reading the sentence “We were cruising down Tauhara Street … when the engine gave a groan, something graunched in the innards, and the car shuddered to a stop”, she hesitated at the word “graunched”. With teacher prompting, she decided that it was probably a verb because of the “-ed” ending, and she knew that the initial consonant blend was “gr”. So she read on, trying to think of a verb beginning with “gr” that made sense.

She soon realised that something bad had happened to the car, because it “shuddered to a stop”. All she could think of was “groaned” – it made sense – but she knew this was not correct because she had just read “groan” in the previous phrase. With further teacher prompting (I used the words “launch” and “staunch” to focus on the letter–sound relationship of the “-aunch” spelling pattern), she recognised the “-aunch” in the middle of the word and was able to bring all the clues together to self-correct to “graunched”.

Teacher, year 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.32.

An example of a student diversifying his use of processing strategies to help decode new or unknown words

Jason has a reading age of 8.5 years. My analysis of his most recent running records indicated that he uses letter identification as his major strategy for decoding unknown words. Jason is reluctant to reread and use meaning or syntax to confirm his initial attempt. He seems to have it in his head that “sounding out” is the only way to work out new words. Together, we developed a shared goal – “to work out different ways of reading new words correctly and confidently” – and I keep this goal in mind in each guided reading lesson that Jason participates in. The others in his group, while more confident than he is at decoding unknown words, are still consolidating this knowledge. So, as a group, we have created some success criteria that demonstrate how this goal can be achieved. I always have Jason sitting near me so that I can observe and monitor his progress. Sometimes this involves getting him to read to me while the others are reading silently so that I can give him feedback on any of the new strategies he is attempting. I model aloud, at least once in each lesson, how I might work out an unknown word using the strategies outlined in our success criteria. I select texts that have an appropriate level of challenge for the group, including some new words that the students can work out using meaning and/or syntax.

Teacher, year 7 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2002. p.30.

Uses appropriate comprehension strategies with increasing understanding and confidence

What do I need to know?

Reading comprehension strategies enable readers not only to make sense of a text but also to think about what they are reading and enter into a mental dialogue with the author. The main comprehension strategies that proficient readers use are:

  • making connections between texts and their prior knowledge
  • forming and testing hypotheses about texts
  • asking questions about texts
  • creating mental images or visualising
  • inferring meaning from texts
  • identifying the writer’s purpose and point of view
  • identifying the main idea or theme in a text
  • summarising the information or events in texts
  • analysing and synthesising ideas, information, structures, and features in texts
  • evaluating ideas and information.

Proficient readers use the processing strategies in an integrated way and use more than one comprehension strategy to make maximum meaning from text. For example, in order to infer meaning, the reader has to make connections with prior knowledge, including knowledge of other texts. The reader will also use all the processing strategies, searching, predicting, cross-checking, and self-correcting as they attend to the information in the text. The processing and comprehension strategies are employed in complex combinations, depending on the nature of the text, the reading task, and the individual learner’s pathway of development. Strategic readers use their knowledge and their processing and comprehension strategies to find ideas and information in texts. They draw conclusions and provide evidence from the text to support their statements. They identify cause and effect, sequence ideas and information, and explore the ways in which texts use language to convey information or emotion, to persuade, or to entertain.

Explicit teaching of processing and comprehension strategies involves:

  • providing an explicit description of the selected strategy and how it should be used
  • modelling the use of the strategy (which includes “thinking aloud” as they model the strategy)
  • scaffolding students to enable them to use the strategy with gradually increasing independence
  • having students articulate what they are doing as they use the strategy
  • encouraging students to apply the strategy independently as they read a range of texts and reflect on what they are doing.

Teaching the strategies

Research suggests that readers’ comprehension improves when they are explicitly taught how to use processing and comprehension strategies.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education., 2006. pp.36–37. [abridged]

What does it look like?

A teaching session that focuses on articulating which comprehension strategies are being used to gain meaning from a text

Billy and Nic are reading at their chronological age, but they’re not enthusiastic readers unless the text has special appeal, and although they know about comprehension strategies, they don’t consistently read for meaning. I’ve been focusing on getting both these Pasifika boys more engaged and strategic in their reading.

We had recently come back from camp, where the boys had had great experiences with water sports. So, for guided reading, I chose “White Water Action”, a story from the electronic storybook The Game. Our shared learning goals were to form hypotheses, using prior knowledge both about the content (kayaking) and about text forms, and to identify the comprehension strategies they used while reading. We started with a KWL about kayaking, and the boys were keen to share their knowledge and experiences. Then I encouraged them to reflect on the strategy they’d been using – and to use it for the actual reading.

Teacher: So what comprehension strategy were we using when we were sharing just then? Have a look at your bookmarks. (The students have bookmarks with strategies listed on them.)

Billy: Making connections.

Teacher: Can you explain why you’ve decided it’s making connections?

Billy: We were using what we already had in our heads and sharing it with each other so we can think about it before we read.

Teacher: ... to help us understand what we read better. OK, the title is “White Water Action”, and here’s the beginning. What sort of writing is this?

Nic: Non-fiction.

Teacher: And how do you know that?

Nic: Because it’s got a photo, and that means it’s about someone real. And if it was a story, they’d probably make the title more interesting instead of saying “white water”.

Teacher: Good thinking. So if it’s non-fiction, then what sort of things are we going to find?

Billy: Photos. Information.

Nic: Fact boxes. Oh, main points and supporting facts.

Teacher: Good, so what sort of information will we find in the article? What clues is the author giving us?

Nic: Action. Like, kayaking down big rivers.

Billy: Um, information about what you do when you kayak. What you have to have, like equipment and stuff.

Teacher: OK, what strategy were we using just then?

Billy: Forming hypotheses.

Nic: Yes, ’cause we were predicting what the author’s put in the article.

Teacher: Yes, and you were also making connections to what you knew about non-fiction texts and about kayaking.

The boys were very receptive to using strategies to help understand what they were reading and enjoyed learning the technical vocabulary. They were keen to read more about this topic, but I’ll also be looking at getting them to read more widely (using some of the other CD-ROM pieces), actively drawing on their prior knowledge. For the next session, I’ll get them to talk to each other before the reading and jot down a few predictions rather than having me lead the discussion.

Teacher, year 7 and 8 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education. 2006. pp.28–29.

An example of students using comprehension strategies to infer, make connections and visualise in order to make meaning of words in a text

  • I use shared reading to introduce my students to a literacy strategy or skill that we haven’t focused on before or one that needs revisiting. It’s the approach I use to teach the strategy or skill explicitly before we look at it more closely in guided reading or writing.
  • Many of my students were finding it hard to work out the meaning of technical vocabulary in reports and explanations. They needed to know how to identify such vocabulary in a text and how to work out the meaning of words from surrounding textual evidence. These were skills they would need increasingly as they moved up through the school.
  • The text I selected was an enlarged chart on survival in the rainforest. I asked the students to note any unfamiliar words, and they found the word “predators” in the first paragraph. Together, we searched for surrounding phrases and sentences that gave clues about what “predators” might mean. For example, we read that animals “protect themselves from predators by using poison or stinging hairs”. I questioned them closely about possible links between “predators” and “protect”, “poison”, and “stinging hairs”, asking “What mental image does this give you?” They decided, “If you have to protect yourself by using poison or stinging hairs, predators must be pretty bad – they must be enemies that can attack.”

So I encouraged the students to infer, make connections, and visualise in order to make meaning of unfamiliar terms. We discussed how the visualisation strategy had helped them deepen their understanding of the text.

Teacher, year 5 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.103.

