Complex Texts That Both Challenge and Engage

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One of the anchor features of the Common Core literacy standards—across subject areas—is that students will be able to read informational texts for comprehension. Last week’s most-clicked ASCD SmartBrief story from New York Times’s Learning Network blog suggests ways to use Times’s content to facilitate understanding complex texts.

In particular, teachers can introduce students to Room for Debate, a Times blog that poses a question (often drawn from a current event), and rounds up 4–6 knowledgeable, outside contributors to argue their opinion on the topic.

Teachers can build lessons based on this content by having students

  • Do a close reading of responses to a topic on Room for Debate, using this graphic organizer to sort evidence from the text.
  • Analyze responses on a topic and evaluate the effectiveness of arguments presented, citing evidence from the test, and using Common Core writing standards as the basis for a rubric of good writing.
  • Create their own Room for Debate-style article or blog post, by interviewing people in their community (or simply the classroom) on a topic of interest, and then publishing this circle of viewpoints on a school blog or newspaper.
  • Consider how people from history or literature would respond to a topic, and create a fantasy Room for Debate that collects the perspectives of characters in a novel, or the major political players on all sides of women’s suffrage, for instance.
  • Mine Room for Debate for ideas for essential questions related to a unit of study—consider having students write a response to the essential question before a unit of study (citing their background knowledge), and after a unit of study (incorporating and citing their new knowledge). Have students compare the two to see how their understanding has evolved.
  • Room for Debate can prompt students to think in questions—practice looking at news and consider what questions could be developed from journalistic statements. How might debate around this question develop?
  • Write a response to the on-going Student Opinion section of the Learning Network blog; use effective arguments on Room for Debate as a model for how you’ll craft your response.
  • Suggest a debate topic to Room for Debate. Why would it be interesting and who might respond?

If you’re worried the Common Core’s focus on informational texts means students will suffer through dry, emotionless reading; New York Times’s Learning Network blog is a good place to turn for lesson ideas that both challenge and engage students with complex texts.

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