When I think about text sets, I consider the ways we collect books as teachers to help build background knowledge and understanding around a topic. With text complexity being highlighted in the Common Core, I have been rethinking nonfiction text sets and wondering how I could build text sets that better support my students’ growth as readers.
I’ve been reflecting on my own nonfiction reading life. Although my books are not marked as “text sets,” I think I do create text sets often as a reader. I often move from one book on a certain topic to another, studying the topic and learning different things from each book. After I finish a text, I think carefully about the types of learning I want to do next, the authors I love, and the publishers I trust as I choose my next reading. Sometimes a book sparks an interest that takes me in a new direction. I don’t tend to go in any linear fashion, and I don’t move into books in the same order as any other reader. Instead, one book naturally changes my thinking in a way that has me move in a new direction as a reader.
I’ve always considered each basket in my nonfiction classroom library as a type of text set. My hope is that by displaying books together, kids will have a menu of options and begin to move from one book to another and grow as nonfiction readers. But for years, I merely collected as many books as I could around a topic and called that a text set. I am realizing that I want more from the texts sets in the classroom.
I want text sets to invite growth and change in readers, which means I need to look closely at each book I add to a basket. If I have lots of books that are similar in structure and craft, my students won’t grow as nonfiction readers. Instead of building book sets solely around a topic, I want to think about each book I put in a basket and where it might lead a child next.
I realized the power of text sets built around variety when my students became interested in Winter the Dolphin. After reading Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Craig Hatkoff, I created a Jog the Web that included a variety of pieces around the topic. The Jog included videos, news articles, interviews, live-cams, and more. The jog provided a menu of options for students and each took them in a new and different direction.
When we read Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet, I built an online text set for students that included videos capturing some historical moments of the Macy’s Day Parade, a link to the site for the Parade, a link to other puppet-making sites and more. My hope was that students would begin to see that we are often led to new questions as we read and learn and that there are always many directions we can take our thinking and learning.
Text sets should do more than add knowledge on a topic. Each book in the set needs to have something unique to offer readers. I’ve realized that if a book doesn’t have something worthy of a minilesson, it probably is not worth putting in my classroom library for student independent reading.
As I begin to redesign my text sets, my hope is that each book might lead readers in a new direction. It might lead them to a new favorite author, series, or questions to explore on the topic.
Recently, I put together a text set around the idea of Birds. This is not a topic I would normally think about but when I began to think about the possibilities for readers and the books available to middle grade students, I knew a set like this would support my students as readers. Instead of building text sets around a topic, I began by finding an anchor text to build around — a text that helps me think about where my kids might go after they finish this one book.
Some books become anchor books because there is so much to offer, and you can see so many minilessons and conversations coming naturally from the text. Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate struck me as a book that had many possibilities. Not only did it tie into our science unit of study, but each page provides different nonfiction experiences for the reader. The focus of the book is on birdwatching and the way it is designed gives it a complexity that can be revisited over and over again.
I never paid much attention to guides until I watched my students pore over them. I realized that even though they were stuck on the photos and captions, there was a great deal of information on each page. The facts in a guide are not isolated, but instead organized in a way to support learning new connected information. Because each page is organized in the same way, comparisons happen naturally. I included National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America.
Birds, Nests & Eggs is a book in the Take Along Guides series. This text is a good one to pair with the National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America as both serve the same purpose but are also different examples of guides. This is a series that readers might want to go off and explore after they discover it.
I try to include picture book biographies in as many topic-based text sets as possible. T narrative that connects to the topic does a lot for readers trying to make sense of new ideas. In Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird: A True Story, we learn about Irene Pepperberg, a scientist who purchased Alex, an African grey parrot and proved the bird’s intelligence over many years. This is a fascinating story that might hook readers into a variety of other interesting topics.
City Chickens by Chris Hepperman is a story of Mary Britton Clouse’s Chicken Run Rescue — a place for rescued chickens who are waiting to find a home. This is a terrific story with lots of photos that show how one woman is making a difference for chickens in trouble. The length is longer than others in the set, and the story is more in-depth.
Birds of a Feather by Bernadette Gervais and Francesco Pittau is an oversized lift-the-flap book. The visual features of this book make it engaging. Although the book is filled mostly with facts, they are organized in a way that puts them into broad categories.