A range of texts and units that require students to use a range of comprehension strategies

  • ARB: The Sleeper Wakes (ARB username and password required to view this resource)
    The assessment focus is on student ability to identify details that support the main idea of a text, and to identify where the main idea is developed.
  • The Tranzalpine Train Journey (ARB username and password required to view this resource)
    Students study a brochure advertising a scenic railway trip and through selected responses and short written responses show their understanding of text and images.
  • School Journal: "Dogs"
    To support the students in developing the comprehension strategies of making connections, inferring, or analysing and synthesising. 
  • School Journal: "Journey Through the Stars"
    To support the students in developing the comprehension strategies of inferring, making connections, visualising, or analysing and synthesising.
  • School Journal: "Playing with Words"
    For the report: to support the students in developing the comprehension strategies of inferring, making connections, and identifying the author’s purpose. 
    For the poem: to support the students in developing the comprehension strategies of inferring, identifying the author’s purpose, or analysing and synthesising.

Thinks critically about texts with increasing understanding and confidence

What do I need to know?

Thinking critically

Developing as a discriminating reader and writer involves analysing and interpreting meanings, responding critically to texts when reading, and being critically aware when creating texts. Critical thinkers consider different perspectives and the different intentions of texts. When they read and write, they think about the impact that the text is intended to have on the audience and of how the impact is (or could be) achieved. Another aspect of thinking critically is responding to texts at a personal level, reflecting on them, and finding reward in being a reader and a writer.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.25.

What does it look like?

A case study of a teacher and group of students thinking critically about a complex and challenging text

I wanted my students to engage in some real critical thinking about themes and effects in a complex literary text. I chose to read them Margaret Wild’s Fox. Our shared goal was “to identify the theme or themes of this picture book by describing the parts of the story and the text features that help build up the theme.”

After reading the story aloud, I asked the students what they thought its theme was. Sione said, “Life or death.” “Why do you say that?” I asked, and he responded, “Because the magpie thinks about dying, at the start and again near the end. But the dog makes her want to live.” “Is the theme just life and death in general, then, or can you be more specific?” I probed. “Why does she want to die? How does the dog make her want to live?” Sione thought for a minute, and we waited. Then he said, “She wants to die at first because she can’t fly any more. The dog can’t really make her fly, but he tells her he needs her.” “Where does he tell her that?” I asked.

Sione took the book and found the part he wanted. “And then the magpie says, ‘I will be your missing eye and you will be my wings’.” He commented, “You can feel them being like one person together.” “What could be the theme there?” I wondered. “It’s about friendship, about helping each other when you are damaged,” put in Mia. “It’s a happy story, then, with a positive theme?” I suggested. “No, because of the fox!” cried more than one student.

We brainstormed other possible themes: students now suggested “loneliness”, “betrayal”, and “feeling left out”. I asked them to work in pairs to find evidence, both in the text and in the illustrations, for the theme or themes they thought most important in the text.

Teacher year 5 and 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.85.

Monitors, self-evaluates, describes progress, and articulates learning with confidence

What do I need to know?

Good readers and writers constantly monitor their reading and writing as they work. As part of learning how to apply knowledge and strategies to new literacy activities, they learn how to give themselves feedback. Teachers need to help their students develop the habit of monitoring and assessing themselves as part of becoming independent and self-regulating readers and writers.

Being able to articulate how they are processing and comprehending text enhances students’ metacognitive awareness. When readers can identify, articulate, and explain the comprehension strategies they use in particular situations, they will be able to transfer these strategies to other reading contexts.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.63.

Students develop metacognition – that is, they learn how to learn, when they talk about how they reached their reading goals and evaluate their own work. Ask your students “What did we do to achieve this purpose?" and encourage them to talk about their learning. This is an opportunity to discuss and share the strategies they used to solve difficulties. The guided reading context allows students to learn from one another. Showing them how they can reflect on and build on their own learning helps to develop their ability to self-regulate and make choices about the appropriate use of strategies. Focused feedback from the teacher motivates them – they can see that they are making progress, and they learn to monitor their own progress.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.152.

Teachers can encourage students to monitor their own reading, for example, by noting or marking a word or a part of the text that they found difficult. Students’ reflection on and articulation of their learning tells the teacher a great deal. Teachers should reinforce the students’ expectations that setting goals and monitoring their own progress is part of being an effective reader and writer.
Guided Reading in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education. 2005. p.55.

Self-assessment enables students to set appropriate personal learning goals and can also help motivate them to learn. It’s good practice to negotiate with the students a framework for reflection. Such a framework should encourage depth of thinking and provide a good model for self-analysis. Both the process and the outcome of each student’s self-assessment add to the information that the teacher takes into account in assessing their progress.
Guided Reading in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2005. p.24

What does it look like?

A case study of two students reflecting on and monitoring their progress as they make meaning of a text

Billy and Nic are reading at their chronological age, but they’re not enthusiastic readers unless the text has special appeal, and although they know about comprehension strategies, they don’t consistently read for meaning. I’ve been focusing on getting both these Pasifika boys more engaged and strategic in their reading.

We had recently come back from camp, where the boys had had great experiences with water sports. So, for guided reading, I chose “White Water Action”, a story from the electronic storybook The Game.

Our shared learning goals were to form hypotheses, using prior knowledge both about the content (kayaking) and about text forms, and to identify the comprehension strategies they used while reading. We started with a KWL about kayaking, and the boys were keen to share their knowledge and experiences. Then I encouraged them to reflect on the strategy they’d been using – and to use it for the actual reading.

Teacher: So what comprehension strategy were we using when we were sharing just then? Have a look at your bookmarks. (The students have bookmarks with strategies listed on them.)

Billy: Making connections.

Teacher: Can you explain why you’ve decided it’s making connections?

Billy: We were using what we already had in our heads and sharing it with each other so we can think about it before we read.

Teacher: ... to help us understand what we read better. OK, the title is “White Water Action”, and here’s the beginning. What sort of writing is this?

Nic: Non-fiction.

Teacher: And how do you know that?

Nic: Because it’s got a photo, and that means it’s about someone real. And if it was a story, they’d probably make the title more interesting instead of saying “white water”.

Teacher: Good thinking. So if it’s non-fiction, then what sort of things are we going to find?

Billy: Photos. Information.

Nic: Fact boxes. Oh, main points and supporting facts.

Teacher: Good, so what sort of information will we find in the article? What clues is the author giving us?

Nic: Action. Like, kayaking down big rivers.

Billy: Um, information about what you do when you kayak. What you have to have, like equipment and stuff.

Teacher: OK, what strategy were we using just then?

Billy: Forming hypotheses.

Nic: Yes, ’cause we were predicting what the author’s put in the article.

Teacher: Yes, and you were also making connections to what you knew about non-fiction texts and about kayaking.

The boys were very receptive to using strategies to help understand what they were reading and enjoyed learning the technical vocabulary. They were keen to read more about this topic, but I’ll also be looking at getting them to read more widely (using some of the other CD-ROM pieces), actively drawing on their prior knowledge. For the next session, I’ll get them to talk to each other before the reading and jot down a few predictions rather than having me lead the discussion.

Teacher, year 7 and 8 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education. 2006. pp.28–29.

Purposes and audiences

Shows increasing understanding of how texts are shaped for different purposes

What do I need to know?

Readers and writers need to know that all texts have meaning and purpose, and they need to be able to distinguish between different text purposes. They need to know, for example, that some texts are intended primarily to raise reader or writer self-awareness, some to entertain, and some to communicate ideas or information. A major purpose of most texts is to affect the target audience in a particular way, often by conveying the writer’s point of view effectively. Students need to know that many texts have several purposes.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.34.

What does it look like?

The following is a case study of how students make meaning of texts that are shaped for different purposes and audiences.

When the local body elections were being held, my class’s social studies work involved looking at persuasion, politics, and leadership. I chose three candidates’ self-descriptions as examples of persuasive texts to use with the most advanced guided reading group in my class. I introduced the texts by asking the group how they thought people who want political power in New Zealand communities persuade people to vote for them. The students told me that the candidates for election make promises and that they try to make the voters like them. I then shared the purpose for reading – to identify the ways in which each writer used language persuasively to try to influence the readers. We looked at one or two examples, then the group read the texts.

Each student shared how they’d approached the task. Anita looked for fact and opinion (which we’d studied the previous term). Rawiri focused on words – especially adjectives and superlatives. Joe was interested in sniffing out places where he considered the writer might have been less than accurate (and he spent some time afterwards on research to check these out). Lotus commented on tone – two of the three writers were disparaging about the current council’s work. Leah made a good case that one writer was trying to appeal to voters’ prejudices. We also talked about sincerity and how a persuasive text could be sincere.

Finally, we made a “plus, minus, interesting” chart of the ways the writers tried to influence voters, using examples taken from the texts. Plus was for what Joe called “true” information and where the writer seemed to have a real concern to improve things. Minus included appealing to prejudice and bringing up irrelevant issues.

I asked the students, as a follow-up task, to produce a piece of persuasive writing in which they used language in at least two of the ways they’d identified.They presented their writing to the class, opening up a lively whole-class discussion on how a piece of writing might affect people’s responsibilities and decisions as voters.

Teacher, year 7–8 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2002. p.32.

English Online: Features of Text Forms
Teaching about text forms can help students understand how text is structured and why. We need to be careful, however, to be flexible about the features in a text form. Authentic text forms are often mixed. Text forms evolve and change.

Indicators

Understands how texts are constructed for a range of purposes, audiences, and situations

What do I need to know?

When we “close read” or view any visual language text, we consider the purpose, the audience, and the topic similarly to the way we do this when we read written text or listen to oral text.
Exploring Language, NZ Ministry of Education, 1996, p.181.

Writers have a range of choices they can make about the way they organise the text, develop the topic or theme, use particular grammatical structures, and choose vocabulary. All these decisions influence how a message is read by the reader. Texts are structured in different ways to achieve their purpose. The purpose of a recount is to tell about a past experience – to tell the reader what happened. The purpose of an argument on the other hand, is to persuade the reader to agree with a point of view.
Exploring Language, NZ Ministry of Education, 1996. pp.156–157. [abridged]

Students should understand that all texts are intended for an audience (the audience is sometimes the writer) and that effective texts have an impact on their readers. They also need to know about the text features that writers use to achieve the desired impact. The deeper features of a text generally relate to the writer’s purpose and voice and include the structure and language features of the text. Its surface features include grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Young readers and writers will also learn that accurate or inaccurate use of surface features affects readers’ ability to make meaning of texts.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.34.

What does it look like?

A case study of a teacher recognising the importance of students understanding that texts can be shaped for different purposes, audiences, and situations according to their purpose

This syndicate had evidence that many of their students were not aware of the purpose of an explanation and lacked basic knowledge of the structure and features of this text form, which was one that they needed to be able to read and write in more than one subject area. The teachers decided that the school’s planning for a science fair could provide an authentic opportunity to teach the information and develop students’ awareness of explanations.

When planning our science, social studies, or technology topics, we always look for ways of extending our students as readers and writers. For the science fair, they had to explain their experiments and discoveries clearly, and we confirmed, from their first attempts, that they hadn’t yet learned to do this. So we found some examples of scientific explanations at the right reading level and explored these with the students during shared and guided reading, to identify the features of explanatory texts. Then, during writing, we explicitly taught them how to write up their scientific discoveries and explanations using the reading texts as models. The judge of the science fair specifically commented on how clear our students’ written explanations were.

Syndicate leader, years 7 and 8
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.35.

A case study of a group of students recognising how texts can be shaped for different purposes, audiences, and situations

This week I used a text on how 3-D glasses work as a model of an explanation. The discussion was very open, and there were contrasting ideas expressed. For example, when we were sharing our thoughts about whether it was a good introduction and why, Kieran talked about the introduction using informal language – he liked the bit that said that 3-D glasses were “cool”. He commented, “It helped to make me want to read the text.” At the end, when we reviewed the features of explanations, Christina referred again to the introduction and the use of “cool” and expressed her view that you couldn’t use informal language in an explanation. They were both able to express their responses, and we had a discussion about these points of view, which highlighted how an author needs to consider their audience as well their purpose when writing.

Teacher, year 7–8 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2002. p.50.

Identifies particular points of view and recognises that texts can position a reader

What do I need to know?

Identifying the writer’s purpose and point of view

It is important for readers to recognise that behind every text is a writer, and that the writer has a purpose or reason for writing and a particular point of view.

For example, the purpose of the writer may be to:

  • provide or obtain information
  • share the excitement of an event
  • persuade or influence the reader or provoke debate
  • create or enter a personal world
  • stimulate the imagination
  • convey important cultural stories or myths
  • entertain or delight the reader.

Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.147.

Students in years 5 to 8 need to develop social understandings as part of their critical awareness and to think about the ways in which texts shape values and position audiences. They can be helped, through deliberate acts of teaching, to think about what they are reading and writing. For example, they can consider how an author’s choice of language is intended to affect the reader or work out how they, as writers, could persuade their readers to think in a particular way.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.39.

What does it look like?

A case study of a group of students recognising that different points of view can be conveyed through a text

When the local body elections were being held, my class’s social studies work involved looking at persuasion, politics, and leadership. I chose three candidates’ self-descriptions as examples of persuasive texts to use with the most advanced guided reading group in my class. I introduced the texts by asking the group how they thought people who want political power in New Zealand communities persuade people to vote for them. The students told me that the candidates for election make promises and that they try to make the voters like them. I then shared the purpose for reading – to identify the ways in which each writer used language persuasively to try to influence the readers. We looked at one or two examples, then the group read the texts.

Each student shared how they’d approached the task. Anita looked for fact and opinion (which we’d studied the previous term). Rawiri focused on words – especially adjectives and superlatives. Joe was interested in sniffing out places where he considered the writer might have been less than accurate (and he spent some time afterwards on research to check these out). Lotus commented on tone – two of the three writers were disparaging about the current council’s work. Leah made a good case that one writer was trying to appeal to voters’ prejudices. We also talked about sincerity and how a persuasive text could be sincere.

Finally, we made a “plus, minus, interesting” chart of the ways the writers tried to influence voters, using examples taken from the texts. Plus was for what Joe called “true” information and where the writer seemed to have a real concern to improve things. Minus included appealing to prejudice and bringing up irrelevant issues. I asked the students, as a follow-up task, to produce a piece of persuasive writing in which they used language in at least two of the ways they’d identified. They presented their writing to the class, opening up a lively whole-class discussion on how a piece of writing might affect people’s responsibilities and decisions as voters.

Teacher, year 7–8 class
Guided Reading in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2002. p.32.

ARB Voices in the Park
A teaching unit in which students receive opportunities to explore different points of views in the text. This task is about making inferences about a character and their point of view. A copy of Anthony Browne's picture book Voices in the Park (published by Random House) is needed.

Evaluates the reliability and usefulness of texts with increasing confidence

What do I need to know?

Developing information literacy means learning to recognise when information is required and also learning how to find and record relevant and valid information, interpret it, evaluate it, and communicate it in an appropriate way for a particular purpose. Evaluating the usefulness and reliability of information texts involves considering such factors as whether the information has dated, whether the writer is a qualified and unprejudiced authority on the topic, whether the student’s own prior knowledge supports the message, and whether emotive language is used inappropriately.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.38.

An ever-increasing amount of current and useful information is presented through electronic media. Students need to learn to use the Internet proficiently and safely and to evaluate Internet material critically in terms of the way they want to use it. Electronic media give learners multiple opportunities for problem solving and creative thinking in interactive multimedia contexts and offer wide choices for reading, composing, and presenting texts. The range of material that can be accessed and composed through electronic media, especially the Internet, makes it increasingly important for students to be able to make informed judgments about the electronic texts they use. Writers need to understand how different kinds of presentation can affect readers.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.125.

What does it look like?

A case study of a teacher demonstrating to her students how she decides whether information in a text is useful in relation to her reading/writing purpose

I’ve started using “think-alouds” to model my thinking processes when I’m working on the Internet. For example, I wanted my students to find an example of a New Zealand creature that was endangered (and to find out why, and what was being done to protect it).

With the students who were less proficient at accessing and evaluating information when searching the Internet, I chose dolphins as my example and used a “think-aloud” to model a search process before getting them to do it. “Right, I don’t think it’s a good idea to search for ‘dolphins’ – I’ll get too many hits,” I began. “‘Endangered dolphins’ might be OK, but I think ‘New Zealand endangered dolphins’ might be better. I’ll give it a try ... This looks promising. I’ll skim through the descriptors under each site to check how useful they might be ... Some of these seem to be more about dolphin watching, so I won’t bother with them. I think these three could be useful. Now I’ll just check who those sites belong to ... Ah, that’s a DOC website – the Department of Conservation – so I know their information will be reliable. I’ll just click on it now to see what information about dolphins it has and whether it’s what we need.” We found that the DOC site was really clearly laid out and had a great section on the Maui's dolphin, so I showed the students how to bookmark that site. I made sure they knew how to get back to the original list, and together we decided on two other sites to bookmark for their research. I’ll monitor how they go about using these sites.

Teacher, year 8 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.39.

Ideas

Show an increasing understanding of ideas within, across, and beyond texts

What do I need to know?

Strategic readers use their knowledge and their processing and comprehension strategies to find ideas and information in texts. They draw conclusions and provide evidence from the text to support their statements. They identify cause and effect, sequence ideas and information, and explore the ways in which texts use language to convey information or emotion, to persuade, or to entertain. They develop an awareness of texts that carries over to their writing.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.37.

Through their experiences of reading and writing texts, learners build up a first-hand knowledge base that helps them to develop their theoretical knowledge. With the teacher’s guidance, they learn to make connections between texts, both at surface level and at deeper levels. Each new text experience gives them access to new knowledge, which then becomes part of their background experience.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.35. [abridged]

What does it look like?

A case study of a student recognising links across texts

Handing the responsibility back to the student, by responding with a question or prompt rather than an “answer”, obliges them to think about what they know and can use and helps them to take increasing responsibility for their own learning. Making learning intentions more explicit has resulted in a greater transfer of skills and knowledge. Students who are able to apply a skill across different text forms generally progress more quickly.

For example, when we moved from a focus on arguments to looking at explanations and I asked one group what the main point of the first paragraph was, I was thrilled when a student responded, “We know the main point will probably be at the start and the other points will support it – that’s what paragraphs DO. This is just like before, when we were writing arguments!”

Teacher, year 7 and 8 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.41.

Literature circles

Many teachers use literature circles as a way of encouraging their students to think and talk about a wide range of literary texts. A literature circle is like a book club for students. Small groups of students read the same text independently and share their interpretations and personal responses with others in the group.

The students generate the discussion. Having the students mark parts of the text helps to focus their discussion of a text, for example, where they:

  • found a passage particularly impressive, interesting, or confusing
  • want to ask the group questions about the plot, characters, or information
  • want to clarify their thoughts about the theme or meaning of the text
  • found the language or writing style impressive or memorable
  • can relate an event or episode in the text to personal experience
  • can relate the text to other texts on the same topic or theme or by the same author.

Literature circles enable students to extend their comprehension and critical analysis skills as they explore, in depth, texts by a particular author or on a specific theme.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.111.

Literature Circles
What are Literature Circles? This resource includes explanations and definitions, along with a range of lesson ideas for literature circles.

Indicators

Makes meaning by identifying main and subsidiary ideas and the links between them

What do I need to know?

Identifying the main idea

Identifying the main idea means determining what is central to a text – what the writer most values or wants to emphasise. In a narrative, this might be the theme or themes, which will probably relate to people and how they live their lives. In a transactional text, it might be the key information or the particular idea about the topic that the writer wants readers to understand. In some transactional text forms, such as reports or letters to the editor, the main idea is often made explicit at the beginning. In fiction, the main idea is more often implied, in a variety of ways, throughout the text. A text may have more than one main idea or theme, but this comprehension strategy involves identifying the idea or ideas that are most important throughout the text, not ideas of lesser importance and not those that feature only in one section of the text. Identifying the main idea does not mean identifying the topic or content of a text.

For example, a story might be about a character breaking his leg, but the main idea (theme) of the text might be about the way the character overcomes adversity or discovers the value of friendship. Often it is relatively easy for a reader to state what a text is about, but it may be more difficult to decide what the main idea is. The reader needs to interpret the writer’s thinking by making connections to their prior knowledge, hypothesising, inferring, and synthesising several aspects of the text in order to identify the main idea.

What readers do:

  • identify with the writer as someone who has a main idea to convey (by thinking “Supposing I am the writer of this, what is the main thing that I want the reader to think about?”)
  • search for evidence that indicates what the writer’s main idea may be (including evidence of the writer’s purpose)
  • consider all the evidence in order to decide or hypothesise about what the writer’s main idea is
  • check their hypothesis as they read, revising it when appropriate.
    Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.148.

ARB: Identifying Main Ideas
This site gives a clear explanation of what a main idea is and provides further references and links to assessment tasks.

What does it look like?

Case study of students identifying and understanding details within a text that support main ideas

I wanted my students to engage in some real critical thinking about themes and effects in a complex literary text. I chose to read them Margaret Wild’s Fox. Our shared goal was “to identify the theme or themes of this picture book by describing the parts of the story and the text features that help build up the theme.”

After reading the story aloud, I asked the students what they thought its theme was. Sione said, “Life or death.” “Why do you say that?” I asked, and he responded, “Because the magpie thinks about dying, at the start and again near the end. But the dog makes her want to live.” “Is the theme just life and death in general, then, or can you be more specific?” I probed. “Why does she want to die? How does the dog make her want to live?” Sione thought for a minute, and we waited. Then he said, “She wants to die at first because she can’t fly any more. The dog can’t really make her fly, but he tells her he needs her.” “Where does he tell her that?” I asked.

Sione took the book and found the part he wanted. “And then the magpie says, ‘I will be your missing eye and you will be my wings’.” He commented, “You can feel them being like one person together.” “What could be the theme there?” I wondered. “It’s about friendship, about helping each other when you are damaged,” put in Mia. “It’s a happy story, then, with a positive theme?” I suggested. “No, because of the fox!” cried more than one student.

We brainstormed other possible themes: students now suggested “loneliness”, “betrayal”, and “feeling left out”. I asked them to work in pairs to find evidence, both in the text and in the illustrations, for the theme or themes they thought most important in the text.

Teacher, year 5 and 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.85.

A range of assessment tasks and activities that require students to identify main ideas and details that support the main ideas

  • ARB: The Sleeper Wakes by David Hill (ARB username and password required to view this resource)
    The assessment focus is on students' ability to identify details that support the main idea of a text, and to identify where the main idea is developed. 
  • ARB: "The Weevil's Last Stand" (ARB username and password required to view this resource)
    Assessment focus: finding details which support the main idea of a transactional text, and justifying why students agree or disagree with the main idea presented. The text used is about environmental issues to do with endangered native species."Weevils Last Stand" by Alan Bagnall, Connected 3, Learning Media, 2001.
  • School Journal: "Against the Wind"
    To support the students in developing the comprehension strategies of inferring, identifying the main idea, or analysing and synthesising.

Makes connections by thinking about underlying ideas within and between texts

What do I need to know?

Making connections

Helping students to make connections between what they know and what they are reading improves their comprehension. Teachers can model making such connections, and prompt students to make links with their own knowledge and experience, when they are introducing and discussing texts for reading and in writing and oral-language activities. When activating students’ prior knowledge for a particular purpose, teachers can help the students to hypothesise, infer, and build their own interpretations as they read.

What readers do:

  • think about what they already know about the content and text form and draw on their own cultural knowledge, their experience of the world, and their knowledge of text forms to make meaning
  • focus on an aspect of the text, for example, a structure, word, phrase, event, or idea that they want to know more about and relate this aspect to their prior knowledge
  • think about how connecting the aspect of the text to their prior knowledge helps them understand the text better.

Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.142.

What does it look like?

Students in the following conversation are making meaning of a text by making connections between events in the text and what they already know.

This conversation demonstrates a teacher using strategic questioning, prompting, telling, directing, and giving feedback to support a group of year 6 students in beginning to make meaning of the School Journal story “Shopping in Pyjamas” by Diana Noonan.

The shared learning goal is “to deepen our understanding of the text by making inferences from details provided in the text”, and the students’ initial task is to read the text in order to work out what is really happening in it.

Teacher “Shopping in Pyjamas” is divided into three sections – before they go into town, going into town, and after they go into town. Let’s start with before they go into town. Let’s focus on the first section. What happens in this?

John Mum’s in hospital, and the kids are visiting her.

Teacher Do they enjoy this?

John Yeah.

Teacher How do you know?

John Well, it actually says it “was sort of fun”, but also the author gives us some examples, like racing up and down the corridors.

Teacher Yes, that’s right. But what else do we find out from the section? Think particularly about the mood of this section.

Jacinta That there’s a fun mood to start with, but that the fun’s going to stop.

Teacher How do you know this?

Jacinta From the sentence “It was in the holidays that things got hard.”

Teacher Great, but any other clues about this? Go back to the first line.

John Oh yeah, when it says it was fun “for a start”.

Teacher Yes, that’s when I first thought that this story could be a mixture of fun and sadness. By the way, do we know why Mum’s in hospital at this stage?

John No.

Teacher Do we know by the end?

Sam I reckon she’s got cancer.

Teacher How do you know? I didn’t see the word “cancer” in the text.

Sam No, but I thought about this when the girl says about Mum having no hair. ’Cause that’s what happened to my grandad when he was in hospital for cancer.

Teacher So did you take him into town in his pyjamas?

Sam No. But I don’t reckon he would’ve liked it.

Teacher I think I agree with you that Mum had cancer. So what did you have to do as a reader to work that out?

Sam Um, I suppose I had to think about what I already knew.

Teacher What do you mean?

Sam I had to take the clue about having no hair and put it together with what I remembered about my grandad.

Teacher Yes, the author gave you a clue, but you had to make connections with what you already knew. Great.

Sam Yeah, but at least my grandad didn’t die.

Teacher What do you mean?

Sam Well, this lady died at the end, and my grandad didn’t.

Teacher It doesn’t say that …

Sam But they’re looking at a photo of her at the end. I reckon that’s the author’s way of telling us that Mum’s not around any more.

Teacher So she suggests or implies this rather than tells us?

Sam Yes.

Teacher Great, you’re using those text details to help you infer what’s really happening. Now on to the next section …

Teacher, year 5 and 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. pp.92–93.

The teacher in the following case study helps his students makes meaning of a text by recognising what they already know about its content.

I often use a KWL chart in a guided reading session. This not only gives us a clear focus for discussion but also gives the students a sense of “ownership” of the session. Recently I used a KWL chart for a text on 3-D glasses with my most able group. The students recorded things they already knew about 3-D glasses, things they’d like to know, and at the end, things they’d learned.

Recording this information helped the students to guide the lesson. They had set some things that they’d like to find out – it wasn’t just me, the teacher, telling them what we were going to find out. The students’ involvement in the process was reinforced by the fact that one of the students himself took responsibility for maintaining the chart. The other students had then to put things in their own words for one of their peers to write down. In situations like this, they don’t just come up with the answers and expect me to write them down. It helps them to document their progress through the lesson and develops awareness of the learning they are acquiring. My role is to ensure that, in this process, the objectives of the lesson are met. In the end, you really want to bring it down to what the purpose of the lesson is and to ensure that both you and the students are clear on “what we’ve learned today”.

Teacher, year 7–8 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, p.45.

School Journal: "Memories"
To support students in developing the comprehension strategies of asking questions, or making connections.

Recognises that there may be more than one reading available within a text

What do I need to know?

Texts can often be revisited, for example, to explore the content in more depth or with a different focus, and many teachers find it useful to use a familiar text when introducing new learning. There are many rich texts that invite multiple uses. The teacher, however, needs to know the text – and the learners – well.
Guided Reading in Years 5–8. NZ Ministry of Education, 2005. p.36. [abridged]

What does it look like?

A case study in which students explore different viewpoints in a text

I wanted my students to engage in some real critical thinking about themes and effects in a complex literary text. I chose to read them Margaret Wild’s Fox. Our shared goal was “to identify the theme or themes of this picture book by describing the parts of the story and the text features that help build up the theme.”

After reading the story aloud, I asked the students what they thought its theme was. Sione said, “Life or death.” “Why do you say that?” I asked, and he responded, “Because the magpie thinks about dying, at the start and again near the end. But the dog makes her want to live.” “Is the theme just life and death in general, then, or can you be more specific?” I probed. “Why does she want to die? How does the dog make her want to live?” Sione thought for a minute, and we waited. Then he said, “She wants to die at first because she can’t fly any more. The dog can’t really make her fly, but he tells her he needs her.” “Where does he tell her that?” I asked.

Sione took the book and found the part he wanted. “And then the magpie says, ‘I will be your missing eye and you will be my wings’.” He commented, “You can feel them being like one person together.” “What could be the theme there?” I wondered. “It’s about friendship, about helping each other when you are damaged,” put in Mia. “It’s a happy story, then, with a positive theme?” I suggested. “No, because of the fox!” cried more than one student.

We brainstormed other possible themes: students now suggested “loneliness”, “betrayal”, and “feeling left out”. I asked them to work in pairs to find evidence, both in the text and in the illustrations, for the theme or themes they thought most important in the text.

Teacher, year 5 and 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.85.

Makes and supports inferences from texts with increasing independence

What do I need to know?

Inferring

Inferring means using content in a text, together with existing knowledge, to come to a personal conclusion about something that is not stated explicitly in the text. When the writer provides clues but not all the information, we read “between the lines” to form hypotheses, revise these, understand underlying themes, make critical judgments, and draw conclusions.

The teacher can help students to make inferences by raising their awareness that reading involves more than just literal meaning and by modelling inferential thinking during shared reading or during discussions in guided reading. Or the teacher may pause when reading a text with students, to draw out clues from the text and prompt the students to make connections between different parts of the text in order to reach a conclusion that makes sense. It’s important to ask students to give evidence from the text that supports their inferences.

What readers do:

  • draw on their awareness that some meanings may not be explicit in the text and question the messages of the text as they read
  • keep in mind their “hunches” about deeper meanings and search for clues or evidence in the text as they continue to read
  • make links between their developing knowledge of the text and the author’s style (drawing on their sense of where the author is taking the text) in relation to these clues
  • form hypotheses, based on the links they have made, about implied meanings in the text
  • reflect on the validity of their inferences by taking account of new evidence or clues that arise as they continue reading.

Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006, p.146.

What does it look like?

A case study in which a group of students are inferring what the author is saying in order to make deeper meaning of a text

This conversation demonstrates a teacher using strategic questioning, prompting, telling, directing, and giving feedback to support a group of year 6 students in beginning to make meaning of the School Journal story “Shopping in Pyjamas” by Diana Noonan.

The shared learning goal is “to deepen our understanding of the text by making inferences from details provided in the text”, and the students’ initial task is to read the text in order to work out what is really happening in it.

Teacher "Shopping in Pyjamas" is divided into three sections – before they go into town, going into town, and after they go into town. Let’s start with before they go into town. Let’s focus on the first section. What happens in this?

John Mum’s in hospital, and the kids are visiting her.

Teacher Do they enjoy this?

John Yeah.

Teacher How do you know?

John Well, it actually says it “was sort of fun”, but also the author gives us some examples, like racing up and down the corridors.

Teacher Yes, that’s right. But what else do we find out from the section? Think particularly about the mood of this section.

Jacinta That there’s a fun mood to start with, but that the fun’s going to stop.

Teacher How do you know this?

Jacinta From the sentence “It was in the holidays that things got hard.”

Teacher Great, but any other clues about this? Go back to the first line.

John Oh yeah, when it says it was fun “for a start”.

Teacher Yes, that’s when I first thought that this story could be a mixture of fun and sadness. By the way, do we know why Mum’s in hospital at this stage?

John No.

Teacher Do we know by the end?

Sam I reckon she’s got cancer.

Teacher How do you know? I didn’t see the word “cancer” in the text.

Sam No, but I thought about this when the girl says about Mum having no hair. ’Cause that’s what happened to my grandad when he was in hospital for cancer.

Teacher So did you take him into town in his pyjamas?

Sam No. But I don’t reckon he would’ve liked it.

Teacher I think I agree with you that Mum had cancer. So what did you have to do as a reader to work that out?

Sam Um, I suppose I had to think about what I already knew.

Teacher What do you mean?

Sam I had to take the clue about having no hair and put it together with what I remembered about my grandad.

Teacher Yes, the author gave you a clue, but you had to make connections with what you already knew. Great.

Sam Yeah, but at least my grandad didn’t die.

Teacher What do you mean?

Sam Well, this lady died at the end, and my grandad didn’t.

Teacher It doesn’t say that …

Sam But they’re looking at a photo of her at the end. I reckon that’s the author’s way of telling us that Mum’s not around any more.

Teacher So she suggests or implies this rather than tells us?

Sam Yes.

Teacher Great, you’re using those text details to help you infer what’s really happening. Now on to the next section.

Teacher, year 5 and 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education,2006. pp.92–93.

Some examples of texts that require students to infer in order to make meaning and think critically

  • School Journal: "Dogs"
    To support the students in developing the comprehension strategies of making connections, inferring, or analysing and synthesising. 
  • School Journal: "On the Reclaim"
    To support the students in developing the comprehension strategies of making connections, inferring, or identifying the main idea.
  • School Journal: "To the Circus"
    To support the students in developing the comprehension strategies of making connections, inferring, and forming and testing hypotheses.

 Language features

Shows an increasing understanding of how language features are used for effect

What do I need to know?

Students should understand that all texts are intended for an audience (the audience is sometimes the writer) and that effective texts have an impact on their readers. They also need to know about the text features that writers use to achieve the desired impact. The deeper features of a text generally relate to the writer’s purpose and voice and include the structure and language features of the text.

Readers and writers need to know that there are different text forms and that these are generally characterised by a particular structure and certain other features. Forms such as stories, recounts, reports, procedures, arguments, explanations, varieties of poetry, and plays all have characteristic structures and features that are linked to their different purposes. Students need to know about the structures and features associated with each of these text forms.

The characteristic features of any text form (which can be used to identify the form of a text) are likely to include specific structural and language features and may include specific kinds of content, vocabulary, and/or surface features.

Students also need to know that the features usually associated with one form can often be effectively used in another, depending on the purpose for writing. Poetic vocabulary and selected imagery, for example, can be used to increase the impact of a report or an argument.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, pp.34–35 [abridged].

What does it look like?

The following case studies demonstrate students learning about the importance of language features in a text and being able to use that knowledge to help them make meaning of the text.

This syndicate had evidence that many of their students were not aware of the purpose of an explanation and lacked basic knowledge of the structure and features of this text form, which was one that they needed to be able to read and write in more than one subject area. The teachers decided that the school’s planning for a science fair could provide an authentic opportunity to teach the information and develop students’ awareness of explanations.

When planning our science, social studies, or technology topics, we always look for ways of extending our students as readers and writers. For the science fair, they had to explain their experiments and discoveries clearly, and we confirmed, from their first attempts, that they hadn’t yet learned to do this. So we found some examples of scientific explanations at the right reading level and explored these with the students during shared and guided reading, to identify the features of explanatory texts. Then, during writing, we explicitly taught them how to write up their scientific discoveries and explanations using the reading texts as models. The judge of the science fair specifically commented on how clear our students’ written explanations were.

Syndicate leader, years 7 and 8
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education,2006. p.35

I often find that I can use a text for guided reading for different purposes. For instance, because we were learning how to write reports for our social studies unit, I looked for some good examples of report writing. I found an example that I thought one of my groups would enjoy and that provided the right level of challenge. Called “Unwelcome Guests” (from Connected 2, 2003), it was a report on head lice – an issue we were needing to grapple with continually at our school! After having the students read the text in a guided reading group – and laughing a lot – I used it to get the students to identify the features of a report.

We explored how the text engaged the reader in its opening and concluding paragraphs through humour. We looked at the different components in the report (What are head lice? What is their history? How do they operate? How should we deal with them if we have them?) and at how the author used paragraphing to differentiate between these components.

We also looked at the use of continuous present tense, factual language, and subject-specific language. We did this over two sessions and built up a list of report text features, with examples.

Because “Unwelcome Guests” contains really precise verbs, it was appropriate to use the same text with another group that needed guidance in summarising texts. We read and discussed the text and identified some of the key verbs (“swinging”, “clinging”, “inject”, “suck”, “feeds”, and so on), which I recorded on the whiteboard. The students then used these verbs as a framework to summarise the text orally using “think, pair, share”. I recorded one of the oral summaries on the whiteboard and, as a group, we reviewed it in order to add relevant details and delete the irrelevant.

Teacher, year 5–6 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2002. p.37.

This week I used a text on how 3-D glasses work as a model of an explanation. The discussion was very open, and there were contrasting ideas expressed. For example, when we were sharing our thoughts about whether it was a good introduction and why, Kieran talked about the introduction using informal language – he liked the bit that said that 3-D glasses were “cool”. He commented, “It helped to make me want to read the text.” At the end, when we reviewed the features of explanations, Christina referred again to the introduction and the use of “cool” and expressed her view that you couldn’t use informal language in an explanation. They were both able to express their responses, and we had a discussion about these points of view, which highlighted how an author needs to consider their audience as well their purpose when writing.

Teacher, year 7–8 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2002. p.50.

Features of Text Forms
Teaching about text forms can help students understand how text is structured and why. We need to be careful, however, to be flexible about the features in a text form. Authentic text forms are often mixed. Text forms evolve and change.

Indicators

Identifies oral, written, and visual features used, and recognises and describes their effects

What do I need to know?

Readers and writers need to know that there are different text forms and that these are generally characterised by a particular structure and certain other features. Forms such as stories, recounts, reports, procedures, arguments, explanations, varieties of poetry, and plays all have characteristic structures and features that are linked to their different purposes. Students in years 5 to 8 need to know about the structures and features associated with each of these text forms.

The characteristic features of any text form (which can be used to identify the form of a text) are likely to include specific structural and language features and may include specific kinds of content, vocabulary, and/or surface features.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.34.

Students also need to know that the features usually associated with one form can often be effectively used in another, depending on the purpose for writing. Poetic vocabulary and selected imagery, for example, can be used to increase the impact of a report or an argument.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.35.

What does it look like?

A case study in which students make meaning of a text by considering oral, written, and visual features that are connected to the text

After a series of planned observations, I decided that my students needed focused teaching to help them make meaning of instructions, especially by using visual features of texts. We were studying measurement in maths, so I decided to use shared reading and discussion of a two-page article about measurement – How High Is That Tree? by Brian Birchall.

I put the article on an OHT and explained the reading purpose (“to read and make meaning of a set of measurement instructions”) and the learning goal (“to interpret the directions by linking them closely to visual features of the text”). Our criteria related to whether we could follow the instructions in practice. Before reading, the students predicted (rather randomly) how you might estimate the height of a tree without measuring it. We looked at the visual information on the OHT and then tried again to work out how to estimate the height of a tree. I questioned them about the diagrams (“What is the boy with glasses doing?” “What might the relationship be between his eyes, the stick, and the height of the tree?” “What might his friend be doing?” “What might be the relationship between the two diagrams?”). Their predictions were more successful this time. One boy also pointed out the visual links between the design of the title and the subject of the text.

I led a shared reading of the text to test the students’ predictions and find out how useful the visual features had been. I modelled how I would make meaning of the instructions by rereading aloud the first two sentences of instruction , putting them into my own words, acting them out, and indicating what part of the first diagram they related to. Then the students worked in pairs, explaining the rest of the instructions to their partner and discussing how each related to the diagrams. I monitored my target students by listening closely to their explanations.

The whole group discussed what they had learned as readers and talked about how they could apply this to reading other instructional texts.

Teacher, year 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.101.

Exploring Language. Static images: visual and graphic features
Language features of static images such as pictures, photographs and posters.

ARB: How does understanding text features benefit reading comprehension?
The ability to visualise the features of a text type, and how those features are arranged, is vital to the construction of meaning when reading.

Uses an increasing vocabulary to make meaning

What do I need to know?

Expanding students’ vocabulary

All texts are made up of words and phrases. It’s important to expand students’ awareness and appreciation of language and to help them build up their personal vocabularies. Developing an extensive vocabulary enables students to improve both their reading comprehension and their writing.

The teacher’s role is to:

  • develop a class community of people who are curious and enthusiastic about language and keen to experiment with new vocabulary and language structures
  • encourage students to notice, savour, and share interesting words at every opportunity, for example, when reading literary and transactional texts and during class or group conversations
  • introduce, explain, and model the use of new words, including the academic and specialised words that the students need for their ongoing learning
  • explicitly teach aspects of English language, such as morphology, including the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes, and interesting morphemes derived from other languages
  • explicitly teach strategies that readers can use to work out unknown words and terms in texts (for example, by using information in the words themselves, by making links to known words, and by using context clues)
  • give students opportunities to use their new words and terms in authentic oral and written language contexts and encourage them by constructive feedback.

Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education. 2006, p.126. [abridged]

All students need many exposures to the vocabulary that is new to them. Effective teachers help their students to link new words to their existing knowledge and give them opportunities to reinforce their learning during meaningful communication.
Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9–13, NZ Ministry of Education, 2004. p.28.

What does it look like?

A case study in which students use a range of strategies to work out the meaning of unfamiliar words

Many of my students were finding it hard to work out the meaning of technical vocabulary in reports and explanations. They needed to know how to identify such vocabulary in a text and how to work out the meaning of words from surrounding textual evidence. These were skills they would need increasingly as they moved up through the school.

The text I selected was an enlarged chart on survival in the rainforest. I asked the students to note any unfamiliar words, and they found the word “predators” in the first paragraph. Together, we searched for surrounding phrases and sentences that gave clues about what “predators” might mean. For example, we read that animals “protect themselves from predators by using poison or stinging hairs”. I questioned them closely about possible links between “predators” and “protect”, “poison”, and “stinging hairs”, asking “What mental image does this give you?” They decided, “If you have to protect yourself by using poison or stinging hairs, predators must be pretty bad – they must be enemies that can attack.”

So I encouraged the students to infer, make connections, and visualise in order to make meaning of unfamiliar terms. We discussed how the visualisation strategy had helped them deepen their understanding of the text.

Teacher, year 5 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.103.

A range of resources for teachers (including teaching activities) that will allow teachers and students to explore vocabulary

ARB:  The TranzAlpine train journey (ARB username and password required to view this resource)
Students study a brochure advertising a scenic railway trip and through selected responses and short written responses show their understanding of text, images and vocabulary.

School Journal: "The Tail of the Gecko"
This two-page report describes the special features of a gecko’s tail. Students develop vocabulary to help make meaning. Use as either a shared or guided reading.

Exploring Language. The Word: Classical Derivations
Using Latin and Greek derivations. Students who have some knowledge of commonly found word origins are able to work out the meanings of a number of unfamiliar academic words.

Exploring Language: The Word
The word is the basic building block of spoken and written language.

Exploring Language: The Word: Creating New Words
The three most common ways for creating new words are explained – compounding, conversion and affixation.

Shows increasing knowledge of how text conventions can be used appropriately and effectively

What do I need to know?

The term "convention" is used where there is a generally accepted usage or practice. The conventions of written English include such aspects as punctuation, the layout of a letter or a curriculum vitae, and the format of a book. In oral language, there are conventions for formal debates or sermons or speeches of welcome. Children need to learn the conventions of their language – when it is appropriate or inappropriate to use certain words, how to use politeness forms, and so on. The rules of a language are highly resistant to change over time, but conventions can and do change, both over time and from one audience to another.
Exploring Language, NZ Ministry of Education, 1996, p.28.

Different genres are not fixed or discrete categories. Rather, what distinguishes them from each other is the distinctive pattern of what we call conventions.

Conventions can be based on what is presented, drawing on the agreed expectations that have already been established within a certain genre. For example, if you open a kitchen drawer, you expect to find kitchen utensils, not underwear. Breaking the expected conventions creates surprise and humour or shock. Monty Python's The Holy Grail is based on the well known search by King Arthur. If a strange creature were to appear, we would expect a dragon or a knight with the strength of ten men, but not a killer rabbit. The arrival of a vicious rabbit instead breaks the expected conventions of the historical film genre and creates the humour.

Other conventions are based on how something is presented. Such conventions influence our expectations, how we interpret what we view and read, and what we and our students in turn recreate and present. For example, in a mime or drama, the performer is able to suggest, and we are able to understand, that he or she has come to a wall or is eating or drinking, even though there is no wall or food, knife and fork, or glass. We know this because of our knowledge and understanding of the conventions of mime, which enable us to read, make, and share meaning. We explore, read, and interpret visual language in terms of our understanding of conventions.
Exploring Language, NZ Ministry of Education, 1996, p.177 [abridged].

What does it look like?

A case study in which students explore how language features can add to the meaning of a text if used appropriately and effectively

We’d been reading the School Journal story “A Helping Hand” with the shared goal of finding out how the author had used language features to create tension. We had a really close look at a few paragraphs, and the students noted the use of short sentences, the descriptions of physical sensations (they especially liked the “jelly legs” and “fear began to ooze”), and the dramatic verbs. During shared writing, we agreed on the goal of creating tension using some of these language features. We wrote a few paragraphs together about diving off the high board at the pool and enjoyed thinking up metaphors and cutting some sentences right down to the bone.

Our first draft was a bit over-dramatic, but we worked together to tone it down. I kept the chart of the analysis work we’d done on the original text, and I noticed several of the students referring to it in their subsequent personal-experience writing.

Next, I want to help students take this increased awareness back into their reading. I’ll seek out texts that will generate deeper discussion about the language choices that writers make and how these impact on the reader.

Teacher, year 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.124.

A range of language features that teachers (and students) need to know about

  • Features of Text Forms
    Teaching about text forms can help students understand how text is structured and why. We need to be careful, however, to be flexible about the features in a text form. Authentic text forms are often mixed. Text forms evolve and change. 
  • Visual Language: Genres and Conventions
    Exploring Language provides an overview of the conventions of visual language with links to specific definitions and explanations.

Knows that authors have different voices and styles, and can describe some differences

What do I need to know?

"Voice" refers to those aspects of a piece of writing that give it a personal flavour.
New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars. English. NZ Ministry of Education, 2003. p.7.

The best discussion of voice I’ve ever read occurs in Ralph Fletcher’s What a Writer Needs (1993). He writes, "When I talk about voice, I mean written words that carry with them the sense that someone has actually written them. Not a committee, not a computer: a single human being. Writing with voice has the same quirky cadence that makes human speech so impossible to resist listening to. Voice is the writer’s presence on the page, the writer’s DNA, as one of my students put it. Sometimes that presence might be indiscernible, like a clean windowpane. Sometimes that presence is raucous and spirited, like a roaring fire—I think of Tom Wolfe’s voice in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). Sometimes that presence is subdued and sincere, like breakfast in a coffee shop after morning rush. Some writers’ presence is aloof and distant, so abstractly intellectual and fraught with jargon that their words are impenetrable, like an unyielding brick wall. I’ve read voices that are windy and cluttered with wordiness and qualifications. I’ve read voices riddled with spelling aberrations, nonstandard usage, and incorrect punctuation, yet the meaning of the words was unmistakable, the presence of the writer undeniable".

Tom Romano: Five Qualities of Voice (Word, 36KB)
An excerpt from Crafting Authentic Voice that provides a number of quotes from academics and students about "what voice is in writing". 

What does it look like?

A case study in which students notice how "voice" can be used effectively in a (non-fiction) text

This week I used a text on how 3-D glasses work as a model of an explanation. The discussion was very open, and there were contrasting ideas expressed. For example, when we were sharing our thoughts about whether it was a good introduction and why, Kieran talked about the introduction using informal language – he liked the bit that said that 3-D glasses were “cool”. He commented, “It helped to make me want to read the text.” At the end, when we reviewed the features of explanations, Christina referred again to the introduction and the use of “cool” and expressed her view that you couldn’t use informal language in an explanation. They were both able to express their responses, and we had a discussion about these points of view, which highlighted how an author needs to consider their audience as well their purpose when writing.

Teacher, year 7–8 class
Guided Reading: Years 5–8, p.50

Anthony Browne's Voices in the Park
A teaching unit that enables students to explore the concept of "voice" within the context of a rich text. This ReadWriteThink lesson focuses on the concept of voice, which is often difficult for middle school students to incorporate into their writing. The lesson provides a clear example of an author who created four specific voices.

Structure

Show an increasing understanding of text structures

What do I need to know?

Readers and writers need to know that there are different text forms and that these are generally characterised by a particular structure and certain other features. Forms such as stories, recounts, reports, procedures, arguments, explanations, varieties of poetry, and plays all have characteristic structures and features that are linked to their different purposes. Students in years 5 to 8 need to know about the structures and features associated with each of these text forms.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.34.

Structure is the sequence and flow of ideas within a piece of text. It allows the reader to understand the connections between different ideas.
New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars. English. NZ Ministry of Education, 2003. p.7.

Structure/Organisation

This dimension of text refers to the ordering or organisation that a writer demonstrates in their text. The focus here is on the management of text through sequencing and linking of ideas. There are two main ways in which organisation is seen to operate. There is the “global” organisation of the text, dealing with sequence from start to finish. This kind of paragraphing may be a tool used by a writer to group ideas and between paragraph links. Another way in which text may be organised is through the linking of ideas within and across sentences (by using conjunctions, adverbials, and adjectivals). This may be particularly useful in texts where the job of the writer is to explain. In such texts, cause and effect sequences need to be made explicit.
asTTle V4 Manual. Writing/Tuhituhi, p.4.

What does it look like?

Case study in which a group of students learn about the structure of a "new" text type, so as to enable them to make better meaning of texts that use that text type

This syndicate had evidence that many of their students were not aware of the purpose of an explanation and lacked basic knowledge of the structure and features of this text form, which was one that they needed to be able to read and write in more than one subject area. The teachers decided that the school’s planning for a science fair could provide an authentic opportunity to teach the information and develop students’ awareness of explanations.

When planning our science, social studies, or technology topics, we always look for ways of extending our students as readers and writers. For the science fair, they had to explain their experiments and discoveries clearly, and we confirmed, from their first attempts, that they hadn’t yet learned to do this. So we found some examples of scientific explanations at the right reading level and explored these with the students during shared and guided reading, to identify the features of explanatory texts. Then, during writing, we explicitly taught them how to write up their scientific discoveries and explanations using the reading texts as models. The judge of the science fair specifically commented on how clear our students’ written explanations were.

Syndicate leader, years 7 and 8
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.35.

ARB: Thinking about how Language Works
Provides information about structure within and between sentences.

Indicators

Knows that the organisation of words, sentences, paragraphs, and images affect meaning

What do I need to know?

Texts are created by writers so that they can meet the writing purpose and engage the intended audience by writing the best possible words in the best possible order, using and extending their knowledge of English vocabulary and syntax.
Adapted from Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.156.

Writers:

  • order selected ideas and information in a way that makes the meaning of the text clear to the reader
  • shape their text to create links between the main information and supporting details or between the introduction and conclusion.

Adapted from Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.156.

What does it look like?

A case study in which students use their knowledge of text order and organisation to help them make meaning of the text

After a series of planned observations, I decided that my students needed focused teaching to help them make meaning of instructions, especially by using visual features of texts. We were studying measurement in maths, so I decided to use shared reading and discussion of a two-page article about measurement – "How High Is That Tree?" by Brian Birchall.

I put the article on an OHT and explained the reading purpose (“to read and make meaning of a set of measurement instructions”) and the learning goal (“to interpret the directions by linking them closely to visual features of the text”). Our criteria related to whether we could follow the instructions in practice. Before reading, the students predicted (rather randomly) how you might estimate the height of a tree without measuring it. We looked at the visual information on the OHT and then tried again to work out how to estimate the height of a tree. I questioned them about the diagrams (“What is the boy with glasses doing?” “What might the relationship be between his eyes, the stick, and the height of the tree?” “What might his friend be doing?” “What might be the relationship between the two diagrams?”). Their predictions were more successful this time. One boy also pointed out the visual links between the design of the title and the subject of the text.

I led a shared reading of the text to test the students’ predictions and find out how useful the visual features had been. I modelled how I would make meaning of the instructions by rereading aloud the first two sentences of instruction 1, putting them into my own words, acting them out, and indicating what part of the first diagram they related to. Then the students worked in pairs, explaining the rest of the instructions to their partner and discussing how each related to the diagrams.

I monitored my target students by listening closely to their explanations. The whole group discussed what they had learned as readers and talked about how they could apply this to reading other instructional texts.

Teacher, year 6 class
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.101.

Some resources that enable teachers to explore the order and organisation of language

Identifies a range of text forms, and describes their characteristics and conventions

What do I need to know?

Readers and writers need to know that there are different text forms and that these are generally characterised by a particular structure and certain other features. Forms such as stories, recounts, reports, procedures, arguments, explanations, varieties of poetry, and plays all have characteristic structures and features that are linked to their different purposes. Students in years 5 to 8 need to know about the structures and features associated with each of these text forms. The characteristic features of any text form (which can be used to identify the form of a text) are likely to include specific structural and language features and may include specific kinds of content, vocabulary, and/or surface features.
Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5–8, NZ Ministry of Education, 2006. p.34.

There are seven major purposes of writing covered by two major functions of writing in the curriculum. The transactional functions of persuade, instruct, describe, analyse, and explain are covered first, followed by the poetic functions of narrate and recount. The purpose-specific key characteristics are broken into two categories; the deep features include audience awareness and purpose, content, structure and language resources while the surface features include grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
asTTle V4 Manual 1.0, Appendix

What does it look like?

Features of Text Forms
Teaching about text forms can help students understand how text is structured and why. We need to be careful, however, to be flexible about the features in a text form. Authentic text forms are often mixed. Text forms evolve and change.

Updated on: 12 Oct 2015




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